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According to a McKinsey survey, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital technologies globally by several years, pushing companies to migrate to the cloud, adopt distributed work models, and digitize their offerings.

While ultimately positive, these changes were largely reactive. In order to shift their processes, many companies pressed pause on initiatives to drive innovation and instead focused solely on keeping the lights on in their businesses. For some, it was just the decision they needed to survive the economic squeeze of the pandemic. For others, it was the wrong choice – allowing competitors to gain critical headway.

It’s never easy to choose between managing change or driving innovation within your organization. But with more changes on the horizon and rising competition promising stormy weather ahead, companies will increasingly have to make that same difficult choice. Here’s how you can plan your innovation journey – even when you can’t predict the weather.

From tech specialist to strategist: The evolving role of the technology leader in a distributed world

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In the past, IT leaders were primarily responsible for looking after their companies’ technological infrastructures. But today, as companies face increasing competition and reckon with an accelerating rate of change, that role is shifting. Tech leaders are now expected to drive business transformation, marry business strategy with technological adoption, and guide their companies through business disruptions and digital transformations alike.

According to a 2021 study by Genpact, CIOs foresee further changes affecting their roles, with 98 percent saying that they expect their responsibilities to evolve even further over the next two years. To prepare for these changes, there are three traits that today’s tech leaders must bring to the table at their organizations.

1. Balance

For the tech leaders of today, it’s no longer enough to simply have a strong technical background. Transformative tech leaders now must balance technical know-how with strategy and leadership, partnering with other leaders across the business to set, direct, and implement the company’s business direction.

Tech leaders who focus too narrowly on technical knowledge might lead their companies to be best-in-class when it comes to process and tactical prowess. However, if that’s all they can bring to the table, their company will be missing the strategy needed to best leverage that technical mastery. On the flip side, if a tech leader is strong in business strategies but doesn’t have the technical acumen to match, emerging technologies can leave the company’s back door open to operational inefficiencies.

This careful balance of business and technical acumen has already proven to help modern IT leaders. According to Genpact, 52 percent of CIOs who bring both business and engineering knowledge to the table feel that CIOs are well-positioned to support their companies’ growth post-pandemic. Only 35 percent of CIOs who skew toward an engineering specialty feel the same way.

As we look to the future, balance will emerge as a strength in tech, with transformational leaders using technology to drive business transformation.

2. Resilience

As the online world evolves, the costs of technical mishaps increase exponentially. In fact, according to IBM, the average cost of a data breach hit $4.24 million in 2021 – and that’s a number that can rise quickly depending on the length and impact of a breach. Factor in issues with compliance, and businesses can easily lose millions in revenue due to gaps in their technical infrastructure.

In today’s world, enterprises need to be secure, compliant, and resilient in order to withstand change – and tech leaders need to ensure that their technical infrastructures are flexible enough to withstand issues. Especially in a hybrid or remote environment, having control over your cloud infrastructure is critical as it ensures employees can continue working throughout disruptions that slow other businesses down.

3. Vision

As the rate of change accelerates and new technologies emerge, enterprises also need a leader who can map out future trends and connect them to today’s strategic decisions. Leaders need to be well-informed and able to evaluate and select solutions based on future-back planning: how will automation affect your infrastructure, product, and decision-making? How might machine learning disrupt the services your business offers? Which emerging technologies could transform your organization?

Being able to make decisions today based on future trends requires critical thinking and being firmly rooted in the technical space. But it also requires you to be both open to transformation and steadfastly confident in your decisions. By doing so, you can successfully overhaul your company’s offerings and infrastructure based on future trends.

Ask any visionary leader what the reaction was when they first announced an innovative product, and they’ll likely mention pushback — both internal and external. Just think of the initial reactions to the iPhone or cryptocurrency. It’s natural for people to feel unsure about shifts that pull the rug from under their feet, but a transformational leader needs to be able to guide their companies into the future with conviction.

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Despite companies’ growing expectations of tech leaders, 68 percent of CIOs today don’t feel that their departments are ready to assist their companies through another major business disruption like COVID-19. This is not surprising considering the evolving list of traits that an IT leader needs to juggle to feel confident in their role.

When it comes to driving innovation and managing change, however, the solution lies less in trying to do it all yourself and more in forging strategic partnerships. As the rate of change accelerates in both technology and business, enterprises are looking for external partners who can support them in scaling innovation and managing change. By working with a distributed network, businesses can move forward with a toolkit both larger and more flexible than they’d have on their own.

As the costs of internal innovation continue to rise, businesses are increasingly looking for external sources of innovation. Some recognize that a network of ecosystems can help harness distributed innovation. 

Accelerating Innovation Through a Network of Ecosystems, MIT Sloan Management Review, 2020

Disruption can be destructive or constructive – but a leader’s willingness to face new challenges and adapt with confidence is what ultimately drives transformation. At Atlassian, we’ve embraced constructive disruption while building on the foundations of products trusted globally today. Competitive pressures, new technologies, and global crises affect us all, but we’ve used these shifts to strengthen our solutions and build new capabilities. Today, the Atlassian platform enables effective teamwork, leverages data across tools to connect information, and unifies teams, allowing work to flow easily across your organization.

Learn more about the Atlassian platform and how it can drive innovation at your organization.

3 traits leaders need to manage change