2020 has been a challenging year\u00a0for\u00a0Australian\u00a0technology chiefs.\u00a0\nWhen the devastating COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020,\u00a0CIOs and their teams\u00a0working at\u00a0organisations\u00a0across every market sector quickly needed to\u00a0provide\u00a0technologies that would\u00a0support workers heading home\u00a0to stifle the spread of the virus.\n[ Keep up on the latest thought leadership, insights, how-to, and analysis on IT through CIO\u2019s newsletters. ]\nIn some industries, digital transformation programs were halted while in others,\u00a0organisations\u00a0saw an opportunity to ramp up their\u00a0digitisation\u00a0activities.\u00a0Companies in the\u00a0travel (cruises and airlines),\u00a0fitness, and accommodation\u00a0sectors, in particular, went into survival mode with their revenues\u00a0impacted\u00a0almost overnight.\nBrett Winn of Blackmores\nBrett Winn, who spent most of 2020 as chief information officer at Blackmores, said that during COVID, the\u00a0organisation, which sells essential vitamin, mineral and nutritional supplements, was dealing with lockdowns across the 14 countries where it\u00a0operates.\nWinn, who this month moved into the CIO role at healthcare services, group, Healthscope, said the company did complete a sudden \u2018lift and\u00a0shift\u2019 of around 1,400 corporate staff around the globe, including 800 at six offices in Australia, to home environments.\n\nIt was about making sure that people who could move home to do so and keeping our manufacturing and production staff as separated as much as we could from any corporate staff.\nWe were fortunate that years ago we got ahead of the game on Office365 and Teams deployments so the logistics of moving the business out of the office and into the home was more about\u00a0behaviours, processes and controls than it was about lack of technology.\u201d\n\nWinn said Blackmores learned that staff could work from home effectively with outputs increasing across certain parts of the business during the pandemic.\n\nThe lessons learned were around the lack of [human] connectivity and the cross-pollination you get when you are walking the [office] hallways. I certainly found as a CIO that while my connection with the executive team, our board and my team was\u00a0very good\u00a0[using collaboration technologies], my ability to get an understanding of what was happening on the floor in the business on a day-to-day basis ... I really lost that.\nIt didn\u2019t hamper our ability to operate the business but as an executive team we were looking at how we retain those connections. It\u2019s about creating meaningful engagements and make people feel like they are being heard.\n\nSteve Hodgkinson of DHHS\nThe Department of Health and Human Services\u00a0(DHHS)\u00a0in Victoria rolled out full Office 365 functions to its 11,000 plus staff last year, which chief information officer Steve Hodgkinson said was fortunate timing for the rapid transition of almost all staff to remote working in March 2020. This move from office to home-based work was\u00a0seamless for most staff, he said.\nHe said connectivity issues have been a persistent challenge for some staff this year either due to local public network\u00a0constraints or home\u00a0Wi-Fi\u00a0inadequacies.\u00a0This has led to the practice of people \u201cturning off video\u201d in meetings to improve audio quality which\u00a0isn\u2019t\u00a0helpful.\n\nA key effect of the pandemic has been to reveal, once and for all, the manifest failings of \u2018old school\u2019 on-premise ICT infrastructure and applications.\nCloud services,\u00a0ubiquitously\u00a0and securely available over the\u00a0untrusted public network, have won the day in terms of utility, user experience,\u00a0scaleability\u00a0and operational resilience.\n\nDHHS now has around 60 per cent of its applications in the public cloud. These can be accessed from any device\u00a0using multi-factor authentication with sophisticated security controls and monitoring.\n\u201cGeo-blocking, for example,\u00a0has significantly reduced cyber security threats in the new world where staff are all located in Australia due to travel restrictions. My view is that our cloud services are\u00a0both better and more secure than\u00a0our legacy on-premise applications and I think\u00a0that this\u00a0is now accepted by most of our staff,\u201d\u00a0Hodgkinson said.\nDHHS is planning for a hybrid home\/office approach in 2021. Hodgkinson said this will be tricky to work out at scale but most staff are eager to find a balance where they work\u00a0in the office some days and at home others.\n\nThis sounds easy but it will be difficult to coordinate teams to ensure that all or none are\u00a0in the office on the same day. This will require new \u2018air\u00a0traffic control\u2019 tools to help people coordinate among themselves when to attend the office and where to sit etc. It won\u2019t work if each person just makes a random decision that suits them because the office experience won\u2019t be what\u00a0people were expecting.\nIt will take a while for tools to be implemented to support the hybrid workplace and for people to find the right balance.\n\nTherese Chakour-West of Stihl Australia\nIn\u00a0March 2020, Therese\u00a0Chakour-West, the long-serving head of information technology at power equipment company, Stihl Australia, said that the onset of COVID-19 saw staff that had been hiding behind their old processes coming out of the woodwork and asking to be connected to\u00a0collaboration tools that the company had already invested in.\nStihl\u2019s staff have worked from home throughout two lockdowns and, in line with government advice, the company is starting to bring back 25 per cent of its workforce to the office.\nDespite the uncertainty,\u00a0Chakour-West\u00a0completed a move to Dynamics365 in October 2020 and is now about to go live with a move to SAP\u2019s S\/4 HANA platform. \u201cWhile we\u2019ve been in lockdown, we\u2019ve had to continue to drive these\u00a0modernisation\u00a0projects which has been more the focus for me this year rather than being overly innovative and delivering anything new. By default, we\u2019ve seen great adoption results of the tools we had invested in heavily,\u201d\u00a0Chakour-West said.\nShe added that there as an initial adjustment period\u00a0for people who were shifted to work from home environments. \u201cOur executive team have looked at our own departments and seen what works for the business. I am bringing in to the office my tech and network team and application\/analyst teams for two days a week\u00a0so they can work together. Others in the business are following similar \u2018return to work\u2019 strategies,\u201d she said.\nThe crisis response is a question of money\nA managing executive partner at Gartner, Brian Ferriera told\u00a0CIO Australia that\u00a0the analyst\u00a0firm\u00a0is seeing different\u00a0behaviours\u00a0from CIOs depending on \u2018where the money lies.\u2019\n\nFor example, Flight Centre is looking at\u00a0its bricks-and-mortar\u00a0strategy and they are consolidating a number of ERPs right now\u00a0to be ready so\u00a0they can\u00a0operate at a minimum\u00a0level. And while they are doing that, they are\u00a0actually fixing\u00a0capability.\nWe are also seeing some\u00a0organisations\u00a0like [job website] Seek\u00a0saying they are not going to cut staff, they have seen a drop in revenue ... and they will hold on tight until the market returns.\n\nHe added that the challenge for government CIOs\u00a0is that the \u2018economic posture\u2019 of their agencies has dictated their spend. \u201cAny savings that [agencies] found was redirected to crisis support. Some CIOs were asked to give up some of their money to [fund these activities].\u201d\nFederal agencies that were supporting the crisis\u2014the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of\u00a0Defence\u2014were being \u2018thrown money\u2019 whereas mid-level and state\u00a0government agencies were asked to redirect funds to [deal with COVID-19], he said.