6 focuses for collaborative IT in 2021

The relationships with IT has historically been driven by top-down decisions about which technology teams can (or must) use. However, in this age of remote work, it’s crucial that employees have the technology they need to collaborate and execute from anywhere in the world.

To discover what works in this new world of collaborative IT, we spoke to three experts at Distributed 2020: Chet Mandair, CIO of Guidewire; Gopi Parampalli, VP of IT at EA; and Keith Pemberton, Sr. Director of Global Technology Tools & Services at McKesson.

They shared their learnings from building organizations that bring value to users quickly, and what they see as the most critical areas to focus on for 2021 and beyond. Check out our highlights, or watch the full session.

Trend 1: Moving from infrastructure to business outcomes

The introduction of SaaS cloud technologies has contributed to the requirement for IT to be much more collaborative: spending less time with infrastructure and focusing more time delivering business outcomes in a secure way.

 Chet Mandair, CIO of Guidewire

To deliver at the speed that customers demand, cloud technologies require a new structure, new operating models, and new funding models.

Mandair explained that there are a number of contributors to this change: the move from funding large CAPEX projects that are delivered in 12-14 months to funding employee experiences that can be delivered in an Agile way, continuous delivery that is close to the customer, and experimentation and innovation through programs like hackathons and design thinking.

Trend 2: Adapting to employees working from anywhere

Even before the pandemic, it was clear that team co-location was a thing of the past. And after several months of adapting to large-scale remote work, enterprise orgs are thinking beyond working from home to working from anywhere – which necessitates a focus on “anywhere operations.”

Gopi Parampalli of EA highlighted the gaming industry as one that started out highly co-located. However, approximately 3-5 years ago, companies began creating more “centers of excellence,” dispersing members of a single team across multiple offices, locations, and even countries. EA had multiple offices in 26 countries, which meant “the need dramatically shifted and increased when you moved to distributed development.”

He explained how the past several months of working from home have only compounded the complexity of coordinating different individuals, teams, and locations to work together seamlessly.

“Without proper, usable, simple collaboration tools, it’s next to impossible,” Parampalli explained.

Trend 3: Enabling and encouraging asynchronous work

With people scattered across the globe and in different timezones, not everyone can be on the same call simultaneously. Parampalli points out that in order to avoid burnout and support positive mental health, asynchronous work should be encouraged – and suitable tools to promote this new way of working need to be purchased.

There are innovation and operation sessions that don’t happen with 20 people in the same room together anymore. They happen across multiple time zones and places. And that’s where asynchronous tools play a critical role.

 Chet Mandair, CIO of Guidewire

Trend 4: Bottoms-up adoption of technology

The panelists explained how the pandemic sped up an existing trend of giving more freedom to individual teams to choose the technology that works best for them. And, if they saw that it was working well for that particular team, they would roll it out more broadly or even globally. For example, at Guidewire, Miro was first adopted by the UX team, but is now part of the enterprise-wide collaborative toolkit.

We’re having to be more nimble and, in some instances, maybe not follow a formal evaluation process. There’s more of a groundswell around a specific technology that’s working well.

 Keith Pemberton, Sr. Director of Global Technology Tools & Services at McKesson

Mandair added that at EA, the trend of crowdsourcing is especially true for collaborative and productivity software, like Slack, Zoom, and Miro. IT leaders need to keep “eyes and ears open” to observe what tech is being used successfully and the specific problems it’s solving.

IT departments also need to look for the overlap between products, to make sure they aren’t redundancies, while at the same time understanding the niche needs of each group. For an employee who wants to get a tool formally sanctioned, it’s easier to make a case for something that solves a broader problem for multiple teams.

Trend 5: Listening to the voice of the customer (i.e., employees)

Successful delivery of collaboration tools involves a combination of empathy, intentionality, and partnership to ensure widespread adoption.

“The voice of the customer – the employees – is becoming very important. Making sure we understand the needs, provide the right tool set, and the right way to engage whatever omni channel experience they come through,” explained Chet Mandair.

Some companies use design thinking techniques, using a human-centric approach to design around the employee journey based on the personas. And all panelists mentioned that today’s customers continue to crave a friction-free, seamless experience – both from their IT workflows and from the collaboration tools themselves.

Engaging with employee customers is also key to rolling out tools, whether it’s through internal training or enrolling ambassadors. This is also when it makes sense to weigh factors such as the robustness of their training and the capabilities of their customer success teams when vetting vendors.

I think of every product as a success only when it’s adopted. So, which means you have to be very thoughtful in rolling out the products. You have to think of them as marketing campaigns.

 Gopi Parampalli, VP of IT at EA

Trend 6: Balancing user experience and security

Returning to the idea of anywhere operations, panelists noted that it’s paramount to balance easy collaboration with security.

“At the end of the day, we want to make sure applications are secure from an enterprise perspective,” noted Chet Maindair. He explained how the company uses software that keeps track of what applications employees are using and then evaluate whether they meet the security requirements to be part of the enterprise collaboration toolkit.

He also mentioned that COVID has led to increased phishing attempts and “a lot of other risks that come from a ‘working from anywhere’ environment.”

Preparing for what’s next

If there’s one thing the past year has taught us, it’s that the ability to be agile, adaptable, and flexible is critical. For enterprise IT departments, COVID introduced new challenges but was also a forcing function for confronting existing challenges with innovative solutions. In the end, keeping the customers’ needs front and center is the North Star that will set teams up for success in 2021.

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