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Extraordinary times 

In this article, I share some of the insights from CIO’s with whom I’ve spoken since the start of the Covid 19 outbreak and give some opinions on what we can learn for the future. 

As early as 2015, Bill Gates predicted the onset of a global pandemic which would challenge the very fabric of society, irrespective of geographic, religious or cultural boundaries.  And sure enough, his prophecy has come true, presenting the world with a whole range of challenges, the like of which has never been witnessed in our lifetimes.    

In the big scheme of things, the challenges faced by an average IT department in a medium to large sized company may appear insignificant when compared to harrowing pictures of health services under immense pressure, the prospect of global economic decline and the impact of the vulnerable and underprivileged in our society.  I wouldn’t detract from these challenges for one minute, but I will naturally gravitate to my areas of expertise; particularly ensuring that IT departments are able to meet the needs of their customers in a changing world. 

Undoubtedly, Covid-19 has placed immense pressure on IT departments.  Not just to stand up remote working capabilities, but to adjust the IT support model to ensure that end user’s needs can still be met and critical IT systems maintained. 

Unprecedented responses 

Some companies have done better than others. Those retailers or business-to-consumer businesses who already had a web presence have the advantage of still having one resilient online channel available, through which they can sell their wares.  Those who did not have automated channels available, have either developed them hurriedly, or are busy throwing resources at the issue to resolve it quickly. 

One CIO I spoke to said, “we’ve been trying to convince the business to invest for years, and suddenly, overnight, we’re met with the challenge of scaling our remote access services by 400%.  I’m trying to resist the temptation to say, “I told you so.”” 

I feel his pain.  For years, we have certainly been attempting to help the business understand the impact of a catastrophic issue, through the creation of business continuity and IT disaster recovery plans, underpinned by a risk register.  For did the business really “feel it”?  Were they really equipped to truly grasp the scale of the risk of a global pandemic, or were the business continuity too parochial, too myopic and lacking in depth to truly be useful? 

Another CIO told me, “we’ve been stuck with an old version of Yammer for a while, but our attempts to propose a solution for collaboration which spans our organisation and beyond have been met with derision by the business.  Overnight, we’re being asked why we don’t have Microsoft Teams, and why we can’t share screens and virtual whiteboards with our supply chain partners.  It’s incredibly frustrating, but we’re taking the opportunity to get sponsorship for the rollout of Microsoft Teams, which we’re actually starting in a few weeks’ time.” 

It’s true that proactive CIOs have been attempting to demonstrate innovation and ideas to the business for years, and yet they’ve failed to gain traction.  If there is a positive to be gained, it’s that the need for alignment of IT services with business needs is now better understood than ever. 

A marriage of convenience? 

It seems that many IT leaders have been struggling to find a voice at the top table.  However, in times of crisis, business leaders have recognised the critical nature of IT in enabling their organisations to function effectively.  The trick now is for IT leaders to capitalise on this new-found reliance, to form long-term relationships where technology leaders are seen as equal with their business counterparts.  I wonder whether these IT leaders will be able to pull this off? 

A long-term relationship? 

I’d hope that IT leaders can capitalise upon the newfound trust and credibility they have gained as a result of their response to the Covid-19 crisis.  If there is a small positive which can be taken from this global pandemic it is that new relationships have been formed.  Crisis management and disaster recovery will perhaps take the prominence it deserves on the agenda of senior executives, particularly within those organisations who have called upon heroic responses from their IT teams. 

As a society, I feel that we’ve also become more patient and tolerant of each other, which I believe is another good sign for the chances of a long-term relationship between IT and the business which can continue in this positive manner, without the sense of conflict and frustration that is sometimes witness. 

To increase the chances of the new closer relationship actually lasting, IT leaders can: 

  • Ensure that leadership get to hear regularly about successes in IT delivery 
  • Ensure that leadership are regularly involved in reviewing IT risks and issues, so solutions be developed jointly 
  • Ensure that the business benefits of potential service improvements (see my Remote Access example above!) are articulated in such a way that the true business benefit is known 
  • Establish more rigourous risk management, disaster recovery and business continuity processes, which can utilise a broader range of potential scenarios as their basis, because the business will have a greater appetite to understand the potential risks that their business face.