CIOs grapple with how to jumpstart innovation amid pandemic

IT leaders turn to emerging technologies from strategic vendors and VC partners to help keep collaboration and innovation humming in a work world gone remote due to the coronavirus.

CIOs grapple with how to jumpstart innovation amid the pandemic
Sutad Watthanakul / Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has spurred a proliferation of rapid-fire transformations, with IT leaders working through punch lists of priorities aimed at preserving business continuity. But with work from home (WFH) decrees eliminating workplace tête-à-têtes, CIOs are wondering what will happen to serendipitous innovation.

As much as CIOs like to boast about IT staff productivity since they were sent home in March, simulating the water-cooler conversation that can spark fresh ideas is difficult. And humans who have glazed through scripted back-to-back Zoom sessions all day are unlikely to pivot to an ad-hoc meeting to expound on The Next Big Idea. Frustration borne by Zoom fatigue and the lack of face-to-face interaction mounts.

“This is going to prove to be very challenging,” says Craig Williams, CIO of networking company Ciena.

The pandemic could have come at a worse time

It’s hard to argue that a pandemic is well-timed, but when the coronavirus gripped the U.S., CIOs, who had met with their C-suites and boards in late 2019 to strategize their IT roadmap for 2020, were already executing on their digital strategy, says Carol Fawcett, CIO of Golden State Foods, a purveyor of condiments, dipping sauces and other foods for McDonald’s, Starbucks and other brands.

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