While the pandemic has proven you can’t plan for everything, the research firm Forrester still wants to make sure business and technology leaders prepare as much as possible. The firm discussed the top technology challenges facing businesses today and how they can address them at its Technology & Innovation Global virtual conference happening this week. 

According to Stephen Powers, an analyst serving application development and delivery professionals at Forrester, the number one factor fueling the need to address today’s challenges is the customer. He found 66% of business leaders believe addressing emerging customer needs that will arrive in the next 12 to 24 months is an essential priority. 

“It makes sense now more than ever. How are we going to differentiate during an economic downturn. It’s going to be customer obsession,” said Powers. 

However, Powers found that businesses are underinvesting in technologies to address customer needs, with 79% of business leaders reporting they don’t think they’ve invested enough in the technology that helps them compete effectively. In addition, not enough money is being invested toward innovation. A majority of it is being spent solely on operations, and the pandemic isn’t making it any easier, with 84% of respondents finding they don’t have the right technology to support remote operations during the pandemic. 

“When it comes to adapting quickly, technology brings a big role,” said Powers. “We are going to need technology to help us move faster than ever.”

Powers sees three factors that will drive the technology needs in 2020 and beyond: 

  1. Changing buyers, as more people are buying online and relying on personal devices
  2. Workers and employees who are going to want more flexibility in terms of when, where and how they work. 
  3. Changing operational models to address the way people engage with firms and disruptions in the supply chain 

Brian Hopkins, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, explained while the 2010s felt like we were speeding down the highway, the 2020s are going to be focused on dealing with the aftermath of that acceleration. For instance, the acceleration is causing an uncertainty on where things are going, making clients feel uncomfortable. Leaders are being asked to do more with technology, go digital, and accelerate digital transformations in ways that they didn’t know were even possible. Hopkins explained leaders will have to find ways to build trust, collaborate with different C-suite leaders, and create future fit businesses and strategies.  

One way to build that trust is to address the human element involved in the business. “We are talking about technology and innovation as if they magically just happen together… all that depends on the humans involved,” said James McQuivey, vice president and principal analyst serving CMOs at Forrester. “You can’t simply say let’s invest in these technologies and they will magically create these outcomes for the business. The humans have to choose to invest in them. The humans have to choose to work together with these technologies to feel like they’re going to benefit them. And they have to feel like they’re helping them overcome problems that they need to overcome in order to solve customer issues and help improve the customer outcomes.” 

Having an inclusive culture is also key to fostering innovation, according to Katy Tynan, principal analyst at Forrester. “An inclusive culture is really about valuing the strength of being different,” she said. “And what that means is at the end of the day, we can create an environment, an organization, an operating structure where trust comes into play. We trust that our employer is going to support us. We trust that we’re going to be able to bring our whole selves to work.”

Tynan finds organizations that are more diverse and invest more heavily in inclusion strategies are the ones that outperform their competition. An inclusion strategy is a five-part model that addresses equity, inclusion, accountability, transparency, and listening, she explained. 

“The ultimate metric of whether your practice is successful is whether your employees can support the sense of belonging, whether they say in their engagement surveys that they feel like they belong in this organization,” said Tynan. 

According to Bobby Cameron, vice president and principal analyst serving CIO professionals at Forrester, the leading-edge firms who are succeeding at being adaptive, creative and resilient are the ones that are able to change their business models, shift relationships with the ecosystem, and build out the human element to be more creative. 

However, Amy DeMartine, vice president and research director at Forrester, explained being adaptive and being resilient are two different things. Being adaptive refers to planned changes while business resiliency is the ability to respond to unforeseen events. 

There are three different levels and seven pillars a business can take to be resilient, according to DeMartine. The levels include: On par practices or just trying to survive; advanced practices that a company puts in place ahead of time to respond more flexibility and quickly; and differentiated practices that allow companies to pivot during systemic events. 

Lastly, the seven pillars are:

  1. Business impact analysis and continuity plans
  2. Systemic risk
  3. Dependable IT
  4. Automation
  5. Workforce contingency
  6. Supply chain
  7. Crisis management

“The recipe for successful tech innovation is changing,” said Hopkins. “The strategies that worked in the 2010s will not work in the 2020s. Firms that make big bets on new business models, new ways of working, and new talent will be more adaptive and resilient to the disruptive forces that will characterize the 2020s. To sprint forward, CIOs must renew their organization’s resolve to digitally transform and turn these efforts into must-have foundational investments.”