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Agents of Transformation stepped up during the pandemic

An abstract image of a man controlling various IT applications from a single control panel.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

For the vast majority of people working in IT, the last 18 months have been the most challenging period of their working lives. IT management departments have been at the forefront of their organizations’ response to the pandemic, delivering the rapid innovation required to meet customer needs and enable workforces to suddenly switch to remote working.

About the author

James Harvey is the EMEAR CTO at Cisco AppDynamics.

In our latest Agents of Transformation study, Agents of Transformation: The Rise of Full-Stack Observability, we exposed the impact that the last 18 months have had on technologists, working extremely long hours under the most intense pressure. They’ve been asked to deliver digital transformation three times faster than prior to the pandemic, whilst at the same time knowing that any drop in IT performance levels could be costly, impacting end user experience at a time when customers and employees have been relying on digital services more than ever before.

But whilst IT departments have understandably been feeling the strain, our research reveals another side to the story, one in which technologists have relished the opportunity to step up and play a critical role in guiding their organizations through the crisis.

As many as 70% of technologists report that they found their work to be more exciting during 2020, and 75% believe that the next 12 months will offer a chance to shine, a defining moment of their careers.

Technologists are relishing the opportunity to make an impact

In a recent article in Harvard Business Review, Christine Porath, a professor of management at Georgetown University, described the concept of ‘thriving’ during challenging times – “the psychological state in which people experience a sense of both vitality and learning. Thriving individuals are growing, developing, and energized rather than feeling stagnated or depleted.”

Without doubt, there are many technologists around the world who are ‘thriving’ at this time. For all of the stress and the late nights, there is clearly a widespread sense of fulfilment, enjoyment and pride at the impact that IT has delivered under the most testing conditions. And there is a feeling of excitement about what the next 12 months will bring, as businesses continue to look to their IT departments to propel them into the future.

When we initially launched our Agents of Transformation study back in 2018, we revealed the characteristics of these elite global technologists who are primed to deliver transformation within their organizations. We found that Agents of Transformation possess the skills, vision and determination to drive innovation, whilst also being team players, able to communicate and collaborate with people both inside and outside of the IT department.

But beyond this, we learnt that Agents of Transformation care deeply about the impact of technological advancements on society and are motivated by leaving a lasting personal legacy. And notably, they expressed an appetite to work on ambitious, groundbreaking innovation projects over the coming years.

Looking back at these findings now, and it becomes less surprising that some technologists are embracing the opportunity to guide their organizations through the pandemic and beyond. Perhaps what’s more striking is the number of technologists who are relishing the challenge. In 2018, we found that only 9% of technologists were operating as Agents of Transformation; our latest study suggests that many others are now rapidly progressing along their journey to the summit of the IT profession.

Technologists need the tools to keep on thriving

Technologists will continue to thrive over the coming year – they are desperate to have a positive impact, guide their organizations through the current crisis and leave a legacy of innovation.

But a word of caution. Our research reveals that the majority of technologists are now concerned (and increasingly frustrated) about the lack of tools and data they have at their disposal, and the impact this will have on their ability to deliver rapid innovation and faultless digital experiences.

Facing ever more complexity on the back of rapid digital transformation and an increasingly sprawling IT estate, technologists need full visibility up and down the IT stack in order to monitor performance and fix issues before they impact end users. But currently very few have a real-time view on IT performance, or the ability to connect performance data with real-time business metrics to understand which issues matter most to the business and to prioritize their actions accordingly.

The result is a never-ending cycle of firefighting in the IT department, with technologists unsure where to focus their efforts and unable to cut through the overwhelming volumes of data coming at them from all across the IT estate. Alarmingly, more than three quarters (76%) say they cannot afford to rely on gut instinct with technology performance anymore – they need accurate data, otherwise they will be hampered in their efforts to deliver innovation and they won’t be able to perform to their full potential.

Technologists need a single view on performance up and down the IT stack — from customer-facing applications, through to core IT infrastructure – and they need a business lens on IT performance to pinpoint the most critical issues so that they can act before they impact customers. Only this alignment between technology and business performance can enable technologists to deliver the very best digital experiences, drive innovation and keep on thriving in these uncertain times.

James Harvey is the EMEAR CTO at Cisco AppDynamics, working with clients to convert performance insights into business outcomes. He is also responsible for setting AppDynamics’ regional product strategy.