4 tips on preparing your IT team for a recession

Digital transformation is one area that tech leaders should focus on now to prepare their IT shops for an economic downturn.

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Much like a stopped clock being right twice a day, there are always various soothsayers predicting the next economic calamity, and through incredible insight or dumb luck, they're occasionally right. I don't claim any special predictive ability, but I do believe that the broader economy generally operates in a cyclical manner, and the longer it goes without a recession, the closer we are to experiencing the next one.

I'm no economist, but by this obviously simple logic we're probably due for an economic downturn in the coming years, so using the current "good times" to prepare is not only prudent for tomorrow, but it can provide immediate benefit today even if the economy continues to grow for years to come." However, just as wise preparations for potential calamity in our personal lives can be taken to extremes, so, too, can preparing your IT shop for a downturn. Here are some smart moves that can benefit you today, while simultaneously preparing for economic challenges in the future.

1. Look for flexibility

No matter what happens economically, there are few good reasons not to build flexibility not only into your technical platforms and processes but how you hire, train, and retain staff. Most IT shops are transitioning away from monolithic shops that try to grab all technology from a single vendor, which can be a good strategy unless you're over investing in small or niche companies that would create significant pain if they disappeared or reoriented their product portfolio due to tough economic times. If you haven't already started a transition to a services-based architecture that allows for some resilience, good economic times are better than trying to build a business case as the economy deteriorates and key pieces of your technical architecture are at risk.

Similarly, on the staffing front, the current good times have created a "seller's market" for talent, and it can be tempting to make hiring decisions with less due diligence or retain staff that isn't performing due to the difficulties of finding a replacement. The challenges of the current market might even have your company "giving up" on attempting to attract new talent. Avoid the urge to leave the talent market completely, and also seek to cultivate relationships with a pool of vendors and consultants that can help when the markets change, or provide talent "on demand" to avoid commitments that you might regret should conditions change.

2. Invest in some "boring stuff"

With weekly stories about tech-driven disasters, it's much easier to make a business case for investing in cybersecurity and disaster recovery these days, but perhaps these areas have been pushed lower on your list of priorities during the good times. While budgets are flush and interest is high, take the time to invest in core projects that will keep IT running in good times and bad, but are also some of the first areas to be cut when things go south.

SEE: IT budgeting: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

3. Get involved in the digital transformation discussion

Digital transformation is a hot topic on the minds of executives at most companies, and as a technology leader, if you're not already involved you should attempt to bring a fresh and compelling perspective into your company's transformation discussions. A well-conceived and executed digital transformation could be the thing that helps your company weather change that's driven by economic calamity, changing markets, or dozens of other factors. 

Even though "digital" is a keyword in digital transformation, it's really about transforming your business, so avoid coming to the table with a strict focus on technology. Bring perspectives on what the technology enables, how your existing or planned platforms and investments can support those changes, and how these efforts create a more durable business now and in the future, and you'll find yourself a key member of the team rather than the "plumber" who is called to build the infrastructure after the key decisions have been made.

4. Invest in yourself

It can be tempting in good economic times to convince yourself that you're so busy and important that there's no time for anything else, especially investing in your own learning and development. Nothing could be further from the truth, as educational and "non-business critical" travel are some of the first items on the chopping block when budgets tighten in response to a recession. Take the time to modernize your own skill set, visit other companies that have a track record of innovation and flexibility, and you'll be a more innovative, flexible, and valuable leader if the worst comes to pass.

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