Ten ways tech leaders can help guide the way during COVID-19

BrandPost By Steve Bates
Apr 21, 2020
IT Leadership

The COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping the world as we know it, presenting unique challenges that many business leaders have never confronted before.

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Credit: koto_feja

By Steve Bates, Principal, Global Leader, KPMG’s CIO Center of Excellence

The COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping the world as we know it, presenting unique challenges that many business leaders have never confronted before. With a continuously shifting landscape, IT resilience is key to protecting the health of both your people and your business.

In the coming weeks and months, technology leaders managing through the crisis will follow three waves: stabilization of the core, optimization of estate, and emergence into a more competitive position. By taking action now in 10 priority areas, technology leaders can help their organizations respond to immediate operational, customer, employee, and financial disruptions, maintain business continuity as new challenges emerge, and realize a quick and competitive recovery after the crisis.

  1. Focus on critical problems

Don’t panic. While urgency is critical, the best way to tackle a challenge as big as COVID-19 is to think holistically and be intentional on your immediate, next, and future steps. Start by identifying the processes and systems that must be stabilized to support the business and prioritize daily work there. Then, prepare for the possible further degradation in performance by what-if scenario modeling and engage business partners and suppliers to understand what changes they are expecting to make and when.

  1. Put people first

This is a decidedly human crisis. Making changes that support employee health and well-being is critical, including implementing flexible work hours that allow people to balance remote work with family duties. You should also prepare for increased absences and adjust productivity objectives accordingly. In the near term, consider adjusting performance goals and how to help your employees manage through that. For your most critical employees, take a moment to personally reach out and provide extra support.

  1. Communicate

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Communicate frequently, in an empathetic and clear fashion. Make sure to communicate in small, bite-sized chunks to avoid overwhelming people already awash in information. And don’t forget to use “human” channels, such as video, which help people engage and connect. This is also a prime opportunity to highlight your corporate values, as people look to the business for strong leadership in uncertain times.

  1. Enable remote work

COVID-19 is forcing remote work arrangements for a large portion of the workforce and for an extended period of time. To maintain mission-critical processes, you’ll need to address alternative work areas you may not have considered before. Focus on immediate needs: right-scaling infrastructure capacity; buying new equipment, like laptops and modems; refreshing access rights policies; developing training aids to support remote employees in new ways of working; and mobilizing more resources for a significant increase in call center activities. Once stabilized, create connectivity through standard, secure, and easy to use collaboration tools. Remember, just because you deploy the technology, doesn’t mean your teams know how to use them, so over invest in enablement and providing hyper-care resources.

  1. Invest in self-service and automation

As you move from triage to more sustainable work patterns, make the impacts of COVID-19 a little easier on your customers and employees by giving the self-service options where they can quickly engage with the company. Consolidate front-end channels and streamline interfaces wherever possible to create a clear and easy experience. This is also an opportunity to increase your use of bots and AI, which can help increase the productivity, which may be operating at diminished capacity.

  1. Optimize cloud infrastructure

When the majority of the workforce is remote, activity in your cloud and traditional infrastructure will peak more than usual. Is it ready to handle the load? Put a plan in place to scale cloud services, as well as hybrid and traditional environments, to meet increased demand. The plan should include compute, hosting, storage, network, telephone and collaboration suites. Remember to consider the data compliance, security, and regulatory requirements when shifting workloads and locations.

  1. Review security, risk and governance

Significant changes to enterprise risk management are absolutely necessary for managing the COVID-19 crisis. For example, certain decisions may be pre-authorized or accelerated. However, each business change can weaken security and controls measures and put your organization at risk. To continue to protect the business, make sure you have a clear understanding impacted policies and controls and monitor accordingly. This is also the time to be extra cyber vigilant, deploying more resources, working collaboratively with others in your ecosystem, and applying extra scrutiny to your lines of defense: Cyber criminals are already trying to turn COVID-19 outbreak to their advantage, stepping up attacks, targeting victims with misinformation on fake websites and phishing campaigns.

  1. Continue transformation work

When pushed to conserve cash, it’s easy to put transformation programs on hold during a crisis and revert to traditional working models. Resist the urge. By continuing to invest in high-value areas such as cloud, automation and agile, you will help the business survive and thrive in the short- and long-term. These hard won programs are the key to emerging more competitive and ready to respond to the newly transformed business environment.

  1. Reframe funding

Given the widespread business and economic impact of COVID-19, cost reductions within the technology function will probably be necessary in the next year. To lessen the burden, consider opportunities to move to variable cost models, such as XaaS and remove unused fixed-capacity. Leading organizations will reshape both their funding processes to be leaner, more responsive and focused on continuous value delivery. 

  1. Adjust the IT operating model

Every change you make to navigate the COVID-19 crisis will impact your IT operating model across multiple dimensions: process, technology, governance, people, service delivery, performance insights, and data. For many organizations, the future is suddenly now, with their digital enablement plans having been massively accelerated and scaled overnight. Going forward, think about how you can drive value by embedding these changes together, using methods and tools such as agile working, collaboration and integrated cloud. 

Please be sure to view our full series of videos and related content on KPMG’s COVID-19:  Insights for CIOs and IT executives


Steve Bates (sjbates@kpmg.com) is a principal in KPMG’s U.S. Advisory practice and global leader of KPMG’s CIO Center of Excellence. Steve helps organizations drive value out of their digital technology investments and develop future-ready IT capabilities and solutions.