Top 13 challenges for IT Managers right now
For too long, it was thought that the IT department was simply responsible for setting up news users and resolving technical issues when they happened. However, more and more businesses are beginning to understand the strategic potential and need for IT to transform business operations and deliver a competitive advantage in a rapidly evolving world.
September 1st, 2020
Challenges for IT Managers
While this change in perspective is positive, it does mean the scope of an IT Manager’s role has increased considerably and, with this, come new challenges to address.
1. Big data
Businesses are generating more data than ever. Unfortunately, most of this is unstructured so it can’t really add any value. Transforming this data into measurable and actionable insights is one of the largest challenges facing IT pros but get it right and it has the power to completely transform a business, giving greater insight into operations, customers and the wider marketplace.
2. Asset and data management
The ever-increasing number of devices in the workplace means more monitoring and maintenance. To effectively and safely deal with this, it’s crucial that the IT strategy includes appropriate information governance programs and mobile device management policies.
As well as managing the known hardware, IT Managers must also be aware of the threat of the unknown. Shadow IT, hardware and software used by staff without the IT department’s approval or knowledge, is an increasing problem in mid-market businesses. In fact, it’s estimated that the number of software programs in use is 14 times higher than thought. This can include things like using cloud file stores like DropBox or Google Drive to share files, personal instant messaging apps or online CRM solutions.
3. Data protection
Forward-thinking mid-market businesses will have already taken a ‘privacy by design’ approach, but meeting regulatory and compliance standards around data protection is a continuing concern. Customers demand – and expect – their data to be private and secure, and any potential threat can easily drive them to a competitor.
4. New technologies
While keeping up with new technology is a challenge, a greater one is working out what’s the best fit for the business and communicating the reasons why to senior leadership.
This can be a particular problem for IT Managers who don’t have a seat on the board. It’s all too easy to get swept up by the wave of new, shiny tech and become concerned that your business is missing out because others appear to be investing. Yet this is exactly the type of spend that puts the business at risk and, in turn, creates ‘bad feeling’ towards IT. It’s crucial that IT Managers advocate for ‘a seat at the table’ to address the challenge of new technology and use their experience and expertise to guide the business towards effective investment.
5. Evolving cybersecurity threats
Cyber-security is a huge challenge, with attacks constantly growing in size, sophistication, and frequency. This rise coupled with rapidly deployed remote working solutions during COVID has led to new risks being introduced to IT environments that quickly need evaluating and controlling.
Businesses cannot take this threat lightly, as it presents a financial, reputational and operational risk. However, it’s also the area with one of the largest skills gaps – there simply aren’t enough IT security professionals worldwide to meet demand. In Europe alone, the cyber-security skills gap doubled in 2019 and two-thirds of organisations have reported a shortage of skilled or experienced security personnel.
As cyber-security is such a vast and rapidly developing area, it can be difficult for IT Managers in mid-size companies to keep up with all the latest threats whilst also managing day-to-day activity, projects and continual improvement. To address this challenge, IT Managers should consider deploying advanced technologies and services, such as SIEM and MDR, and explore co-sourcing to obtain specialist cyber-security knowledge and experience.
6. Mobile device management
BYOD is nothing new, but the introduction of multiple corporate and personal devices into the workplace during the pandemic continues to cause issues for IT Managers. The threat landscape and companies risk profiles have grown significantly and controls and so has the need to control it. Keeping users productive and engaged whilst working fulltime is going to need some focus and strategy in the medium and long-term.
7. Skills gap
IT Managers not only have to contend with a cyber-security skills shortage but, overall, there is a general gap when it comes to tech and IT skills. This has been partly driven by the breadth and pace of innovation, but also because businesses are beginning to recognise the notable role technology plays in attaining their strategic objectives and require a different skillset from their IT pros.
Businesses attribute skills gaps to lower staff productivity, fewer sales, a lack of innovation and new product development and increased operating costs. Yet, despite recognising the harm it causes, few have the processes in place to address skills gaps and do not offer formal training to technical employees to upskill.
These gaps will only continue to grow and cause further harm unless action is taken. IT Managers must convey to senior management the value of continual and strategic training for technical employees and secure budget to ensure this can happen.
However, even with training, it’s unlikely that one or two IT professionals will be able to meet all the technical and strategic skill requirements of a mid-sized business unless you’re solely focused on ‘keeping the lights on’. It can be prohibitively expensive to build out a large internal IT team and retain individuals for the long term, which is why IT managers often turn to co-sourced IT support as a way to gain the specific skills they need, often at a fraction of the cost.
8. Cloud computing
The fallout from the pandemic is only expected to further accelerate the move to the cloud and between cloud platforms, such as a shift to hybrid public and private environments. The flexibility, scalability and potential of different cloud platforms are just too greater opportunities to ignore. However, it’s important that IT Managers oversee the selection process to prevent rash decision making and budget wastage.
For those exploring new cloud-based services, it’s essential to consider security across multiple platforms. Traditionally, multiple clouds meant also managing multiple inconsistent and incompatible security systems. Now, a better option would be a cross-cloud, cloud-agnostic security platform which ensures complete enterprise-wide security, regardless of asset location.
9. Digital transformation
Digital transformation is complex, and it can be difficult to achieve success. Yet in order to prevent savvy competitors from overtaking them, businesses really need to focus their efforts in this area.
Projects or initiatives often fall on IT Managers because they’re seen as ‘tech’, but in order to achieve a successful digital transformation, the entire senior leadership needs to be engaged, establishing a clear reason for transformation and fostering a sense of urgency for making changes. The challenge for IT Managers lies in driving forward this behavioural change so digital transformation is seen as a much wider piece.
10. Hiring and retaining talent
The high demand for specific skills and a lack of suitable candidates results in fierce competition, which can make it difficult for mid-sized businesses to retain their technical talent. It’s not just a higher salary which can tempt IT pros away. Greater flexibility, upskilling opportunities, more manageable workloads and a chance to specialise – rather than the expectation to manage everything ‘IT’ – are all often cited reasons for a move.
While businesses should review their hiring and employee retention processes to identify areas for improvement, on the technical side they should also consider what skills they really need to have in-house. For example, cyber-security skills are essential, but can your business really offer the work, environment and – to be frank – the salary required to retain an expert with a niche skillset? Rather than engaging a specialist recruitment agency to find that talent, would it be more beneficial to consider other ways your business could gain access to those skills at the level you need.
11. Instilling trust
While recent events have moved IT into the heart of the business, IT Managers will need to work strategically to retain this position.
IT was hailed as a hero for helping mid-market businesses quickly make the full transition to remote working, keeping everyone running and productive. However, with people coming back into the office, IT risks becoming the villain by simply seeking to address some of the bad habits staff may have picked up during lockdown – i.e. restricting personal apps, preventing home-working until stronger security measures are in place, slow responses as the helpdesk becomes overloaded.
12. Increasing workloads
It’s positive that senior management is beginning to recognise the contribution of IT on a strategic as well as operational level, but this comes at a price for IT Managers. Not only are they typically responsible for day-to-day monitoring, maintenance and issue resolution, they also need to undertake improvement projects, create the IT strategy, investigate opportunities and generally help drive the business forward. It’s a vast set of responsibilities and often it may feel like there are not enough hours in the day to do it all.
While this is usually necessary to meet the growing requirements of mid-market businesses, it often raises concerns around reliability, accountability and security. IT Managers can typically be responsible for assessing the suitability of third-party partners, vendors and suppliers so it’s vital they have a strict assessment process in place so they can feel confident in the engagement.
An IT Manager’s role is continually evolving and therefore becoming more challenging. As the scope of responsibilities and accountability becomes wider, new challenges for IT Managers will crop up alongside those which have held fast for some time.
A number of these challenges can be addressed by IT retaining a central position in the business and having a voice at the decision-making table. IT Managers cannot address these challenges solely by themselves, they need the support of the entire senior leadership team
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