“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”President Dwight D. Eisenhower
German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke had it right when he said, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Whether you are fighting a major battle, or developing an IT strategy for your business, no one can anticipate what challenges you will face, and how they will disrupt your planning efforts.
History provides many examples of how external factors can disrupt the best laid IT plans. Two events come to mind with different ramifications—Year 2000 (known in the day as Y2K) and COVID-19. The world anticipated the Y2K Millennium Bug and had ample time to prepare for the event. Even still, uncertainty loomed over every step of the planning cycle, since there was much we did not know about the actual global consequences of the bug. In the end, the projected Y2K apocalypse was void of “doom and gloom” and turned out to be a relatively minor event.
In contrast, COVID-19 struck suddenly and caught many organizations off guard. With little-to-no IT planning to meet this challenge, new priorities had to be set, and solutions developed on the fly. Two years later, the lingering challenges of moving to a remote virtual environment continue to persist today (increased cybersecurity vulnerabilities, supply chain issues, labor shortages, to name a few). No one can plan for all possible contingencies, therefore, building a plan cannot be a static, one-time event. IT plans must be continuously updated, exercised, flexible, and adaptable to changing circumstances.
Uncertainty is the most significant menace facing IT leaders today. The soothsayer and crystal ball methodology of predicting the future does not work in the 21th century. Leaders face enormous challenges when confronted with unpredictable events. Competing resources, a rapidly-changing environment, and a short-term focus on results all interfere with our ability to bring solutions to bear.
Getting ahead of uncertainty starts and ends with leadership. It is the connective tissue that brings together the people, processes, and technology required to address uncertainty head-on. Leaders can motivate organizations during both good and bad times. During a period of uncertainty, organizations thrive on open communications, transparency, and an optimistic vision for the future. Being complacent or “flying by the seat of your pants” always has adverse and damaging effects.
Information technology touches every facet of our life. Because of its pervasiveness, it is imperative that organizations be prepared to respond to the worst possible scenarios. Organizations must take a proactive stance and plan for potential contingencies no matter how illogical they may seem. The best way to be prepared for the unexpected is to acknowledge that unanticipated events are inevitable and unavoidable. Understanding you are not immune is the most important step in overcoming uncertainty.