Scott Hicar, CIO of Benchmark Electronics, has realized that as much as he'd like to forget all about 2020, the performance of his IT team and others is something to admire and remember.

“It is only on the brink that people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve.”

- Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese) in "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (2008 version)

 

Hopefully, 2020 will go down as the most unusual year any leader, and certainly any IT leader, has experienced. But looking back over this challenging year as it draws to a close, I realize that something fascinating happened. I look forward to forgetting 2020 and moving on, but I have also started to appreciate the lessons I learned, and the valuable experiences they have added to my professional portfolio. 

Something that we as IT leaders do more than most of our peers is act as change agents. We drive change through technology-enabled initiatives, developing technology into new solutions, and creating more efficient ways to solve problems that ultimately create new forms of value for the enterprise.

IT Teams Rose to the Challenge

COVID-19 created a massive change that was disruptive to every business model and every person globally, and at this precipice, IT professionals have delivered. As I talk to peer CIOs, I am learning that we all put on our rally caps and, in record time, shifted employees to working remotely. We also invented, created, acquired, and deployed remote productivity tools, new applications, and ways to access data that was necessary for our business to remain open and to support our customers remotely – again, at lightning speed.

Just as importantly, we also deployed innovative technology to create safer work environments to help the employees and teams we support, and in many situations, our customers. We didn’t walk, we ran through a change curve the likes of which I hope I won’t see again anytime soon.  At Benchmark in particular, we went from a mix of in-person, audio calls and very limited Microsoft Teams online meetings, to essentially all of our discussions, including board meetings, going virtual. As our business implemented new processes to drive cleanliness, social distancing and employee safety, while simultaneously adopting quickly emerging global regulations, we rode the wave of change.

 

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The examples of what we’ve been able to achieve during these unprecedented times are numerous. Just this week, I heard about new business we were awarded that was secured after conducting a virtual factory tour. The tour combined video and other multimedia into a showcase of our capabilities for the prospective customer. Other examples of extraordinary work from our Benchmark IT team include a complete upgrade to our core networks in factories around the world, while working remotely. In another project, they implemented an ERP system virtually across several factories. I never expected that either of these things could get done without travel.

There are also many IT leaders in industries heavily disrupted by COVID-19 who had to quickly pivot their strategies and implement drastic actions to protect the viability of their businesses. Not the kind of change anyone likes to make, but for 2020, surviving is thriving for many business models. 

Technology Architecture to the Rescue

But in retrospect, it isn’t a coincidence we’ve been able to meet the challenges the pandemic created. The building blocks that many IT leaders have been assembling over the last several years yielded the flexibility we needed to pivot fast. These include:

  • Cloud capacity, which delivered the ability to up flex digital collaboration tools.
  • Security tools, which helped manage a new set of remote employee risks.
  • SaaS models that supported a massive work shift up, and in some conditions down, for hosted applications.
  • Remote productivity tools that allowed IT and other team resources to safely do their work from anywhere.

If our teams and the customers we support could bottle the willingness to change that came from standing on the precipice this year, imagine the possibilities! In 2021, I will be happy when the world begins to move beyond the COVID-19 crisis; even if I’m sitting through a meeting on the third round of training for the change management required to adopt our next technology. However, we can all find successes this year and learn lessons from the strength of a team’s ability to change when necessary. We can also appreciate IT portfolio modernizations achieved, and celebrate how they delivered unexpected abilities to dramatically shift the locations, workload, and nature of work. 

Everyone in the IT value chain, from startups to suppliers, through IT teams and leaders, should really take stock of just how much flexibility, resilience, and creativity our industry has been able to bring forward this year on behalf of our employees and customers. We stood on the edge and met 2020 head on.  

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