CIOs in a COVID-19 world

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Traditional businesses have had to adapt to new realities of a post-virus world and the implications for CIOs will be profound

COVID-19 is not only a health crisis. The global reaction to this pandemic continues to affect government, society and communities, commerce, the running of organisations, the nature of work, technological innovation and rollouts, education, and more. While we may resolve the health crisis with vaccines, herd-immunity, and treatments, the effects on non-health factors will endure for a while, and possibly forever. That’s what CIOs have to think about.

But in the meantime, they need to plan for an “in-crisis” period. The health crisis may take a year or more to resolve. In that time, CIOs will have to face other challenges thrown up by the crisis itself, by the activities of governments and regulatory bodies, by competitors, and indeed, by themselves and their own organisation’s actions.

The immediate CIO action in response to COVID-19 has been discussed at length and largely enacted: remote work, remote meetings, no travel, increased use of collaborative tools, more video, more emails, and so on. Equally, the platforms on which these digital enablers rely have been beefed up. And many organisations with digital products have required their CIOs to provision for additional product sales.

Now, our initial reaction to the crisis requires CIOs to step back and re-examine what they’ve done, whether they want to keep doing it, and if so, how?

The future of remote work

Let’s take remote work as an example. It may not be permanent. On 31 March, Neil Webb, the Director of the British Council of Theatre and Dance, tweeted: “You are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.” Most South Africans agree, with 86% wanting to go back to work according to a survey by Giant Leap, a local workplace consultancy. What’s more, only 43% of South Africans have jobs which allow them to work from home, at least some of the time anyway.

So, working from home is not the next big thing that CIOs need to convert into policies and procedures – they have to realise that it’s temporary, but not too temporary. CIOs need to beef up security for home-workers who are outside firewalls, and who are often working from home for the first time. They have to run sensitisation and information campaigns for staff working with company data outside the organisation’s domain. They have to provide remote “on-site” support at people’s homes. And they have to give some serious thought to financing the remote worker’s infrastructure – internet, and web-based meeting and collaboration software. But less than 10% of this will stick for more than a year.

Also, now that the initial rush is over, CIOs will need to give some thought to digitally wrapping the organisation’s physical products. They need to make as much of the product digitally visible and accessible as possible. They have to examine the customer journey in detail and remove as many physical touchpoints as possible – AI has proven useful here. They must make website searches way better than they are now. They should also re-examine their often-sloppy digital customer experience and interactions.

“Contact us” is not the first point in your email spam campaign. When a customer contacts you, they want to – you guessed it – actually contact you. CIOs need to look at how much of the browse, examine, and buy process can be digital. VR, or near VR, is useful in allowing customers to experience the product from a distance. Finally, CIOs need to rework the delivery pipeline so that the last mile is the only physical part of the product.

Embracing the new normal

Then CIOs need to look at the in-pandemic new normal. They must consider social and real distance factors, digitalisation, delivery ecosystems, localisation where appropriate, renegotiating, and re-contracting the supply chain. There are several changes – some permanent, some not – that CIOs need to consider.

Finally, the post-pandemic new normal needs thinking about. There will be changes to global trade, supply chains, the digital/physical mix, how we get work done, and many other corporate areas. Perhaps more importantly, societies will change, buying patterns will be permanently altered, social contracts will be questioned and possibly overthrown, governments may fall, and even fundamental economic principles may change.

Some industries, like sports, hospitality, conferencing will be deeply affected, and some will thrive – technology being the most obvious. However, these successes and failures all have implications. This is the post-crisis new normal that CIOs need to accommodate.

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