After more than a year of rapid, wholesale digital transformation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, technologists can feel enormously satisfied and proud about their achievements. With their organisations reeling from the sudden shock of the pandemic, it was they who immediately stepped up to deliver the innovative new services required to meet the needs of customers and employees during these turbulent times. Without their contribution, many businesses simply wouldn’t have survived.
At the outset of the pandemic, in April and May 2020, we asked technologists about the impact the pandemic was having on them as they looked to accelerate digital transformation, whilst maintaining faultless digital experiences for customers and colleagues. The response painted a picture of extreme pressure, constant firefighting and rapidly evolving priorities. And for some technologists it was even worse, with thousands of skilled IT professionals losing their jobs in the initial months of the pandemic.
We all hoped that it was a case of IT departments weathering the initial storm, and then things quickly getting back to normal.
One year on though, and that storm is still raging. Organisations are continuing to lean on their IT departments to steer them through the pandemic and prepare them for an uncertain future.
More complexity, more pressure – technologists believe 2021 could be even tougher than 2020
Understandably, technologists are feeling the strain. A recent AppDynamics report, Agents of Transformation: The Rise of Full-Stack Observability, brought home exactly how hard the last 12 months have hit technologists around the world. 89% report feeling under immense pressure, 84% are having difficulty switching off from work, and 82% are working longer hours.
Now, as the world moves into its second year of the pandemic and billions of people continue to live in some form of lockdown, with restrictions on travel, work and social interaction, organisations continue to prioritise innovation and delivering seamless digital services to compete in a highly volatile, digital-first market.
That means that digital transformation, already running at three times the speed that it was pre-pandemic, is likely to accelerate even further in 2021. In fact, 88% of technologists predict that driving through digital transformation at speed will be the biggest challenge they face this year.
The upshot of this is likely to be spiralling complexity in the IT department, as technologists are required to respond to new strategic business needs, whilst managing an ever-more fragmented IT estate.
Our research highlights a number of concerns that technologists have about the year ahead, including an increase in technology performance issues caused by such rapid digital transformation. They are worried about having the right level of visibility across their entire IT estate to identify issues quickly and their ability to prioritise fixes based on potential impact to the business. Many report that the acceleration towards cloud computing is creating technology sprawl, with a patchwork of legacy and cloud technologies which is extremely difficult to manage.
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Technologists remain optimistic about the future
Without doubt, the pressure on technologists is only going to mount in 2021, and technologists are acutely aware of this fact.
However, it would be wrong to think that it’s all doom and gloom in the IT department! By their very nature, technologists are optimistic about the future and have an innate commitment to making a real difference to their organisations and their wider communities. Many have thrived in a high pressure environment and embraced the opportunity to influence their organisations at the highest level.
Despite the massive challenges they have faced over the past 12 months, 70% of technologists still say they are excited about their job in 2021, and 75% believe this is a defining moment of their careers and a chance to shine.
Looking ahead: technologists need support to deal with the pressure and realise their ambitions
For IT and business leaders, the message is clear. Technologists remain fully committed to the cause – they are desperate to have a positive impact, guide their organizations through the current crisis and leave a legacy of innovation.
But it’s simply not sustainable (or fair) to ask technologists to continue as they are, when 91% say that they need to find a better work-life balance in 2021. As an industry and as business leaders, we need to be doing more to manage workload and stress, and protect wellbeing and mental health.
Technologists have to be given more support to deal with the heightened level of complexity in which they are now operating. That means having access to the right tools, data, and resources, and organisations protecting their wellbeing, both inside and outside working hours.
In 2018, we revealed that 9% of technologists were operating as Agents of Transformation – elite technologists with the skills, vision and ambition to deliver innovation within their organisations – but that organisations needed five times as many technologists to be performing at that level in order to compete over the next ten years.
But those time frames have gone out of the window due to COVID-19. Accelerating the journey to become an Agent of Transformation is now a critical priority for technologists and the organisations they work for.
Technologists are ready for their defining moment but we must ensure that we look after them as they guide their organisations through these difficult times and towards a better future.