by Clint Boulton

The CIO’s coronavirus playbook: 7 tips for surviving the crisis

Mar 31, 20206 mins
Business ContinuityCIOIT Leadership

Don't let the coronavirus crisis cripple your company. Follow this CIO survival guide to the pandemic.

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Credit: Customdesigner / Getty Images

The coronavirus holds no quarter for humans, with its merciless march punishing businesses worldwide. Desperate to flatten the COVID-19 curve, employees toil from home, straining remote work operations.

“Pandemic” may not have been on the CIO’s contingency list, but the playbook for resiliency and business continuity stands. CIOs must respond to the challenge with both short-term and long-term actions to increase resilience and prepare for future profitable growth, says Nicholas Colisto, vice president and CIO of Avery Dennison Corp., a provider of adhesives, apparel tags and other branding solutions. “Unexpected disruptions can impede companies’ ability to deliver products and services to customers and impact revenue and customer satisfaction,” Colisto tells

Remarkably, the threat has galvanized IT teams, with many CIOs reporting more progress on their remote work efforts since the onset of the coronavirus than they’d made in months previously, according to Herb Schul, sectors and solutions leader for EY Americas Advisory Markets. IT teams are boosting bandwidth, provisioning servers and training staff to use remote technologies in weeks, rather than months it may have taken previously. “Necessity and immediate need eliminate the typical barriers,” Schul says. “It’s been interesting to see the world adapt to working remotely so quickly.”

Most CIOs will know how to plan for contingencies, but comparing checklists to those of peers reaffirms that you’re on the right path. Here, CIOs and researchers offer steps IT leaders should take to support their organizations in a time of crisis.

Shift spending to support remote work

In the short term, CIOs should shift spending to technologies that support remote work, such as laptops, desktop virtualization, and VPNs and multi-factor authentication to ensure secure access.

On that score, Autodesk CIO Prakash Kota offers best practices for keep employees humming along. Of particular importance are cloud, virtual access, remote onboarding and collaboration technologies. For example, Autodesk’s HelpBot, a virtual assistant housed in Slack, answers frequently asked work-from-home questions, Kota says. 

“We saw a significant increase in the adoption of our productivity tools and we scaled in an agile fashion,” Kota tells “We knew based on utilization data that we both had the licenses in place and the ability to scale for this scenario.”

Put crisis management on the front burner

Form an IT crisis management team (ITCMT) and connect its members to global or even divisional business continuity teams.

“This team should identify and coordinate activities designed to ensure continuity of business operations, such as identifying sites that are going remote and equipping employees with the technology and services they need to be productive,” Colisto says. “The ITCMT should also create scenarios associated with the outbreak. Scenario planning with stakeholders is an important exercise as it can help offset unfavorable outcomes, and support the customers and communities that the company serves.” 

Milind Wagle, CIO of Equinix, agrees, noting that his department has been actively involved in crisis management and discussing the “art of the possible” since the onset of the coronavirus in the U.S. “No one expected a crisis as big as this, but I’m seeing natural leaders emerge in my entire organization, Wagle says.

Build an IT resiliency dashboard

Employees are depending on IT, so it’s incumbent on IT leaders to create an IT Resiliency Dashboard to monitor the IT services they provide. Monitoring key metrics for storage, compute, application availability, desktop virtualization and VPN use can help IT know whether service level agreements are being met. The dashboard would also help IT identify and remediate any anomalies that may lead to a disruption in services.

Use the crisis to boost customer engagement

Companies should ramp up their digital strategies by investing in customer engagement, self-service, digital workplace and knowledge management tools, Colisto says. Transparency about service and process changes are critical to maintaining customer satisfaction. “Collectively, these tactics will improve business resilience and create a path to future profitable growth,” Colisto says.

Communicate with your team

Employees’ anxiety runs high, as 59 percent of workers are “afraid of the spread of coronavirus,” according to Forrester Research. And while staffing decisions will vary from company to company, compassion in communicating with employees is critical, Colisto says.

“When it comes to employees, now is the time to alleviate anxiety by actively communicating, showing empathy and gratitude, sharing details on how you are keeping the workplace safe, and providing work-from-home arrangements, flexible time off and sick leave,” Colisto says.

Be proactive about phishing scams

Scammers are initiating phishing attacks that lure users into clicking on malicious links and sharing confidential information. Snow Software’s Alastair Pooley says that his company is repelling several coronavirus-themed phishing scams. The concern is that employees preoccupied with switching between chat and email may get tripped up and click on an email with a message payload.

“It’s a sad indictment on the criminals … but I suppose that’s why they’re criminals,” Pooley says.

Colisto says that IT leaders should work with internal communications to provide tips to employees on recognizing and avoiding phishing emails. 

Review the succession plan

Everyone runs the risk of falling prey to the coronavirus. While this is not on par with an “if I get hit by a bus tomorrow” scenario, IT leaders should meet with their teams to review their succession plans and decide how they will handle scenarios in the case IT members become ill, Colisto says. 

“I do think there are lessons to be learned here across the industries around creating more comprehensive business continuity plans and testing those plans more frequently,” Colisto says.

It’s also critical that CIOs not let COVID-19 stop them from pursuing their IT strategies in support of digital business growth, as has reported. Despite the dark days, CIOs should bottle the speed with which they adapted to working remotely and use it to accelerate their transformation efforts, rather than seek to contain costs, says EY’s Schul. “We believe you can’t just hunker down in a time of crisis,” he adds.