Some closing thoughts from IT leaders

The effect of the pandemic came up in the verbatims, whilst also acknowledging the great work IT professionals do. Said one responder: ‘I see staff retention as key with ever increasing complexity being difficult to manage when key positions are lost. People are tired and burned out with Covid and the stereotype of introverted IT people - not trying to be rude - but working alone at home has not helped them. They remain amazing and my priority is to look after them as best I can.’

Interestingly several commenters mentioned their specific sector issues, with transformation being a common thread:

‘I work in the hospitality industry and like every other department, our budget was slashed, and half the team were made redundant. We were already working close to the bone before the redundancies. Due to the pandemic, the company I work for has suddenly woken up to the cost savings and efficiencies that can be gained from IT, but without any willingness to invest in training and resourcing for IT and for non-IT team members. Projects that were on hold for years have been all scheduled and done in a very tight timeline in the past six months, with no proper project management because there is literally no one to do it. We've just muddled through.’’

‘I work in the NHS. Our customer focus will be tackling wait lists and improving efficiencies, risk stratification, and business intelligence to ensure we are treating the backlog of people that has arisen as a result of the pandemic. We are looking at RPA, AI, and more modern digital solutions to enable that objective.’

‘Cyber is a major issue for all of higher education in the UK currently, so takes top spot on the worry list, but business transformation (being everything from new operating models, through to continuous improvement) is an important second. I'm fortunate that I sit on the executive group for the University so can ensure digital, data and all things IT are embedded into all strategic decisions, but this is not always the case, and the sector is poor at understanding the strategic value of IT with the consequence that progress is often slow and projects often go awry.’

Some closing thoughts from IT professionals

The verbatims from IT professionals also had several common threads - transformation, security and political concerns - often informed by the experience of the pandemic. For example:

‘Remedial modes of working are absolutely critical for business continuity in the event of a cyberattack or loss of IT systems. People (particularly government) place far too great a reliance on automated systems with no thought to the continuity of the system or alternate means of process continuation should a "mainstream" way of working fail. People should be made to have awareness of how to keep working should the IT network fail. Particularly in enforced home-working situations due to the pandemic.’

Despite the improved appreciation of the need for IT knowledge amongst leaders, the verbatims still drew critical views of C level competence:

‘We have problem in staff strength especially when it comes to handling a big project. It’s unfortunate that some people are appointed to head the affairs of IT without understanding the IT itself. In addition, there is also a lack of leadership skills by the Head of IT. It is very painful that motivation and incentives are not encouraging to the IT staff that will serve as a motivation to do more out of passion and commitment.’

‘In education there is a need to pursue efficiencies which can only come from adoption of systems to automate routine and repetitive tasks. There has been adoption of new systems, but often these are inappropriate and did not take account of the workflows of those who would eventually use the systems. In this instance senior management push through adoption, with little understanding of the operation necessities of the workforce. Adoption without wisdom is like non-adoption, neither benefits the business in the long run.’

Some interesting warnings also came to the fore: ‘I work for a large, regulated organisation that has outsourced just about all its IT. One of the biggest challenges we seem to face is achieving the agility that the business needs to thrive when the suppliers focus on delivering to the letter of contracts in order to avoid the perceived risk of penalties. If our experience is common, then the outsourcing and services markets may be in line for quite significant disruption ere long.’

‘The public and political focus on climate change has started to drive some of our longer term and short-term goals above just costs. Hence focus to remove legacy systems due, not to just cyber concerns, but also the power draw v performance of the systems. I can see the short-term use of AMD over Intel due to total system power usage (and so carbon footprint) and longer-term ARM (especially for the desktops space) as we move towards a zero-carbon goal.’

The personal dimension

Amongst a slew of numbers we can forget that we are dealing with people... their careers and their futures.

We had a number of comments from professionals on acknowledgement, personal goals and personal needs:

‘An undervalued aspect of software engineering is how to value individual contributors past the senior software engineer role, eg staff engineer. We need to be more flexible in providing strong and compelling career paths to key people.’

‘The main problems are of psychology or of the imagination. They are not mainly technical. Of course, the degree to which we will be able to solve the technical problems will depend on how competent our universities are.’

‘I need to upskill myself.’

‘I think that the current job will be my last. Ageism is still a huge obstacle and I think I may retire early.’

The political perspective

Our membership represents diverse views and, whilst BCS as an organisation maintains a party-political neutral stance, our members express their views. The closing two comments include this political dimension:

‘As an organisation, I would expect you to challenge government diktats where logically they make little sense. We are being shunted into a 'new normal' where we 'build back better', meaning personal liberties are slowly eroded and humans will become little more than digital slaves. COVID is the trojan horse that will bring in a new economic system across the bankrupt west, where digital IDs (initially called vaccine passports) will be linked to a digital currency and governments will have absolute control over the individual. Western democracies - via a centralised coordinated effort - are bringing in Chinese-style social credit systems under your watch. Liberties ceded over the past 24 months will never be returned, despite the political mumblings to the contrary. Don't say you were not warned. You have a duty to act.’

‘Increasing interest in cloud services in my facility is a concern. Google, Amazon and Microsoft now have unprecedented control over data and the flow of data. This has been proven to compromise our privacy, our free will, and our democracies. Despite working in a government facility, I am expected to train and work more and more within a cloud environment. No debate is being had in our facility on the dangers of accepting the economic interests of surveillance capitalists - we are just accepting it on the basis of it being 'cutting-edge'. The SysAdmin knowledge is slowly disappearing in our facility due to this diversion of interest, meaning we're losing the ability to counteract this monopoly of talent.’