41 Pieces of Practical Advice for IT Leaders for 2021

Practical Advice for IT Leaders
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As we depart 2020 and enter a brand new – and hopefully better – year, I asked over 50 IT service management (ITSM) and IT management industry authorities to provide one piece of practical advice to IT leaders for 2021. The responses are interesting and varied, and sometimes more than a single piece of advice. But I’m sure that a little extra practical advice won’t be frowned upon. So, please keep reading to find out what the 41 IT industry authorities would recommend that you focus on in the year ahead (posted in the order of which they were received).

Find out what 41 IT Industry Authorities think IT Leaders should focus on in 2021 in this @ITSM_tools article. #ITSM #leadership Click To Tweet
Stuart Rance Photo

Stuart RanceOptimal Service Management Limited

Sit down with your customers and ask them two questions: “What do we do that annoys you or causes you to lose value?” and “What do we do that you like, and want more of?

Practical advice for 2021? Sit down and talk with your customers, says @StuartRance #ITSM Click To Tweet
Steve Morgan Photo

Steve MorganSyniad IT

My practical advice for IT leaders is to have a plan for improving the quality of IT operations and for managing the ever-changing environment – but be prepared to change it as the world changes. Don’t neglect the need for ongoing improvement activities in processes, organization, tooling, etc. Also, look for opportunities to leverage the newly found IT/business engagement, that for many organizations has become closer since the global pandemic struck.

In 2021 you need to have a plan for improving the quality of IT operations and for managing the ever-changing environment – but be prepared to change it as the world changes, says @SteveBMorgan #ITSM #servicedesk Click To Tweet

Adam HoltbyOmdia

My practical advice for IT leaders is what I recommend to clients:

  1. Short-term changes caused by remote working in particular will bring about permanent work style changes, so IT leaders must take a long-term view of enabling employees.
  2. There’s a need to re-prioritize the digital transformation agenda. Again, IT leaders must make smart and long-term technology and service investments that can help support employees in working securely and productively in a more mobile fashion.
  3. Leverage partner expertise and capabilities to help with the many complexities and considerations associated with enabling a more flexible workforce, including connectivity, hardware provisioning, device management, and security, in addition to app and process modernization.
IT leaders must make smart and long-term technology and service investments that can help support employees in working securely and productively in a more mobile fashion – @AdamHoltby #leadership #tech Click To Tweet
Martijn Adams

Martijn Adams4Me

Do more with less budget. As many of us will have to work with lower budgets in the coming years it’s worth looking now at your spend. Instead of just simply not doing certain projects or worse, let go of staff, it might be better to see if modern technologies can help you do the same things for a lower cost. For ITSM this may mean reviewing your current, expensive service management tool as there are many modern (cloud) solutions on the market today that cost significantly less than the traditional tool sets. It may also mean reviewing the capabilities of your current tool set, perhaps it has time registration or project management included. If so you may want to be able to get rid of another tool you have that does this and save yourself the license or subscription costs.

As many of us will have to work with lower budgets in the coming years it’s worth looking now at your spend – @martijn_adams #leadership #ITSM Click To Tweet
Greg Sanker

Greg SankerState of Oregon

My practical advice for IT leaders is that they must transition from activity to outcome-focused management, both in how we manage staff (virtual staff, remote working, anytime/anywhere) and our role within the organization. And from ‘what are we doing’ (cost center, processes, service level agreements (SLAs), activities, traditions) to ‘how are we enabling business outcomes’ (business enabler, business value, supporting outcomes).

IT leaders must transition from ‘what are we doing’ (cost center, processes, SLAs, activities, traditions) to ‘how are we enabling business outcomes’ (business enabler, business value, supporting outcomes) – @GTSanker #leadership #ITSM Click To Tweet
Sanjeev NC Photo

Sanjeev NCSuperOps.ai

My practical advice for IT leaders is don’t shy away from investing in digital tools and increase your budget if you must. Only good tools can bridge the inefficiencies caused by a remote workforce.

@yenceesanjeev urges IT Leaders to realize that only good tools can bridge the inefficiencies caused by a remote workforce. #ITSM Click To Tweet
Sami Kallio

Sami KallioHappySignals

Don’t try to control your employees. Rather focus on motivation and giving them purpose as to why they do certain things. Plus, understanding employee needs is now even more important than it was, especially since for many employees contacts within the company will now be mainly digital. This means that the need for IT to understand and focus on the end-users experience is even higher. Most of the overall employee experience is now on the shoulders of IT, not HR. We really need to help HR and business to understand their employees.

Put simply, don’t try to control your employees – @SamiKallioHki #ITSM #business Click To Tweet
Daniel Breston

Daniel BrestonDaniel Breston Ltd

My practical advice for IT leaders is visualize your processes as end-to-end entities where possible, and then invite as many people as you can to comment on them to help their improvement. At a personal level, remember that 2020 proved that you need to have empathy and courage. Empathy for yourself and your people. Courage to help yourself and them through these difficult times. Don’t stop now! Keep that momentum going of being an obstacle remover, guide, coach, and manager in 2021.

Visualize your processes as end-to-end entities where possible, and then invite as many people as you can to comment on them to help their improvement – @DanielBreston #ITSM Click To Tweet
Mark Smalley Photo

Mark SmalleySmalley.IT

When starting new ‘projects,’ first assess whether the situation is predictable enough to warrant a confirmatory approach following a plan with predetermined deliverables and milestones. If not, adopt a more exploratory approach, taking things step by step and moving each time to the adjacent possible, exploiting opportunities that emerge on the way and otherwise might be missed.

When starting new 'projects,' first assess whether the situation is predictable enough to warrant a confirmatory approach following a plan with predetermined deliverables and milestones, says @MarkSmalley #ITSM Click To Tweet
Karen Ferris Photo

Karen Ferriskarenferris.com

My practical advice for IT leaders is: Reflect, learn, and grow. 2020 was the biggest education we’ve had in a long time. Don’t let it go to waste.

Reflect, learn, and grow. 2020 was the biggest education we’ve had in a long time. Don't let it go to waste – @KarenFerris #ITSM #business Click To Tweet
Matthew Burrows Photo

Matthew BurrowsBSMImpact

All IT leaders should know their skills inventory – what skills each of their people has, using an industry-standard framework/language, i.e. SFIA. You can’t plot any journey without knowing where you’re starting from, so know where you are in terms of your people and their skills and competencies.

All IT leaders should know their skills inventory – what skills each of their people has, using an industry standard framework/language, i.e. SFIA, says @MatthewKBurrows #leadership #business Click To Tweet

Ashwin Ram – ITSM Evangelist, ManageEngine

My practical advice for IT leaders is recalibrate the service desk for better remote incident response:

  • Revisit your incident priority matrix and SLAs by reevaluating the severity and impact of various incidents in a distributed work environment. Pre-pandemic, a VPN outage was a normal incident; current conditions generally make this a major incident.
  • Bolster communication channels for internal triaging and external communication.
  • Improve interoperability between your service desk software and other IT management tools to consolidate alerts and respond quicker with virtual war rooms, SOCs, NOCs, and the like.
In 2021, you need to recalibrate your service desk for better remote incident response. #ITSM #servicedesk Click To Tweet
Sofi Fahlberg

Sofi FahlbergAccenture

Figure out what kind of problems your business is solving for its customers, and how you can be sure you’re doing that in the best way possible.

Figure out what kind of problems your business is solving for its customers – @SofiFahlberg #ITSM #business Click To Tweet
Gary Percival

Gary PercivalSM4ALL

For me, there are three things IT leaders need to focus on:

  1. Customer-driven improvements – With any improvements you seek to make in your services and practices, engage with your customers and seek out what they value as improvements. Plan your roadmap of enhancements to show you’re listening to them. Their assessment, not only of your product, but also of your approach to them, will be a make or break measure of your performance. Do not call yourself “the expert” if you don’t live in their shoes.
  2. Keep change and configuration management in sync – If an item is not important enough to be tracked under configuration management, then it’s not important enough to apply change management to manage alterations to that item. At all times, these two practices must remain in sync. If not, you’re not presenting a consistent message to your customers. If this is new to your organization, then start both practices with only a few item types. I suggest services, applications, databases, and servers. The absolute critical ones. Make sure your processes flow well, integrate together, and are accepted by your customers. Once you have this foundation, it’s easy to add other item types.
  3. Remember to strengthen service resilience – A service warranty is easy to overlook when the focus is on fancy features. But the fancy features mean nothing if the service is unreliable. Remember to always include a review of resilience of a service in any update. Will this modification improve availability, capacity, continuity, security, maintainability, and durability?
With any improvements you seek to make in your services and practices, engage with your customers and seek out what they value as improvements – @AllSm4 #ITSM #leadership Click To Tweet
Mauricio Corona

Mauricio CoronaBP Gurus

The pace of technological progress speeds up exponentially, however, organizations change very slowly, and organizational culture change is even slower. If you want to succeed in this digital and smart automation era, the key focus is PEOPLE. Communication, creativity, innovative thinking, collaboration, cognitive flexibility, and social intelligence will become your super powers to develop competitive advantages using the most advanced technology.

In 2021 communication, creativity, innovative thinking, collaboration, cognitive flexibility, and social intelligence will become your super powers to develop competitive advantages using the most advanced technology – @MauricioCorona… Click To Tweet
Dave Van Herpen

Dave van Herpen  – Van Herpen Impact Consultancy

My practical advice for IT leaders for 2021 would be to lead by example: start up an Obeya wall/room in the middle of your organization, preferably a physical one, visible to everyone in the office (if you’re still in the office). As leaders, this is where you visualize your goals, strategy, performance, and learnings. Invite everyone to add impediments and ideas, and make sure you deal with all of them. Be the change you want to achieve.

My advice to IT leaders for 2021? Lead by example, says @daveherpen #ITSM #leadership Click To Tweet
Amal lad

Amal LadCapgemini

My practical advice for IT leaders: If you think service integration and management (SIAM) is just about managing suppliers, think again. Embracing the principles of SIAM, you can positively impact your digital transformation agenda and integrate operating models and technology across the enterprise.

Embracing the principles of SIAM in 2021, you’ll be able to positively impact your digital transformation agenda and integrate operating models and technology across the enterprise – Amal Lad, @Capgemini #ITSM #SIAM Click To Tweet
Akshay Anand Photo

Akshay AnandAXELOS GBP

Take the time to meet (individually if possible) operational representatives from different parts of your organization, from your office manager to your heads of business; from your cleaning staff to your IT operations staff; from your service desk agents to sales agents. Empathize with their role. Understand their stresses and motivators. Ask for their feedback and ask for their advice. You’d be surprised how many good ideas go unsaid for fear of management disapproval.

Take the time to meet (individually if possible) operational representatives from different parts of your organization, from your office manager to your heads of business; from your cleaning staff to your IT operations staff; from your… Click To Tweet
Alan Berkson

Alan BerksonFreshworks

My practical advice for IT leaders is: With remote working here to stay, IT leaders need to go beyond tools and focus on the people and process aspects of collaboration.

In 2021 IT leaders need to go beyond tools and focus on the people and process aspects of collaboration – @berkson0 #ITSM #leadership Click To Tweet
James Gander

James GanderGander Service Management

One piece of practical advice I would offer IT leaders in 2021 is to trust your teams. Set expectations and leave the teams to deliver. 2020 should have given all of us the visibility that teams can be trusted without the need to be always seen. Embrace that and let them deliver.

Trust your teams! Set expectations and leave them to deliver – @GanderSM #ITSM #leadership Click To Tweet
Ken Connally

Ken ConnallyAtlassian

In 2021, companies will continue to navigate the realities of a forced remote workforce along with embracing an ever-growing application portfolio to support and enhance their service offerings. As the pressure increases on IT teams to continue to deliver high value to those services at a rapid pace, it’ll become more and more incumbent upon those teams to adopt more agile ITSM and DevOps-style ways of working, along with the tools that support these methodologies. 

To set up their high-velocity teams for success, IT leaders should seize the opportunity to adopt these agile practices and tools now. Embracing open and collaborative approaches, such as integrating incident response and software deployment tools, which can foster more focused swarming during incident response and lead to increased deployment frequency.

To set up high-velocity teams for success in 2021 and beyond, IT leaders should seize the opportunity to adopt agile practices and tools now – Ken Connally, @Atlassian #Agile #ITSM Click To Tweet
David Stewart

David StewartOpimise

IT leaders must form new enterprise service management (ESM) capabilities to support service and operational teams permanently working from home.

A LinkedIn poll in November 2020 posted by an HR figurehead, questioning work-from-home (WFH) popularity, had over 16,000 responses. The world by that time had experienced daily WFH for long enough to decide whether it feels right for them. The poll showed that just 9% of office workers want to be entirely office-based. Two thirds would prefer a weekly mix and 25% prefer being entirely home-based. It’s a scale of change that might easily be underestimated but regardless, the need to feel in-touch, engaged, and looked after at work is substantially exacerbated when working at home and is something that must be accommodated. 

This is unlikely to be a problem for project and line-of-business teams, but service and operational teams don’t have a need to regularly collaborate. At an environmental loss when not in the office, new ways of working are required that introduce the need to stay in touch. Firstly, support team managers must get much closer to what is happening on the ground, positioned to help proactively when an unspoken need for assistance arises. Secondly, it’s now more important than ever to bolster collaborative and collective teamwork. Thirdly, approaches need to be found that channel meaningful recognition and praise when things are going well. If an organization fails to realign the role of ESM to provide capabilities of this kind, to make WFH operationally viable for all business divisions, it’ll quite likely be costly and a competitive disadvantage. In part because staff will move to where modern processes improve the employee experience. I also imagine that as more and more organizations find their way and infuse customer relationship management (CRM) tools with the same capabilities, the 9% will diminish to near zero.

IT leaders must form new enterprise service management capabilities to support service and operational teams permanently working from home – David Stewart, Opimise #ITSM #ESM Click To Tweet
Bas Blanken Photo

Bas BlankenTOPdesk

Focus on people. Digital transformation and the sudden rise in working from home in 2020 have broadened the ‘digital divide’ between tech-savvy people and less technology-minded individuals. Employees who were already struggling to keep up with the technological developments were faced with a complete dependency on digital channels due to the global pandemic. While the business and IT will surely continue on the road of digital transformation, it’s essential to spend time on the human side of these developments in order to keep everyone on board.

Focus on people. While the business and IT will surely continue on the road of digital transformation, it’s essential to spend time on the human side of these developments in order to keep everyone on board – Bas Blanken, @TOPdesk #ITSM… Click To Tweet
Nancy Louisnord

Nancy LouisnordEasyVista

My practical advice for IT leaders is: When focusing on employee experience strategies and tactics, also keep your service desk agents in mind and not just the ‘end-user’ employee. Think of initiatives around automation and knowledge management that will free up your agents’ time for more interesting work.

When focusing on employee experience strategies and tactics, also keep your service desk agents in mind and not just the end user employee – @NancyVElsacker #ITSM Click To Tweet
Vawns Murphy Photo

Vawns MurphySilva Homes

Build resilience into your practices so that your people have the capacity to respond to the pressure and demands of the day job. One thing’s for sure, there’s no such thing as business as usual anymore so our ability to bounce back from setbacks and keep the show on the road has never been more important. Be kind to your people and start small. 2020 has taken a toll on everyone so now is not the time for major projects or programs of work. Look for small, incremental improvements, opportunities to shift left and if you can’t automate things, template them. You have all the time in the world to make widespread changes later on but for now, let’s focus on supporting our people and making our ways of working as solid as possible while we move towards the next normal.

Build resilience into your practices so that your people have the capacity to respond to pressure and demands of the day job – @Vawns #ITSM #servicedesk Click To Tweet
Eleanor Drycott

Eleanor DraycottUniversity of Reading

My practical advice for IT leaders is: With IT support required both on- and off-site, think about who is best placed to deliver it. Do we need to be limited to specific teams supporting specific things, or can we adapt to a collaboration-based process, such as swarming? This could provide quicker, more efficient responses, especially during busy periods.

With IT support required both on- and off-site, think about who is best placed to deliver it. Do we need to be limited to specific teams supporting specific things, or can we adapt to a collaboration-based process, such as swarming? –… Click To Tweet
Paula Maattanen Photo

Paula MäättänenTietoEVRY

Many organizations are now very interested in Artificial Intelligence (AI), chatbots, automatization, etc. But before an organization can get there, it’s important to have the base information and base setups in good condition. This is now too often visible in organizations that are trying to do these new things and are failing with them – failing because they don’t have said baselines in good shape and condition. 

It may be that you have a lot of data issues or practices that are not working. You can’t improve anything with automation if it isn’t good, to begin with. Organizations that have been successful with these new technology trends have been successful because they’re starting with solid foundations. The gap between these different organizations is becoming bigger all the time. The biggest reason for this is often that software vendors sell new features as “lifesavers” or as something that will save the organization lots of time. It’s not false, but it’s only true if your basic building blocks exist first.

Interested in implementing AI, chatbot, automation, etc? Remember it will only work if you have your basic building blocks in place first. Got data issues? Fix them first! – @PMaattanen #ITSM #AI Click To Tweet
Carlos Casanova

Carlos CasanovaCasanova Advisory Services

If I could offer one piece of practical advice that would far surpass all others, it would be to ensure that every bit of effort has a clearly defined and documented positive business outcome. IT value is all well and good but, if IT leaders cannot express IT value in business terms that register with your business partners, then they’ll constantly be fighting to justify initiatives and budgets. IT efforts have to clearly demonstrate how they increase business capabilities.

If I could offer one piece of practical advice that would far surpass all others, it would be to ensure that every bit of effort has a clearly defined and documented positive business outcome – @CarlosCasanova #ITSM #leadership Click To Tweet
Kaimar Karu

Kaimar Karu – Independent

My practical advice for IT leaders is: Don’t abandon any approaches to getting work done just because someone says they’re passé. Yes, this includes constructs like projects and programs, but also managing services and products. Treat all of that as scaffolding around the work that leads you closer to where you need to be – which probably has something to do with more satisfied customers, smart use of technology, and an ability to constantly innovate in a sustainable manner. And when it comes to ‘where do we want to be,’ then don’t just look at the other end of a five-year (or even biennial) plan – that is likely to get derailed anyway – but think about this: what can I do today for things to be even slightly better tomorrow?

Don't abandon any approaches to getting work done in 2021 just because someone says they’re passé – @KaimarKaru #ITSM Click To Tweet
Liliana Gary

Liliana GaryInvGate

In 2021, there are a number of key areas that your IT leaders might need to focus on depending on where your IT department and IT service desk are right now. These include that:

  1. IT service desk optimization will be key to IT-support success
  2. Digital workflows will replace manual processes throughout the enterprise – so be ready to play your part
  3. Employee experience will drive IT service desk change
  4. The IT service desk’s value will need demonstrating.

This is expanded upon in this article: “IT Service Desk Trends for 2021.”

IT service desk optimization will be key to IT-support success in 2021, say @LiliGary #ITSM #servicedesk Click To Tweet
Paul Wilkinson Photo

Paul WilkinsonGamingWorks

The digital disruption causing more remote working and new agile ways of working requires a significant shift in attitudes, behaviors, and culture and brings with it fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Leaders need to ensure they and their middle management level personnel develop organizational behavior management skills and capabilities to enable the needed transformation.

The digital disruption causing more remote working and new agile ways of working requires a significant shift in attitudes, behaviors, and culture and brings with it fear, uncertainty, and doubt. As such IT leaders need to ensure they… Click To Tweet
David Kelly

David KellyBT

I would advise any IT leader to familiarize themselves with the four dimensions of service management and use that for context, while also looking to AI and machine learning to better understand and leverage the power of their data.

I would advise any IT leader to familiarize themselves with the four dimensions of service management and use that for context – David Kelly, BT #ITSM Click To Tweet
David Banghart

David BanghartLumen Technologies

We need to stop the “This is the way we’ve always done this” thinking – not simply at a strategic level, but at the individual, team, and process-level too. What value does the way things are done bring to the customer?

IT Leaders need to stop the: this is the way we’ve always done this, thinking – @BanghartDavid #ITSM Click To Tweet
Kevin Holland Photo

Kevin HollandEXIN

My practical advice for IT leaders is to watch, ask, listen, and understand. Communicate with your customers, your staff, and your peers to understand what they really want, instead of just assuming that you know best.

Watch, ask, listen, and understand – @SIAMspecialist #ITSM Click To Tweet
Simone Jo Moore

Simone Jo MooreSJM

My practical advice for IT leaders is: Be adaptable. Curiosity is one of our greatest assets when it comes to understanding and moving forward on a journey. We need to be – and remain – fluid in the way we approach change beyond digital transformation. Keep examining your leadership style. It takes asking key questions and courage to accept the answers where you need to change. It takes resilience, transparency, and often competency transformation. It includes building a cultural environment in which everyone understands what is important and that establishes the compass for expected behavior and decision-making. This is where experience-minded and purpose-driven organizations are able to connect humans with purpose, expand minds, and increase emotional agility and capability.

Be adaptable. Curiosity is one of our greatest assets when it comes to understanding and moving forward on a journey. We need to be – and remain – fluid in the way we approach change beyond digital transformation. Keep examining your… Click To Tweet
Patrick Bolger

Patrick BolgerHornbill

I’d recommend four key steps for IT leaders to help drive their organizations out of the global pandemic and into a better 2021:

  1. Self-service must be the de facto channel
  2. Get serious about automation
  3. Demonstrate value by getting out of your silo with enterprise service management
  4. Lead – You have to own IT and its exploitation.

These four points are expanded upon in this article: “What IT Service Desks Need to Do in 2021.”

Get serious about automation, make self-service your de facto channel, embrace enterprise service management, and LEAD – @PatrickBolger #ITSM Click To Tweet
Richard Edwards

Richard Edwards – Independent

Every organization, every department, and every team has its problems. If you find yourself staring at really tough problem – one that’s going to require help and assistance from your customers, suppliers and partners – then you need to use a standardized problem-solving approach, something that’ll save everyone a lot of time, money, and effort.

If you’re looking for a good case study to examine, might I suggest the aerospace industry, where Rolls-Royce, Pratt & Whitney, and General Electric got together with suppliers GKN, PCC, and Honeywell to improve the quality capability of the supply chain.

Building on existing best practice, the group established AS13000 – a problem-solving standard for suppliers within the aero-engine sector. Here’s the problem-solving process, known as the 8Ds:

  • D0: Implement immediate containment and prepare for 8D
  • D1: Form the team
  • D2: Define the problem
  • D3: Develop containment actions
  • D4: Identify and verify root causes
  • D5: Identify corrective action
  • D6: Implement corrective action
  • D7: Define and plan preventive action
  • D8: Recognise the team

If you grab yourself a copy of the ‘AS13000 Problem Solving Template’, you’ll get a pretty good idea of how the aero-engine sector tackles collective problem-solving. It’s not rocket science, but it’s impressive and shows how a simple, shared process can be used to resolve complex, multiparty problems – something every organization will inevitably need to do at some point in 2021.

My advice to IT leaders is to collaborate with your customers, partners, and suppliers to establish a standardized approach to problem-solving – @REdwards #ITSM #leadership Click To Tweet
Stephen Mann

Stephen MannITSM.tools

There’s so much that can and needs to be done in 2021 that my one piece of practical advice for IT leaders is to be careful not to overload the initiative or improvement pipeline. Personally, I’d rather do one thing well than two things badly and it’s therefore important to recognize that your priorities should be exactly that – your priorities. If you have more than three priorities at any one time, then you probably have no priorities.

In 2021, IT leaders need to be careful not to overload the initiative or improvement pipeline, says @StephenMann. #ITSM #leadership Click To Tweet

What do you think of all these opinions? What do you agree with and what not? Please let me know in the comments.

Marketing Manager at Socommunity

Sophie is a freelance ITSM marketing consultant, helping ITSM solution vendors to develop and implement effective marketing strategies.

She covers both traditional areas of marketing (such as advertising, trade shows, and events) and digital marketing (such as video, social media, and email marketing). She is also a trained editor.

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