Moving Technology and IT Strategy Forward in 2021

Moving technology and IT forward by developing proactive strategies to set organizations up for success.

For some companies, 2020 was all about pivoting – or iterating, to use an agile term. And in many cases, pivoting again. But now that we’re a few months into 2021, many companies and IT leaders are pausing to reflect on a whirlwind year and using lessons learned from a time of intense activity to plan strategically for the future.

What are the big technology takeaways from an unpredictable year?

In the recent webinar, “Moving Tech Strategy Forward in 2021,” IT leaders Christina Hollingsworth from Hamilton Beach Brands and Andy Harwood from American Eagle Outfitters discussed the action their companies took to accommodate unexpected technology challenges, in everything from supply chain to connectivity. They also talked about how they adapted to a massive shift to e-commerce and how their companies managed the overnight transition from an in-person culture to fostering a successful remote work environment.

For Hollingsworth and her team, it meant activating a zero-based prioritization approach and intense focus. Essentially, they evaluated all initiatives, projects, and implementations that were planned and in progress with the basis of a zero priority. Then, they determined the new prioritization based off of the mission-critical needs and responding to an increase in consumer demand for product, particularly in the ecommerce segment.

Harwood’s team was in the process of implementing Blue Yonder — and continued to spend in that area because logistics proved to be a strategic focal point — but they put long-awaited ERP upgrades on hold. These game-time decisions gave them the capacity to focus on standing up third-party logistics centers in metropolitan areas and ensuring that their existing distribution centers were staffed safely.

They weren’t alone in pressing pause: a poll of webinar attendees revealed that 33.3% of respondents halted major IT projects while 22% pivoted to all-new projects in 2020.

Moving Tech Strategies Forward in 2021Watch Now

Developing a proactive strategy that can move organizations forward

After the chaos of last year, both Harwood and Hollingsworth are looking forward to a more considered, cautiously optimistic approach to IT implementation and strategy in the coming months.

A return to regularly-scheduled programming

“What we decelerated in 2020, we’re starting to pick up again. We’re still not fully restored to the pre-Covid budget, and we’re taking a much closer look at what we’re continuing to focus on, but we’re also expanding our customer-focused services,” said Harwood.

In other words, that ERP upgrade is back on the schedule for 2021. 

For Hamilton Beach Brands, 2020 was a banner year for bread makers and cybersecurity initiatives. Hollingsworth acknowledged that it was a sprint for most of the year and that any cybersecurity enhancements her team had been working on were actually accelerated. The company is continuing to focus on cybersecurity upgrades moving forward.

Sound familiar? It should. Nearly all of the webinar’s attendees noted that their companies had also expanded employee access to remote technology, increased focus on cybersecurity awareness and mitigation, and redeployed resources to implement new technologies because of the changing workplace.

“Now we’re evaluating needs vs. wants. And now that we’ve changed what we had to, we need to think about what we can do for our employees,” said Harwood. “Last year was a proving ground that dispersed workforces can work. We’ve seen an uptick in productivity. At this time, AEO doesn’t have plans to go back [full time to offices]— the bulk of our teams are and will continue to be remote until a plan is in place that allows the offices to reopen. It changed how we approach remote associates and are embracing bringing on resources that may not be local to our offices.  We can engage people from anywhere. It reduces travel costs and downtime.”

Hollingsworth agreed, adding that “This year, we’re working on pacing and priorities. The sprint that occurred last year — it really can’t be sustained and our people are working to have balance.”

Leveraging strategic partners to achieve business objectives

As we move into 2021, both Hollingsworth and Harwood agree that IT is going to be seen as a partner — a critical business partner. One that delivers on business priorities. And utilizing an outside strategic partner can help high-performing IT teams all over the country rebound stronger and with more flexibility than ever before.

Many thanks to Andy Harwood, senior director of associate product management at American Eagle Outfitters, and Christina Hollingsworth, vice president of information technology at Hamilton Beach Brands, for sharing their expertise in ways IT leaders are — and can — move IT strategy forward in 2021 and beyond.

Watch the webinar on-demand!

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