Leadership in digital and technology always has those three core elements – ‘people, process, technology’ – and depending on which organisation, and where your focus is in that organisation it will change what and how you focus on each.

As a CIO I’m often ask what do I actually do? The reality is that it’s pretty much focussed on the ‘people’ bit – how to leverage the best people to do the best things, with the right technology at the right time. But don’t you look after the technology? Yes, and the ‘data’ bit (which really should be added, but then it’s not the power of three). There is also now an ever present fifth – ‘security’. That’s all before we get to ‘process’ – whether that’s business process (through stakeholders and customers) or the processes that ensure efficient and effective of IT related services.

But back to challenging times, and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. And right now there a number of challenges, but no one thing. In recent history it’s been the pandemic and talent acquisition and retention, a decade and half before was the global down-turn with the financial crisis. The UK also has the unique challenge of Brexit and what that means now and in the future.

Those challenges haven’t gone away, but we also now have the stubborn cost of inflation, global uncertainty that is impacting financial markets and risk appetite, the cooling of the market after the pandemic investments and subsequent rebalancing, the leveraging of globalisation to reduce costs, still the talent attraction and retention, and of course technology surging ahead with AI/ML and the relentless drive for cloud efficiencies. Those self-driving cars never did happen (they will) but the AI/ML technology that supported them pivoted into others areas.

My job is about keeping ahead of the curve all the time, even if it’s only just enough – this is easier of course when things are more certain, and relative market growth is only going up – these are the moments when investments seem more obvious and easier. But when the economic ‘headwinds’ blow, we all see and feel it. But not everyone understands what it means – especially when there are mixed messages we have today, with inflation, economic uncertainty, global instability, reduced risk appetite, but still high employment, reasonable investment, and retail spending. But most people, businesses and individuals are generally being more cautious. The pandemic turned things on their head – the disparity between people’s financial stability changed and widened, likewise for organisations and businesses needed to change and refocus. A chain-reaction through the global economy taking several years to play out.

It’s during these challenging times that leaders need to be focussed, self-assured and role-modelling the behaviours you need from your team and organisation. Now is not the time to expecting things just to work out because of natural growth or assuming everyone is on the same page – now more than ever is the time for planning and strategy, thoughtful but decisive leadership and clear communication.

I see this being delivered in seven key areas in technology leadership. These seven areas require the focus, confident and role-modelling to be successful as we all navigate our way through the current complex mix of challenges we are currently face globally.

They say the best defence is a good offence, right now that means attack waste, challenge everything, and keep hyper focussed.

1) Focus and invest in people – the right people, doing the right thing that will deliver the things we need in the future. Keeping teams motivated to crucial, many people will be seeing and even facing their own different challenges – communication,  direction, and leadership is more important than ever. We are all in this together.

2) Ensure alignment to the business – understand the direction of the business is always essential, but where to invest resource, time and money is critical right now. Alignment with the business will reduce waste today, but also set out the effective route to building on those investments in the future.

3) Innovate through collaboration – innovation is the forward motion in any organization, but right now it can’t be done in isolation due to potential risks. Think about how you keep innovation thriving with partnering with other organisation or elsewhere in your own business. Innovation is your future success, so don’t ignore it.

4) Technology evolution rather than revolution – it’s hard to “sweat” technology assets with the SaaS applications being so prevalent. Now more than ever these need attention to drive value the out of them as much as possible and make use of the cycle of new features that come from them with configuration, business adoption, and training. If you are able to eek more value from an asset, now is probably the time to do it.

5) Unlock data – most organisations now have more data than they know what to do with. The tools are available to make use of it too, but often not the understanding of the potential in business. Talent in data analysts and scientist can help unlock this hidden value – but ONLY if the business is ready for it, so lead from the front here on demonstrating the value.

6) Turn things off – from SaaS solution, to systems and even processes that have spun up over time – if you don’t need them, or they are not driving value – turn them off. You should always consolidate where you can, now more than ever.

7) Stay security focussed – cutting budget around security is never an option that should be taken lightly. You can get more value by reducing complexity (turn things off, consolidate, simplification etc.) but security considerations are an existential threat to your technology, your people and your business – you can’t make it go away, but you can reduce your risk.

The goal of any business is ultimately to be successful not just for today, but for tomorrow and day after that. Some organisations cannot afford to think about tomorrow, it has to be the focus on today – their only option is to defend.

The important thing is not get into a position where you are only able to focus on today, so taking action now to avoid that ‘hand to mouth’ existence is essential – and that starts today, not tomorrow.