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Leading, Innovating and Evolving in a Downturn

“Downturn or no downturn the demand for tech skills will always outstrip supply”. These technology leaders discussed leading, innovating and evolving in a downturn.

Downturn, also referred to as a recession, is typically classed as the decline in economic and business activity across a national and international stage. It is an unfavourable business climate that can be advantageous for some processes and investments—but only when done well and with intention. In this roundtable debate, technology leaders discuss their downturn strategies, a versatile workforce and the support leaders should seek to work smarter in a downturn.

With Trish Lynch moderating, the speakers of this roundtable debate include:

Downturn strategies – doing more with less

“My career has been airlines and hospitality”, said CTO at IP Dividual, Fergus Boyd. He explained that there were the two most damaged industries during the Covid-19 pandemic. He noted that this isn’t the first issue that they have had over the years. Fergus outlined that airlines were lucky to make up to three percent on their investments while hospitality made up to 50 percent. “Airlines have always been under pressure to be very innovative to do more with less”, he stated. In response to this, they implemented “cross skill teams” such as IT support teams or infrastructure teams. Fergus added that these days, there are tools including robotic process automation that can help with the workload.

Global CTO at Soho House Group – Raj Dhawan – wants technologists to think about what’s best for the business. “Downturn or no downturn, the demand for tech skills will always outstrip what the supply is”, he said. His take on this is that they should prioritise work based on what the business demands currently are. He agreed with Fergus’ idea on overlapping techniques and using RPA. In addition to that, he wants technology leaders to get the most out of their business efforts. He was asked about the importance of the versatile workforce by moderator Trish Lynch. He argued that if they are versatile enough to carry out more than one job, they will be able to help the business and the employees within the organisation. 

Drawing from a technology leader perspective, CIO, Executive Partner & Senior Analyst at Forrester, Phil Brunkard, focused on strategic business investment. He argued that organisations shouldn’t be forced into a position where the IT department becomes the cost centre. “There’s always opportunities to cut the fat but not the muscle in the IT organisation”, said Phil. He argued that this is also a good opportunity to re-evaluate projects that may not be benefiting the organisation such as early cloud implementations that have become data legacy.

Work smarter, not harder

“One of the things that I’ve seen in traditional businesses is that there is misalignment and lack of appreciation and understanding of how technology and the digital team works”, said Raj. He explained that what usually happens is that business teams think of technology and digital teams as “delivery factories”. He stated that having a discussion about problems and being upfront is important. In addition to this, he wants the business to understand how things are being delivered. “Delivering things in phases based on business priority is aligned back to revenue goals”, he said. 

Fergus maintained that his teams are very dynamic and fluid, as well as the business teams. He is currently tutoring and mentoring university students. “They could be the next CTO or infrastructure engineer in four years’ time”, Fergus said. Building that network and bringing these people in is key, in addition to building business acumen. 

Fergus also argued the importance of retraining and making money through delivering different services. In an example, he explained that in Cornwall, the hotel he is working with is employing ex-fishermen to become chefs and to take on front-of-house positions. Building onto Fergus’ point, Phil used a more technology-centred analogy. “Bring in X security people into cybersecurity-type roles because they have that mindset and they understand the importance of good cybersecurity governance,” he said. These people can then adapt their capabilities to the new skill sets that, he argued, are native for those new roles.

This roundtable was recorded at The Studio and made in partnership with Cisco. To find out more about The Studio, click here.