Changing times and business continuity
A major challenge for businesses in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic is implementing effective business continuity practices while coping with the rapid shift towards a remote-work culture. With the easy availability of digital technology that helps us constantly stay in touch—such as Zoom, Slack or Hangouts—the general consensus seems to be that the work-from-home setup is here to stay. According to Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, “Twenty-five to thirty percent of the workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.”
The implications of this shift are far-reaching. Nonetheless, the crucial question we must ask at this juncture is: are companies equipped well enough to deal with such a sweeping change? If so, who should step up to drive this change home, and safe?
For their part, companies are fast recognizing that this heightened dependence on technology is quickly taking us from the age of digital transformation to one of digital survival. Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, PayPal and Salesforce, are among the top companies who are already pushing to make remote-work permanent, having realized its cost-benefits. Some of them are making substantial investments in AI, automation, cybersecurity, and remote-working infrastructure to strengthen their business continuity plans.
CIOs taking the mantle
Navigating these technological transformations, however, can be really tricky. For instance, a webinar recently conducted by McKinsey revealed that several companies are experiencing an increased demand for collaborative tools, guides and operational norms. At the same time, there are heavier strains placed on existing infrastructure and budgets, not to mention cybersecurity threats which are on a high.
It is in this critical phase of transition that the unique expertise of CIOs can prove to be integral to businesses. CIOs occupy a leadership role most attuned to (i) gauging the pulse of the customer-base, (ii) understanding business goals, and (iii) implementing the best practices for work. Since this skillset can add immense value to configuring business continuity practices, the driver’s seat is for the CIOs to take. While the task might look daunting at first, recognizing that every crisis is an opportunity to learn and grow is key to overcoming it.
So then, how can CIOs anticipate the challenges and plan effectively for the post-pandemic phase? What are the strategies that might come in handy in this endeavor?
Let’s take a look at some potential solutions.
1. Optimizing inventory: If there is a singular practice that the pandemic has irrevocably altered, it’s got to be customer behavior. According to this WARC survey, more than 80% of customers are expected to permanently switch their buying behavior, post-pandemic. Another research report by Accenture reveals that more and more customers are embracing digital commerce and are likely to continue doing so in the days to come. With customer interactions spiking across digital platforms, companies are quickly scaling to provide support remotely.
The CIO’s office is perfectly placed to lead this burgeoning integration on e-commerce by streamlining website flow and interactions, deploying self-service content, facilitating virtual interactions through chat-bots and video, as well as providing customer support over phones and email. Optimizing the CIO’s inventory for the current situation, however, does not end with attending to the customers alone.
The hasty shift to working-from-home is bound to produce an array of difficulties for workers, ranging from inadequate video-conferencing capabilities to even poor connectivity at an individual level. Different departments might also show a tendency to function as isolated groups, which may hamper inter-departmental collaboration. Therefore, CIOs need to step in and provide upgraded tech solutions that enable smooth interaction and cross-functionality between departments. These could include a range of actions from addressing ISP capacities in individual employees’ homes to investing in upgrading network bandwidth.
2. Reconfiguring best practices: While tech is a great enabler, positive transformative changes also require a smooth shift in culture and perspective—and those take time to set in. Hence, simply directing workers to dive into the deep end with a slew of new technologies might prove counter-productive. It is, therefore, equally important to actively listen to their concerns, to be the chief learner in the situation and to provide informed solutions.
CIOs can also utilize role-modeling as a tool to influence behavioral changes among the workforce. People look up to leaders who are consistent, confident and reliable in their actions. Setting up new routines, introducing collaborative tools, holding regular virtual meetings and investing in behavioral nudging-techniques and training, could all be helpful on this front. For example, L&D has taken a new turn with interactive videos for learning, simulations and individual progress tracking systems, all implemented by CIOs.
3. Building resilient systems: Another downside to remote-working is that it leaves businesses vulnerable to cyber-security threats. Multiple reports have already surfaced about email phishing campaigns led by threat-actors who capitalize on fears around the pandemic.
Therefore, CIOs should work closely with information security officers to actively test and establish robust security protocols. Broadly speaking, these could include implementing strict multifactor authentication protocols and building advanced backup technologies to secure sensitive data. Enhancing security monitoring and establishing quick threat-identification and escalation procedures are also important.
While securing and stabilizing critical infrastructure must be attended to immediately, it would also be wise to keep building resilient systems that are dynamic and adaptive to change. CIOs need to anticipate second and third order effects to changes, make thoughtful investments that create competitive distance, and innovate smartly to successfully forge the path forward.
The innovations that CIOs implement today could shape the destinies of their businesses for years to come. For any CIO who relishes a challenge, this is undoubtedly the moment to be in the spotlight.
For 17 years, Cogent Infotech Corporation has worked with 65+ Fortune 500 companies, and 70+ government agencies, delivering an economic impact of over $500 million through digital transformation and consulting projects in the USA.