September 21, 2020 By Calline Sanchez 3 min read

2020 has brought unexpected challenges for individuals, governments, businesses and IT teams. Even before COVID-19, organizations had to be prepared for a range of risks: unplanned outages, security breaches, hardware and software challenges, natural disasters and unknown risks. The concept of VUCA — which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity — offers a useful way to think about how we can be prepared and respond to unanticipated situations.

VUCA accurately reflects the situation businesses are in today: we face international markets, restructuring, growth and downsizing, technological change, and cultural and societal shifts, to name just a few. Business and IT leaders have to be prepared to act quickly, with clarity and wisdom, in the face of these challenges. Recognizing the reality of VUCA gives teams the opportunity to identify likely and unlikely setbacks and mobilize around common objectives when the need arises.

Despite VUCA, collectively, we need to be hopeful and thoughtful about our future and foster a sense of trust. Trust can change everything. It is essential to build a culture of trust and transparency in our workplaces and our society. Leadership consultant Edward Marshall says that “Speed happens when people … truly trust each other.” Trust should be essential for our governments, companies, organizations and teams, especially in times of VUCA.

Pivoting from onsite to remote service delivery

Let me share a recent story that highlights the lessons of VUCA. In early 2020, as the pandemic was beginning to affect geographies around the world, some leaders started telling me that we needed to change our services approach — and quickly. Our teams provide onsite technical services to IBM clients across the globe, so our whole business model was based on the ability to travel and be in our clients’ data centers. Before we even realized how much COVID-19 would affect the world, it became clear that our services approach would have to evolve to protect our clients and employees. In a matter of weeks, we reimagined how to do our work, radically transforming to offer remote service delivery for the majority of engagements. It was a whirlwind, but I’m so proud of how quickly and effectively the team pivoted to virtual services. It was critical that I trust the team during this time, and that trust paid off. My thinking was, “Let it go to grow.”

The pandemic has exemplified all four elements of VUCA: it’s been volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. But having leaders who didn’t panic and instead looked for opportunity in the face of those challenges empowered us to act quickly to ensure that we could continue meeting our clients’ IT needs while keeping everyone as safe as possible. It’s one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned in listening, trusting my team, staying open and flexible, and letting go of the status quo in order to come out ahead in a challenging situation.

Lessons of VUCA for IT

In IT, change has always been fast-paced, and uncertainty is nothing new. Reflecting on VUCA can help us mitigate the challenges we face today and in the future. It’s crucial in times like this that we build trust and mobilize for the greater good.


No matter how much we plan, sometimes reality confounds our expectations. Volatile situations are stressful, and they challenge our implicit assumptions. The companies that prosper in spite of a crisis are often those that can adapt quickly to bring stability, without clinging to the past or freezing up when things go wrong.


Uncertainty can be daunting, but trust can be an antidote to it. In IT, we can respond to uncertainty by seeking the collective wisdom of our teams and advisors. To me, that means listening to all voices and trusting the experts to counsel wisely.


IT environments can already be complex, and businesses are always striving to bring greater simplicity to IT. When you add a crisis to that, things can get really complicated. I spent more than 20 years helping businesses with IT “crit sits” (critical situations), and one of the things I learned was how important health checks are to ensure you have a clear view of your technology estate and can address potential issues before they turn into a crisis.


Ambiguity is my favorite component of VUCA because it makes me think about opportunity. The definition of ambiguity is “the quality of being open to more than one interpretation; inexactness.” We live in a world that’s many shades of grey, and there can be multiple right answers to a single problem. Accepting the ambiguity and staying open to possibilities positions us to succeed.

IT support for uncertain times

In IBM Systems Lab Services, we’re a trusted partner for our clients in uncertain times. Every day, we help businesses reduce unknowns in their IT environments. You can’t always predict what might become an IT challenge in the future, but we can help you reduce risk and be proactive about the health of your technology estate.

If you’re looking for insights in your data center, and you want to improve the availability and reliability of your environment, please contact Lab Services today.

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