While desperate customers wrestle over fast-disappearing toilet paper rolls in the supermarket aisles, the suddenly precious commodity has served to highlight the kinds of key supply chain issues CIOs are now facing because of COVID-19.\nWith the exodus to home offices across Australia all but complete, untold miles of office-scale toilet rolls are lying unused as the home-variety naturally becomes the default option for millions of house-bound teleworkers.\n\u201cWe\u2019re taking toilet paper consumption from work to home during this pandemic,\u201d says Gartner Australia retail analyst, and former logistics manager with Louis Vuitton, Thomas O\u2019Connor.\n\u201cBut office toilet paper is on vastly larger rolls; it\u2019s a completely different product which is now starting to create some challenges.\u201d\nAs light starts to appear at the end of the tunnel, businesses are contemplating what the \u201cnew normal\u2019 will look like. In the case of commodities like toilet paper, the entire market will change forever if we settle on a higher proportion of people working from home more of the time.\nWarehouses and supply chains supporting the office market will need to be recalibrated as channels servicing consumers and supermarkets receive priority.\nLikewise, as more people cook more meals at home, food suppliers will face disruption to their supply chains as less produce is needed for restaurants, hotels and the like, with more people buying more food at supermarkets than ever before.\nCompanies trying to fulfil online orders through in-store inventories need to take stock of what systems they have to manage this.\n\u201cIs there a distributed order management (DOM) system in place?,\u201d O\u2019Connor asks. If not is there a technology option that can be put in place fairly quickly? How much dirty labour-intensive activity is likely to be involved and how can it be minimised through smarter application of tech?\nFashion fail\nHow retailers respond to COVID-19 depends on which of two camps the crisis has put them in, O\u2019Connor says.\nRetailers selling necessities are seeing sharply rising demand, especially for things like groceries. Home entertainment, and to a lesser extent home improvement are also extremely buoyant at the moment.\u00a0\nIn the other camp, retailers in 'disretionary' areas like fashion are lying on the canvass.\nThompson notes this group is grappling with troubling supply chain issues, such as reallocating inventory from bricks and mortar to online channels, in turn demanding deeper visibility into channels and better communications and collaboration across them.\nThen there\u2019s transportation management systems. What technology needs to be in place to route all company orders effectively?\n\u201cIt\u2019s about focussing and understanding first the whole idea of what do our supply chains look like,\u201d O\u2019Connor says.\nShane Lenton, CIO with one of Australia\u2019s oldest retailers Cue is in the eye of the storm. Every one of the company\u2019s 200-plus stores across Australia is currently shuttered. As expected, online sales have increased notably, but nowhere near enough to cover the gap.\n\u201cWhilst we\u2019ve seen some good uptake online and some sales transition it's nowhere near enough to cover shortfall of stores closing,\u201d Lenton says.\nThankfully, however, for the past several years Cue (founded in 1968) has been engaged in a major digital transformation drive which saw it develop systems and processes that have been its saving grace during the pandemic.\n\u201cWe already have systems and platform in place that have allowed us the agility to pivot and adjust as needed".\n Cue Clothing Company\n\nShane Lenton\n\n\nFor instance, Cue is able to easily \u201cturn off\u201d stores that aren\u2019t acting as fulfilment centres, while also being able to consolidate inventory in each state.\n\u201cThankfully we\u2019ve been able to access inventory from any of our stores," Lenton ads.\nNot something every retailer could claim at the moment.\u00a0\nWhile Cue appears to be managing the transition to online-only sales better than some might expect, the shortfall created by store closures is creating serious systemic issues for the wider sector, notes Gartner\u2019s O\u2019Connor.\n\u201cFor businesses like this that have closed their stores ecommerce is up but nowhere near enough to make up for the fall.\u201d\nThis has meant many retailers are having to go to their suppliers and cancel every PO for this season, he adds. Meanwhile, many have flagged their intention to accelerate development of systems and processes supporting a single point of inventory.\nA key weapon in Cue\u2019s armoury for battling COVID-19 is its unified communications retail management platform. Over the past four years the company has worked closely with partners Triquestra and Shippit to develop an \u2018endless aisle\u2019 solution.\n\u201cCommunicating with supply chain people has been critical during this period,\u201d Lenton says, adding that enabling staff to stay connected was equally important.\n\u201cThe big focus initially for us was mobilising the workforce and having the infrastructure in place to allow people to work remotely.\u201d\nHe explains that many staff simply didn\u2019t have computers at home\u00a0and they used desktop computers in the office, so weren't able to get them working from home using their work desktop computers and USB wifi dongles.\u00a0\n\u201cWhen this got serious there was a major shortage in monitors, hardware, headsets, laptops and the like.\u201d\n\u201cWe really had to get really creative without spending huge amounts of money.\u201d\nNot having designers able to work closely together and share ideas has been a particular challenge for the iconic fashion designer.\nLenton notes that Citrix has played an important part of the solution, making it\u00a0\u201ceasier for us to deliver apps and anything that might be bandwidth hungry, on both trusted and not-trusted devices."\nTaking stock\nGartner\u2019s O\u2019Connor says COVID-19 is forcing retail sector CIOs to quickly take stock of what technologies they currently have at their disposal for the various projects they\u2019re undertaking, and to get their short-term priorities right.\n\u201cIf you\u2019re on the discretionary side your job as CIO is to say 'this truly doesn\u2019t need to happen right now \u2013 we need this cash for survival'. 'We need to maintain continuity to ensure we\u2019re in a good place'.\u201d\n\u201cWhat needs to be cancelled or postponed? What are you going to accelerate?\u201d\nRohan Penman, CIO with bespoke tea company T2 Tea tells CIO the company last year began the process of overhauling its four-year old website, but has now fast-tracked its developnent in response to COVID-19.\u00a0\n\u2018We\u2019re dealing with the impact of losing a channel [physical stores] and having a web channel being a couple of times hotter than it normally is," he says.\u00a0"We've taken the opportunity to re-frontend. refining our UX and UI and get everything right from a user's point of view."\u00a0\nHaving a major web overhaul in the offing before COVID-19 descended wasn't the only piece of good fortune for Penman and T2 Tea. The company also completed a full rollout of Microsoft Teams mid-last year, which meant the current transtion to remote working and video collaboration has been virtually painless.\u00a0\n"My goodness I\u2019m happy the timing it happened wasn\u2019t June this year instead of June last year."\n"Everyone could pick up their laptops and go home: noone's talking to me about anything."\nCOVID-19 has, however, left one rather large fly in the IT systems ointment, forcing it to delay the international rollout of a new PoS system. "We were plannig to finish it end of May but with all our stores closed that's been ruined," Penman admits.\u00a0\nGrowing talk of restrictions being eased could mean T2's 'click-and-collect' systems and processes get kicked back into gear sooner rather than later, though, with New Zealand for instance indicating it will drop from level 4 to level 3 restrictions next week.\u00a0\nCue had other projects in the works prior to COVID-19 it hopes will ease its transition to wherever the business and retail sector more broadly is now headed.\nThis includes enhancements to its ecommerce platform based around video-based 'clientelling and storytelling', which will also incorporate existing and in-development applications of video conferencing, virtual and augmented reality to help customers gain a deeper understanding of products online and make better choices.\n\u201cWe have been working on solutions we knew the market wasn\u2019t quite ready for but with this situation and change in consumer behaviours that will occur we\u2019ve decided to move ahead,\u201d Lenton says.\nPeople\u2019s adoption of video has grown significantly, both in terms of tolerance and understanding, he adds, while predicting AR and VR will have a \u201chuge impact\u201d moving forward.\nThese technologies will also support the rollout of Cue\u2019s new international offering to expand sales outside of Australia.\nMeanwhile, as Lenton and his team appear to have the supply chain and communications challenges in hand, the fact Cue has large numbers of staff who aren\u2019t very good with technology has demanded a fresh vigilance around cyber security throughout the transition.\n\u201cHaving people who are not necessarily \u2018tech-native\u2019 needing to work a little differently has created some challenges,\u201d he admits. \u201cSecurity has been front of mind for everything we\u2019ve been doing.\u201d\n\u201cIt\u2019s taken a proactive effort around documentation and generally supporting those individuals to make sure it\u2019s a smooth transition.\u201d\nT2's Penman says the tempo of security threats since COVID-19 fully escalated has been truly alarming, judging by the regular updates from its\u00a0security operations centre (SOC) Triskele Labs. "They think attacks have increasd as much as three-fold."\n"Bad actors know people are on VPNs and logged in remotely and might have equivalent vulnerabilities with the range of IoT devices commonly used in the home."\nIt's enough to send one off the supermarket to make another bulk purchase of 2-ply.