Most organizations are continuing to be heavily impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown, and CIOs are working flat out to keep operations running as smoothly as possible. Those that have already been through digital transformation will already have mature eCommerce platforms, and will be well versed in using workforce collaboration tools to support staff located at home. However, few will have anticipated the scale and speed at which they needed to switch to 100% remote working.
While we are hoping that restrictions will be relaxed by early summer, and organizations will need to get back to normal operations, but it’s possible that further lockdowns will follow later in the year. As a result, CIOs will need to reconsider their technology strategy to address the medium and long-term effects of the pandemic. This crisis is likely to permanently change our idea of ‘business as usual’. So, what are the post-lockdown steps that CIOs should consider to survive and even thrive in the new future of work?
Review business continuity plans
Organizations will have rapidly implemented their business continuity plan as soon as the lockdown came into force, and CIOs should carry out a ‘post-mortem’ of this response to make sure that critical processes were agile enough to cope with the sudden change. As well as assessing the performance and capacity of their eCommerce platforms, CIOs should look at the robustness of the supply chain – do the underpinning systems work without disruption in times of stress and uncertainty? They may also identify human points of failure as well as manual ones. For example, most functions are organized for efficiency rather than flexibility, and this may need to be relaxed in favor of adaptability. Equally, the team may need to be better distributed to avoid reliance on a small number of key personnel.
Revamp operations and infrastructure
Once this crisis has passed, remote working policies will no longer be a perk but fully embedded within company culture – particularly if there are further lockdowns on the horizon. CIOs will need to quickly redesign and scale their IT infrastructure and operations to support this new way of working. Collaboration tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have already seen a huge boost in use as a result of COVID-19, and IT leaders should consider whether additional training is needed to get the best out of these tools. Additionally, if they have a BYOD (bring your own device) policy, this may need to be evaluated to allow new joiners or existing staff to work effectively and securely in the absence of corporate IT.
Review cyber security systems
Remote working poses a significant cybersecurity challenge for CIOs. Studies have shown that people engage in more relaxed online behavior at home, so regular and clear communication on the importance of data confidentiality and corporate policies will be critical to preventing security breaches. There is also an increased risk from outside attackers; the FBI has already warned of ‘zoom-bombing’ hackers looking to exploit weaknesses in in collaboration tools. At a minimum, CIOs must ensure that any personal devices used for remote access have been appropriately configured with security systems such as personal firewalls, anti-virus software and security patch updates, as well as multi-factor authentication [MFA] upon each login to a company portal.
Most businesses will have suffered considerable financial difficulties during lockdown, so there will be a focus on working capital management and cost reductions from the CFOs office. For the CIO, this means immediate prioritization of discretionary spend; they may need to work with suppliers to rationalize teams and licenses, as well as revamping portfolio management practices. By reviewing the workforce, they may also identify opportunities to in-source some services, particularly ‘shadow IT’ systems, which are an important driver of innovation. With the increased acceptance of remote working, there will also be the chance to use lower cost resourcing centers and gig economy workers to drive down spend and improve efficiencies.
Agree a plan to return to growth
As we move out of lockdown and into a potential recession, the CIO should work even more closely with the rest of the business to agree a plan to return to growth. This will vary significantly between industries, but will likely include an increased focus on CRM and customer analytics to focus sales activities – and refocusing their portfolio on the programs which have an immediate impact on the bottom line. CIOs should emphasize their role as business partners, clearly communicating the role that technology can play in growth; for example, by showing how automation and AI can take costs out of processes and provide greater intelligence and resilience against future disruptions.
Consider corporate social responsibility
Recovery isn’t just about profits. Organizations will want demonstrate their social responsibility, and show how they have contributed to managing the crisis. Dyson is working to produce 15,000 ventilators for COVID-19 patients, mobile network operators have supplied data to help track the movement of people during pandemics, and many organizations are waiving some service charges and prioritizing vulnerable groups when providing services. While not all organizations will need to take such drastic action, we anticipate that there will be a new onus on taking a more active role in the community to manage the effects of the current pandemic and prevent any future black swan events.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 and the current lockdown will have an enormous impact on the world as we know it. Organizations globally will emerge from the crisis to find their business fundamentally changed – some maybe even for the better. CIOs and their technology teams will play a key part in the journey to returning to ‘business as usual’, and by considering these steps now, the path to success will be a lot smoother as this pandemic eventually subsides.
Partner, Infosys Consulting
Based in our London office, Ian leads our European CIO Advisory practice, servicing blue chip clients across all Industry sectors. He has over 25 years experience in technology leadership, with a track record of delivering large technology led transformations.