However much we want reality to be different, it’s not. The pandemic isn’t over. There will be more quarantines, lockdowns and social restrictions. Some of them will become permanent. This is not the time to adjust to the old normal, it’s time to redefine the norm.
It hurts to admit it, but to many – in business, the state of emergency in the past 2 years has been welcome. Not the cause, but the situation. A legitimate reason to rummage for resources, re-prioritize projects, tackle issues that should have been ‘fixed’ a long time ago, but ended up at the back of the queue. Now they are suddenly critical.
That said, the state of emergency has created its own set of challenges – technical, practical, organizational. We’ve spent a lot of resources keeping business afloat in unusual circumstances. Created temporary solutions, shortcuts and procedures that work, but which often do not scale or hold up in terms of quality or resource consumption. Or security. Acceptable only when categorized as ’emergency’ and ‘temporary’. But how long can we live in a state of emergency, with ‘casts and bandages’ as an IT manager put it a couple of months back?
Simply not sustainable, and the same IT manager served his ambitions for the new year: Convert the state of emergency to the new normal – under the motto ‘this is what we have – make it work long term’. There is no ‘at the other end’ or ‘back to normal’ view, only continuous change, he points out. And I agree. Here’s his short action plan for the year we’re already two months into. It may be useful – directly or as an inspiration – to many:
- Review (get a full overview of) all temporary measures – home office, new solutions, services, premises, infrastructure, etc., fix what needs to be fixed and make them permanent.
- Review ‘old’ structures, solutions and regimes that are no longer important, phase them out.
- Accelerate the cleaning and elimination processes that were already underway before the pandemic and state of emergency. Clean out old systems, old data, old hardware, …
- More action, less discussion: Take advantage of the change in attitude that the pandemic and state of emergency has created, which makes it possible to shortcut the consensus culture that has hampered business and politics for decades.
This is one of many possible approaches to the challenge of synchronizing with reality as we enter the 3rd year of the pandemic – the most important point being that there is no ‘at the other end’ target. To ‘yearn for the return to normal’, which media and politicians often refer to, sounds desirable, but is impossible in practice and inhibiting as an attitude. Especially for those of us building the road to the future for the organization.
The main rule is that a state of emergency is costly, normalizing is effective. If the perspective exceeds 3 months, we should normalize. And in the process remove, not work around, the obstacles we encounter, blocking or attempting to block progress. Big and small, old and new. For example – are hiring processes created more than 20 years ago really what we need? Do we really have to run expensive, old software tools with limited functionality, low security and restricted access to our own data? There are always alternatives, and this is a good time to push changes – big and small.
At an entirely different level: Do municipalities really need to run their own IT departments in order to implement the level of local democracy envisioned in the 1960s? Many such scenarios are forced into the spotlight by the pandemic, old regimes overdue for revision or removal that no one has dared to touch for decennia. Far beyond the realm of our discussion, but inspiring examples as to where to look for our own sacred cows. The chance is close to 100% that they exist.
Back to our ‘normalizing’ IT manager, who elegantly served the headline above: “Frankly speaking, can we take a collective ‘return to square one’ and get started with the future?” He’s talking about his own and our common future. The change – the adaption – starts with understanding the issues and challenges we’ve been dealing with frequently over the past year. The changes that have kept us afloat. Including the realization that data and data flow are the bloodstream of everyday life, of every organization. Without them, everything stops. If they don’t flow optimally – narrow veins, high / low pressure, damage, leaks…, we struggle.
‘Digital health check’ is a great start for every year – and for 2022 in particular.