As the coronavirus, or COVID-19, paralyzes businesses and society worldwide, it’s tempting to backburner digital strategy amid the sharp uptake in business continuity and resiliency efforts. Don’t do that: Rather, accelerate business transformation efforts now to put yourself in better position after the pandemic passes, say experts and CIOs.
“You have to avoid the tendency to slash and burn your transformation and revert back to your traditional working model, which is human nature,” Steve Bates, global leader of KPMG’s CIO center of excellence, tells CIO.com.
From the dot-com bust to 9-11 to the 2008 financial crisis, disruptions have stymied digital strategies. CIOs even have a cost-cutting playbook that starts with hardware haircutting and elimination of new projects, according to Forrester Research. But organizations that contained costs during past disruptions felt pressure from companies that took a pro-investment approach when the global economy rebounded.
The bull case for digital innovation
Today, with 80 percent of revenue growth hinging on digital offerings and operations by 2022, IT leaders should continue transforming their operating models, according to KPMG research. Bates argues that companies that continue to invest in their digital strategy, while balancing short-term efforts with long-term measures, will emerge from this pandemic more competitive. Sound models that incorporate the best people, processes and technologies remain critical in good times and bad.
“All roads lead back to the IT operating model,” Bates says. “There is going to be pent-up demand and when this period ends there is going to be a tidal wave of spending and you want to be in position to take advantage of it.” In short, now is not the time to turn the spigot off to significant tech initiatives.
To ensure that he could support 10,000 employees, Equinix CIO Milind Wagle set up a “virtual tech bar,” a Zoom-enabled tech help desk that is available worldwide, 24-7. He also created productivity monitoring dashboards that track everything — from how many messages employees send, to how many meetings they set up, to the number of code check-ins they commit. Equinix also began using Zoom to host daily “gupshups,” virtual water coolers where employees can check-in for casual conversations.
COVID-19 facilitated the creation of these innovations, Wagle says. “I think the easiest thing — but the worst thing — would be to freeze in this time of uncertainty and not move anything forward,” Wagle says. “Stopping commitments would be the wrong thing for CIOs to do.”
The coronavirus crisis is nothing if not a selling point for a so-called “cloud-first” strategy, another linchpin of digital business. Cloud-first companies look to adopt SaaS and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) technologies before considering on-premises solutions. Instituting such a strategy has Autodesk well-positioned for the pandemic because it enables more virtual tasks.
“Autodesk is already set-up to support a remote workforce and has built infrastructure on SaaS and cloud resources to support our anywhere, anytime model, allowing for built-in business continuity through a variety of unique situations and events,” Autodesk CIO Prakash Kota says.
Boosting business resiliency
While digital innovation is important, boosting business resiliency should also be part of every business transformation. CIOs should speak with senior managers to improve resiliency in a way that aligns with corporate objectives, says David Gregory, a Gartner analyst who focuses on risk and security management. It starts with enabling critical activities the organization requires to keep moving forward — bandwidth, VPN access, and so on — in the near term. Long-term resiliency includes optimizing service delivery while reducing threats and vulnerabilities — cyber, natural disasters, pandemics and otherwise — to the business.
“You have to reduce the likelihood of failure and should you fail, you need IT people thinking more carefully on service delivery” as part of business continuity planning, Gregory says. Ideally, business continuity will evolve and be exercised more as a strategic rather than simply an operational discipline. In such a scenario, departments are communicating and working in concert rather than in siloes. “This makes organizations more resilient,” Gregory says.
Here our participants offer a transformation punch list for CIOs trying to not only survive the pandemic but thrive on the other side of it.
Scale cloud and XaaS. The pandemic offers CIOs an opportunity to reframe funding around cloud and everything-as-a-service (XaaS). Go to your CEO, CFO and board of directors who may have balked at switching from fixed capacity, much of which lays dormant, to variable cost models, Bates says. An organization that had migrated one-quarter of its IT assets to cloud and XaaS, may advocate to scale that to 50 percent or greater over the coming year. Autodesk consumes several SaaS tools, including Microsoft Office 365 and Teams, Zoom, Slack and Salesforce.com, Kota says. At Equinix, Wagle says he is looking to move more of his contact center operations to the cloud to better ensure availability for customers.
Boost process automation. Whether you’re using robotic process automation, machine learning (ML), or the hybrid of both that comprises intelligent automation (IA), you have the “great opportunity to start scaling up investments in ML [and other advanced automation technologies] to augment a capacity constrained workforce,” Bates says. This means extending RPA, ML and IA from their centers of excellence more broadly throughout the enterprise. And while pockets of consternation about automation consuming jobs remains, bots can’t save productivity from a pandemic, as Wired notes.
Scale DevOps. Expand automation of software development testing, as well as IT service management (ITSM). You might further streamline operations by implementing a self-service help desk. “It’s a perfect time to do that because it serves immediate needs,” Bates says.
Fortify data analytics. Companies will look to augment their data analytics strategies to take the pulse of their operations, says Bates. Wagle agrees, noting that Equinix has seen a spike in data analytics requests, with business leaders seeking more real-time instrumentation of their business health, including information about customers. “Data and analytics more important than ever,” Wagle says. “You’re making decisions daily with changing information and reacting to factors outside your control.”
Self-service. For those who haven’t built self-service capabilities, there’s no better time to start. Self-service channels and platforms will help employees, customers and partners get what they need with less hands-on from IT and business, Wagle says. This could include improving contact center services so that customers can more easily find support.
Such measures, most of which are linchpins of ongoing digital transformations, will leave companies well positioned for the new normal. “This will come to an end and a lot of companies will leave a massive amount of money parked on the sidelines,” Bates says. “Organizations who double down on the most important advancements to allow them to emerge more competitive are going to win.”