How NZ CIOs can take an active role in COVID-19 recovery

CIOs face great risks if they step back into a tactical rather than an emerging business posture

With New Zealand now moving to ease restrictions, the economy is starting to find points of traction. It certainly is a complex time for business and the workforce.

As the country emerges out of COVID-19, there’s real risk that CIOs step back into a tactical rather than an emerging business posture. I understand the tough position crises bring to the CIO role, but what I’ve learnt throughout my career is that by not shifting towards business in crises, you’re setting yourself up for extended technical debt and unrealised IT business value. 

As CIOs in New Zealand navigate the complexities of recovery, there appears to be two scenarios bubbling up. The first is an unbalanced view and action between cost cutting and technology investment, which has moved the CIO/CFO relationship to a more tactical executive relationship. The other is the limited adoption of emerging technologies that can build and drive business renewal post-pandemic. If these mindsets don’t change, CIOs will stay stuck in lifting infrastructure and operations (I&O) capabilities rather than investing in IT for business.

It is unfortunate that in some industries, the only survival lever is cost cutting to preserve the business and investing is not an option. In these cases, it is about the correct cost cutting and negotiating timing of technology investment as the business starts recovering.

If we look at government agencies, recovery won’t go very far by asking CIOs to drive technology leadership with low spend benchmarks and limited investment. In health, for example, IT should be treated as an investment in the country’s health and wellbeing, not as a cost. This is the kind of mindset shift that is required.

How CIOs can help rebuild the economy

There are still opportunities CIOs can take advantage of to shift ahead and help rebuild the local economy. NZTech’s response to the Government’s Budget 2020 announcement points out that despite strong investments to build a prosperous country underpinned by technology, so many New Zealanders are still excluded from the digital world.

Most of the country’s GDP is made up of services industries at around 65 per cent of the total GDP. These industries present huge opportunities for data and analytics strategies to create new revenue streams, defend business with new insights during COVID-19 and drive better value chain interactions. 

A smaller part of the GDP is in producing goods such as manufacturing and agriculture. Manufacturing has many opportunities to drive deeper production insights and efficiencies with artificial intelligence (AI) delivered through equipment sensors in operational technologies (OT). Agriculture can also benefit from using AI and OT to drive large crop yield gains at lower crop production costs. 

There is significant opportunity for robotic process automation (RPA) to automate back office functions; skill the workforce up in base RPA and virtual assistants to make jobs more productive; and train them on data and existing BI tools to become data driven. These opportunities lead to higher productivity, which can reduce costs and provide deeper business insights that can defend revenue, and at times, create new revenue. Most CIOs have access to automation as part of their enterprise systems, so it’s time to explore the functionality for business cost savings 

Digital business is another significant area that CIOs can support during COVID-19 or to help fast track recovery. While many local projects appear to have either stopped or paused during the crisis, CIOs should instead use data insights to pivot how they interact with clients, and in some cases, adjust products for a change in consumer use. 

Another opportunity for CIOs to explore is vendor relationships. These relationships have suffered to some extent, where CIOs have cut costs without thinking about how to keep strategic relationships alive to scale back post-pandemic. Instead, CIOs should leverage these relationships for extended strategic partnerships and to facilitate relationships where vendors are business outcomes focused. They can also tap into a flexible talent pool and use their research capabilities for innovation.

CIOs need to drive long-term impact

It’s not too late for CIOs in New Zealand to change course, particularly given their decisions have been of a short-term nature by necessity. Some decisions and actions can still be redirected to shift ahead and rebuild the economy.

Brian Ferreira Gartner

Brian Ferreira

Brian Ferreira is a VP and managing executive partner at Gartner. He advises C-suite clients across Australia and New Zealand on shifting to a digital strategy to achieve new business outcomes and how best to approach technology, risk, governance, digital and agile investment for CFOs. 

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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