Here's What It Takes to Be an Elite IT Leader in 2022
August 30, 2022

Gregg Ostrowski

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With hybrid work now a permanent part of the employee experience, the role of IT has taken center stage. For many organizations, business continuity relies even more on having the right technology and systems in place to support increasingly distributed teams and customers.

In 2018 AppDynamics began following the evolution of IT professionals to better understand the skills and qualities essential to thrive against a backdrop of significant change. At the time, our research uncovered the increasingly important role of what we called Agents of Transformation. These individuals were identified as elite technologists who possessed the skills, vision, and passion to drive positive and sustainable transformation, and who had a strong desire to create a positive legacy within their organizations.

Four years after that inaugural study, our latest research suggests that the pace of IT change has accelerated even further. The speed of innovation, an even more fragmented and dynamic IT environment, and the realities of the pandemic are creating new pressures for global IT teams.

Fortunately, more IT leaders are rising to meet the need. Our research revealed that many technologists are now at the peak of the IT profession, with the number of Digital Pioneers increasing by more than 50%. We see these IT leaders as "Agents of Transformation in waiting." They already possess many of the skills and attributes needed to take the next step and will be well-positioned to capitalize on their organization's proactive approach to innovation.

The research uncovered some less encouraging findings, however: the number of actual Agents of Transformation has barely changed over the last four years, climbing by one point to 10%.

We see a pattern which is while the number of Digital Pioneers has increased, the number of Agents of Transformation has not. In terms of what's standing in their way, we believe there are three main factors.

First, Digital Pioneers must embrace new skills and approaches to IT. What it takes to operate at the highest level of this profession has evolved in significant ways over the past four years. As IT becomes more strategic, IT leaders have to become more outcome-oriented, using real-time data and insights to optimize digital experience and link IT performance to business outcomes. Strengthening their skillsets is particularly important when implementing cloud-native technologies, which require radically different ways of working.

Second, Agents of Transformation must be more strategic and collaborative. This is especially true after the past two years, which have been defined by constant firefighting. To truly affect organizational change, IT leaders must take a more proactive approach to innovation, influencing and working alongside others to create environments where employees can thrive and reach their potential.

Third, Digital Pioneers need tools that can help them quickly cut through complexity and prioritize actions based on business needs to meet heightened customer and employee expectations, so they all have effective digital experiences.

We've found that 93% of technologists say that in order to operate as an elite technologist they now need to be able to monitor and observe all technical areas across their IT stack and directly link technology performance to business outcomes.

Given the extent of skills and resources required to become an elite technologist have evolved, it's not surprising that 66% of technologists now feel that becoming an Agent of Transformation is now more difficult.

Fortunately, technologists are both determined to meet the challenge in front of them and recognize the importance of doing so. 88% believe that the pandemic has only accelerated the need for more technologists to become Agents of Transformation — and they point to dire consequences for organizations that fail to attract and develop enough elite technologists.

Overall, there is a strong sense of positivity amongst technologists in all industries, as their organizations finally emerge from the challenges of the last two years and look ahead to the future. Now they're ready to capitalize on the momentum and credibility they have built up and forge ahead into the next era of innovation.

Gregg Ostrowski is Executive CTO at Cisco AppDynamics
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