The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is presenting unique challenges that many business leaders have never confronted before. In a continuously evolving landscape, IT resilience is key to protecting the health of your people and your business.

Insights for CIOs and IT Executives

Technology leaders have faced a number of challenges, including pivoting quickly to enable remote ways of working, dealing with a surge in demand via digital channels, and having to make their technology solutions operate in constrained environments.

In the coming weeks and months, technology leaders can expect to manage through three stages: continued stabilisation of the core, optimisation of the IT estate, and emerging into a more competitive position. By taking action in the following 10 priority areas now, technology leaders can help their organisations respond to immediate operational, customer, employee and financial disruptions, maintain business continuity as new challenges emerge, and realise a quick and competitive recovery after the crisis.

1. Focus on critical problems

While urgency is critical, it’s important to not panic. The best way to tackle a challenge as big as COVID-19 is to think holistically and be intentional with your immediate, next, and future steps. Start by identifying the processes and systems that must be stabilised to support the business and focus on prioritising daily work there. Then, prepare for possible further degradation in performance by what-if scenario modelling and engage business partners and suppliers to understand what changes they are expecting to make and when.

2. Put people first

This is a decidedly human crisis. Making changes that support employee health and well-being is critical, consider implementing flexible work hours that allow people to balance remote work with family duties. You should also prepare for increased absences and adjust productivity objectives accordingly. In the near term, consider adjusting performance goals and how to help your employees manage through the changes.

3. Communicate

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Communicate frequently, in an empathetic and clear fashion. Make sure to communicate in small, bite-sized chunks to avoid overwhelming people. And don’t forget to use ‘human’ channels, such as video, which help people engage and connect. This is also a prime opportunity to reinforce your corporate values, as people look to the business for strong leadership in uncertain times.

4. Continue to enable and strengthen remote work networks

The coronavirus is forcing remote work arrangements for a large portion of the workforce and for an extended period of time. To maintain mission-critical processes, you’ll need to address alternative work areas you may not have considered before. Focus on immediate needs:

  • right-scaling infrastructure capacity
  • purchasing new equipment, like laptops and modems
  • refreshing access rights policies
  • developing training aids to support remote employees in new ways of working
  • mobilising more resources for a significant increase in call centre activities.

Once stabilised, create connectivity through standard, secure, and easy to use collaboration tools. Just because you deploy the technology, doesn’t mean your teams know how to use it, so over-invest in enablement and providing hyper-care resources.

5. Invest in self-service and automation

As you move from triage to more sustainable work patterns, make the impacts of coronavirus a little easier on your customers and employees by offering self-service options so they can quickly engage with the company. Consolidate front-end channels and streamline interfaces wherever possible to create a clear and easy experience. This is also an opportunity to increase your use of bots and AI, which can help increase productivity in case you may be operating at diminished capacity.

6. Optimise cloud infrastructure

When the majority of the workforce is working remotely, activity in your cloud and traditional infrastructure will peak more than usual. Is it ready to handle the load? Put a plan in place to scale cloud services, as well as hybrid and traditional environments, to meet increased demand. The plan should include computing, hosting, storage, network, telephone and collaboration suites. Remember to consider the data compliance, security and regulatory requirements when shifting workloads and locations.

7. Review security, risk and governance

Significant changes to enterprise risk management are absolutely necessary for managing the coronavirus crisis. For example, certain decisions may be pre-authorised or accelerated. However, each business change can weaken security and control measures and put your organisation at risk. To continue to protect the business, ensure you have a clear understanding of impacted policies and controls and monitor accordingly.

This is also the time to be extra vigilant with your cyber operations, deploying more resources, working collaboratively with others in your ecosystem, and applying extra scrutiny to your lines of defence. Cyber criminals are already trying to turn the coronavirus outbreak to their advantage, stepping up attacks, targeting victims with misinformation on fake websites and phishing campaigns.

8. Continue transformation work

When pushed to conserve cash, it’s easy to put any transformation programs already in train on hold during a crisis and revert to traditional working models. Resist the urge. By continuing to invest in high-value areas such as cloud, automation and agility, you can help the business survive and thrive in the short- and long-term. These hard won programs are the key to emerging more competitive and ready to respond to the newly transformed business environment.

9. Reframe funding

Given the widespread business and economic impacts of COVID-19, cost reductions within the technology function will probably be necessary in the next year. To lessen the burden, consider opportunities to move to variable cost models, such as everything-as-a-service and remove unused fixed-capacity. Leading organisations will likely reshape their funding processes to be leaner, more responsive and focused on continuous value delivery.

10. Adjust the IT operating model

Every change you make to navigate the coronavirus crisis will impact your IT operating model across multiple dimensions: process, technology, governance, people, service delivery, performance insights and data. For many organisations, the future is suddenly now, with their digital enablement plans having been massively accelerated and scaled overnight. Going forward, think about how you can drive value by embedding these changes together, using methods and tools such as agile working, collaboration and integrated cloud.

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COVID-19: Insights for CIOs and IT executives series