by David Binning

Tabcorp’s tech tsar Mandy Ross sees good and bad in COVID-19 trenches

Mar 24, 20204 mins

Organisations less progressed on their digital journeys are scrambling for hardware and licenses, and to scale capacity in areas like VPN and internet services.

Mandy Ross
Credit: Tabcorp

Outgoing Tabcorp CIO, Mandy Ross, says COVID-19 has thrown many Australian organisations and her professional peers into complete disarray over the past few weeks.

“Organisations who are less progressed on their digital journeys have been scrambling to procure hardware and licenses, and to scale capacity in areas such as VPN and internet services, requiring heroic efforts from their technology teams to maintain business continuity,” she told CIO Australia.

“I’m hearing stories of companies where employees have been asked to limit their use of VPN (i.e. to limit their productivity) due to technical capacity limitations so that other priority employees can perform more critical duties remotely.”

The crisis has sparked a big uptick in technology purchases – in Australia and globally – from retail electronics suppliers like JB Hi-Fi, as well as server memory and mobile device chip suppliers, laptop vendors; even suppliers of high-quality embedded speakers are struggling to meet demand.

UBS last week forecast average contract prices of DRAM chips to rise as much as 10 per cent in the second quarter from the first, led by a more than 20 per cent jump in server chips.

The rush on tech is already affecting supply chains, with analysts and industry forecasting delays of up to three weeks in some instances, putting even more pressure on those Australian CIOs playing catch up.

“The fact that this is a health crisis rather than a technology-based crisis means that the non-technology aspects of business continuity plans (BCP) and crisis management frameworks are being fully tested in the real world – producing a rich set of learnings for businesses,” Ross notes.

For instance, in industries where our governments deem their services to be “non-essential” – digital channels may be their only lifeline.

“This is reaffirming the importance of digital transformation in a world where emerging technologies are already disrupting and creating business models,” she added.

“We’re also seeing cafes, restaurants and fitness businesses rapidly pivot their business models off the back of recent government decisions to safeguard the health of our communities.  They’re using social media technologies to rally their local communities around them, and are literally reinventing themselves overnight.”

Organisations further along the road with their digital strategies, including those having made sustained investments in flexible, more contemporary working policies have pivoted to support teleworking at scale with relative ease, some achieving the shift within days.

“This is precisely the journey we’ve been on at Tabcorp in recent years, so we’ve been exceptionally well positioned to technically enable business continuity,” Ross explained.

“With remote working now enabled across many businesses, we’re now entering a phase where our priority is to keep the technology operating while senior executives and boards navigate higher-order challenges.”

And while many organisations continue to struggle, Ross has seen “less digitally savvy senior leaders and employees” at least taking some initiative seeking to quickly procure and adopt productivity/collaboration tools like Slack, Zoom, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, Atlassian as well as ‘soft-phones’.

At the other end of the scale, Alan Marshal, national analytics lead and partner with Deloitte Australia told CIO Australia that several of the firm’s clients have asked for help in assessing how AI and ML technologies might help them acquire better insights and therefore respond more effectively to COVID-19, as well as future calamities.

“We’ve had a few RFPs (request for proposals) with clients asking us to help them with [AI] development frameworks,” he said.

Ross feels it’s way too early to start thinking about what future technology strategies will look like given everyone it yet to understand and digest what “the new normal” for our industry will look like.

“It’s clear to me that the coming months will be a marathon, not a sprint – and we will all come out the other side of this with an abundance of leadership and life learnings,” she predicts.

One of Australia’s highest-profile women in tech, Ross finishes a successful tenure at Tabcorp this month before taking up the position of chief digital officer with Queensland’s Griffith University in April.