At first glance, the challenges IT leaders will face in 2022 seem to be familiar: hiring and retaining top talent, strengthening security, and creating secure and accessible hybrid workplaces for all. But the ongoing pandemic has intensified these challenges.
The skills gap has been exacerbated by the Great Resignation phenomenon. Supporting distributed teams, once a business priority, is now a necessity. Protecting employees' personal mobile devices and other remote work equipment has gained importance as the number of these devices has risen exponentially with the emptying of offices. Along with these concerns, new ones have emerged, including increased burnout caused by the pandemic and chip shortages that drive IT and the industry as a whole, while climate change - "is living next door".
We collected opinions of IT leaders on how they plan to address their biggest concerns in 2022. Here are their answers.
The biggest challenge they believe they will face in 2022 is finding great IT staff. Dan Zimmerman, CIO and chief product officer at TreviPay, says that in the coming months, competition for top talent will be fierce. And while the distributed workforce has expanded the talent pool, not enough people with the necessary skills can be found.
"Pandemic has prompted many people to reevaluate their career paths," Zimmerman says. "While we balance the costs of attracting top talent, we also recognize that many workers want to be in attendance or be offered a hybrid work arrangement. That means our offices need to accommodate multiple types of workers, including, for example, providing video conferencing capabilities in every meeting room, and our job postings will show this type of flexibility. It will be important to listen and gather feedback on what works and what doesn't, as we are all learning as we go."
Ginna Raahauge, CIO of Zayo, believes it's becoming increasingly difficult to reach those with technical skills to drive digital transformation. Meanwhile, during the pandemic, the need for such skills has grown.
"Technically skilled workers who have experience with cloud environments, machine learning, data science and software have always been in demand by tech companies, but now these skills are in demand in almost every company, creating more competition for top-notch data analysts, software engineers and developers," he says. "In addition to the demand for tech talent, there is also a general shortage of quality candidates in many industries right now, due to the trend of 'big resignations.' Not having the right people puts pressure on how quickly a company can move regardless of whether it has the budget. If you don't have the talent, you can't do what you prioritize."
In addition to this, one of the most interesting solution to the remote work challange is outstaffing, which became quite popular and surprisingly efficient during the last 5 years.
Outstaffing is a type of engagement model where a client and a skilled development agency sign an agreement to perform a certain amount or full-time work for a client. Administrative and recruitment daily task performance and execution are the responsibility of the agency. With outstaffing, tech companies will be able to work with a team that is almost their own but costs much less especially if the location is eastern European (CEE area is famous for math, as a very strong basis in every studies program), where companies can find the best engineering talent (Source). Daily communication and instructions allow maximizing the benefits of working with a dedicated team focused on your development process along with your in-house project managers and other employees.
Within the tech industry, the outstaffing model is quite popular among SaaS companies, tech startups, middle-sized businesses, and global enterprises.
Most business leaders see a "mismatch between the skills of their current employees and the key areas needed for success in the next three to five years, such as data science, digital transformation and innovation," says Suneet Dua, products and technology chief growth officer at PwC USA.
"This is a unique challenge for all companies, as we must strive to ensure our workforce has the skills necessary to take the company where it needs to go," Dua says. "In addition, flexible work options have increased the need to embrace digital transformation and attract and retain key talent, as workers need digital skills to excel in hybrid or remote work environments."
Mark Schlesinger, senior technical member at Broadridge, says the talent shortage highlights the need to upgrade current staff.
"With recent trends toward higher churn rates, most companies can't afford to keep up with rising salaries," Schlesinger says. "Many IT leaders will continue to struggle to fill key technology positions. This will lead to a two-pronged approach of acquiring outside talent, where there are real knowledge gaps, and upgrading and re-skilling existing teams. This strategy should help narrow the gap and, if presented appropriately, will change the dynamics of attracting new talent."
Zayo's Raahauge is talking with other CIOs about what the hybrid work environment of the near future will look like. One pain point is the reliability of audio and video tools, both in the office and in employees' homes.
"Audiovisual tools are a constant conundrum for the CIO because they present a number of issues with cost compatibility, latency and network reliability," he says. "The concerns are that these tools, within offices, have not been used for almost two years and, on the other hand, that there is no standard for those connecting from home. If companies haven't invested in solutions that provide a consistent and reliable conferencing environment that seamlessly connects workers from dispersed locations, the return to work won't be very smooth."
Raahauge's company is looking at the needs of office-based and remote workers to develop a reliable audio/video infrastructure. This includes PC docking stations, lighting and cameras that create a professional environment at home.
"When it comes to the video conferencing tools themselves, many are turning to as-a-service to provide a more robust, all-in-one option to solve many distributed workforce needs: messaging, conferencing, business processes, calling and more," he says. "We're evaluating these options as well, but they only work well on architectures and infrastructure with a robust design. That will be an area we'll have to work on."
Therefore, companies that have invested in a well-designed architecture for hybrid work environments will be better positioned than their competitors.
Hazim Macky, vice president of engineering at Coinme, says his company is moving toward a "remote-first" approach, while offering a physical workstation for employees who require it, primarily in shared co-working spaces.
"The way we do business and the way employees collaborate to perform their job functions is shaping our culture," Macky says. "From a technology perspective, creating software systems and platforms to enable effective collaboration and communication has been the priority and will continue to be in the coming months."
To support this change, "Coinme's processes have been transformed to be primarily digital and cloud-enabled," Macky explains. "Although remote working presents some challenges with available technologies, the widespread use of high-speed connectivity and cloud-based tools, the pros outweigh the cons."
Experts predict cyber attacks will continue to increase in number and sophistication in the coming months. That's why Rich Murr, CIO of Epicor, is looking for the right partners to combat the threats.
"Fighting cybercriminals requires continuous and rigorous improvement in cybersecurity capabilities," says Murr. "We are increasingly looking for third-party security vendors to support our efforts."
Chris Conry, CIO of Fuze, also sees the need for IT teams to integrate the services of partners who will constantly monitor suspicious activity to uncover threats to corporate assets early on.
"This is critical within enterprise mobile networks, especially as malicious attackers place more interest and emphasis on targeting the telecommunications industry. In addition, more workers are conducting daily tasks on their mobile devices within the hybrid work model," says Conry . "This proactive monitoring strategy will ease the burden on IT and security teams by resolving potential issues before they turn into breaches, and will also address existing security gaps within hybrid work environments."
And while it's hard to overstate the threat of cyber attacks - Tommy Gardner, CTO of HP Federal, acknowledges the tension between implementing the best possible security measures and maintaining a reasonable budget.
"Ransomware will continue to be the biggest security issue in 2022, and organizations must continually improve the security of their devices and networks to keep their organizations safe," Gardner says. "CIOs and IT leaders need to make it clear to the C-suite and internal decision makers that investing in security is a top priority. They need to explain that investing in new automation tools that use artificial intelligence and ML capabilities for real-time monitoring can help minimize the risk of ransomware. Equally important is informing decision makers about the risk the organization is taking if security is not prioritized or if risk management frameworks are not followed."
Like many others, Freshworks CIO and CISO Prasad Ramakrishnan's company is working to address the fallout from the global microchip shortage that is affecting most industries.
"The supply chain challenges for IT hardware and equipment are real," says Ramakrishnan. "Our teams are developing strategies to mitigate any blockages we may face in 2022 due to supply shortages. We are always looking for alternative solutions, minimizing chip consumption and monitoring availability."
The demands on IT teams have resulted in increased burnout among employees, "as budgets have not grown in proportion to the increase in workload," says Malcolm Ross, vice president of product strategy and deputy CTO at Appian.
"These challenges will continue to determine how IT leaders play their role, and their degree of success, throughout the year," Ross points out. "The real problem is the misalignment between business decision makers and IT leaders, and solving that requires systematic organizational change."
To keep its employees engaged, Freshworks' Ramakrishnan says the company is moving toward cross-training.
"We rotate roles within the department," he says. "Job rotation allows our employees to take on new projects, work with new team members, take on new challenges and learn new skills. It's incredibly important to retain the talent we already have, and we do everything we can to make sure our employees are happier."
Ramakrishnan also focuses on providing work tools that offer the same ease of use as consumer technology.
"We are in the golden age of consumer technology simplicity, and employees expect to see the same simplicity, instant gratification and autonomy in the workplace that they experience in their personal lives," he says. "Continued deployment of RPA tools, bots and smart apps is what's at stake for companies that want to keep their employees happy and minimize frustration and subsequent resignations."
"The hard part of digital transformation is not the technology but the change management, especially in uncertain times," says Aref Matin, CTO at Wiley. "Transformation is difficult and requires a lot of commitment, planning and execution," Matin says. "The technology aspect is often the easy part of the project. When you have people who are used to a specific system or process, the transition is often difficult."
Matin's advice is to focus on the people involved in the process and their different perspectives. "When I'm dealing with large-scale changes within the organization, I place equal priority on empathy and results," he says. "This balance is critical. As an organization, we've created a culture focused on supporting our employees. We need to listen and be open to a variety of concerns and needs, which cannot be underestimated. And we must also focus on results to drive change, produce successful outcomes and minimize business disruption. It's hard to predict how long change will take, but IT leaders must focus on people to make substantial changes for the business."
According to Deloitte's 2021 Climate Check Survey, eight in 10 tech executives said they were concerned about the crisis, and a majority believed the world had reached a tipping point to act.
"My read of it, particularly now compared to it was even two years ago or even four years ago, is that I'm really impressed with how serious the tech community is taking sustainability," Paul Silverglate said.
He said while you'll always find someone who doesn't think progress is happening fast enough or thinks it could be broader, he pointed to the big picture as being what is important.
"You have to look at the overall picture as to how much energy is being consumed or saved by the products that we're working with," he said. "And I think collaborating as a tech community and using cloud environments - which allows for a smaller concentration of people or companies to control, manufacture, or utilize the technology infrastructure - makes a big impact."
By tech leaders setting goals to reduce a company's carbon footprints, real change can happen - and it's clear it needs to. The tech sector alone is reportedly responsible for 2-3% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, chip fabrication and data center cooling both use enormous amounts of water, with a typical data center consuming as much water daily as a city population of about 30,000–50,000.
Overall, Paul said the tech industry has a lot of work ahead of itself this year that companies would have to overcome strategically.
"The world is getting more complex, and solving complexity as a skill has always been a challenge and will continue to be a challenge," Paul said.