While facing their greatest challenge yet, CIOs are feeling pressure and urgency. We are experiencing infrastructure breakdowns, denial-of-service attacks, and sites going down due to traffic overload.

As the coronavirus outbreak unfolds, it is already evident that CIOs are playing a key role in navigating the crisis, even as companies deal with its ramifications.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, technology is at the forefront of the crisis. A good deal of the changes reshaping our lives are driven by technology – from remote working to online shopping among consumers.

Since technology is so entwined with every aspect of every organisation, CIOs are essential, because they have a unique perspective on what’s really happening and how to manage it.

This article discusses how Outsourced CIOs are successfully navigating the pandemic in order to transform from reacting to the crisis to proactively addressing it.

The CIO who successfully guides his/her company will be not only able to support its core business operations, but also build an outstanding leadership reputation with the organisation.

People First: the Outbound™ Way

The CIO must acknowledge that people are focused on caring for loved ones, managing their kids who are no longer in school, stocking up on necessities, and trying to stay healthy, all while trying to do their jobs. A CIO must be empathetic and flexible in this regard, as well as being cognisant of providing flexible work arrange­ments—working remotely, in flexible shifts, and preparing for absences. For those people who still need to come into work, CIOs have a responsibility to make the work environment safe. A CIO’s ability to help their employees through this crisis will likely affect the loyalty and retention of employees in the future.

Security is a Priority

Hackers are stepping up their game to take advantage of creating confusion and uncertainty. We’ve seen attackers launch email-phishing campaigns posing as corporate help-desk teams asking workers to validate credentials using text (also known as “smishing”). As an added risk, remote working creates unprecedented VPN use which complicates security monitoring and may weaken internal deterrents against threats.
As a result, CIOs must work closely with their chief information security officers to de-risk remote access to information or development environments and implement multifactor authentication to enable work from home. Companies also need to focus on guarding against remote-working scams as well as identifying and escalating threats.
Security plans (for example, disaster recovery, vendor succession, technology risk backup), should be tested immediately. If those plans don’t exist, they should be created and tested. CIOs should muster resources to help with monitoring (for example, network availability, new strains of malware, endpoint data access) to shorten risk-response times.

Stabilise critical infrastructure, systems, and processes

Organisational infrastructure is becoming increasingly stressed as employee work and customer behavior patterns shift dramatically. In heavily impacted areas, ISPs are experiencing degradation of service because remote workers are overloading their networks. Given the disruptions to Asian supply chains, infrastructure components have much longer lead times than normal (such as servers, storage, parts, and networking gear).
CIOs should take a step back and understand which systems and applications are most critical to stabilise, then prioritise that work. That includes scenario planning to help prepare for issues lying ahead, such as building up a supply of needed parts and hardware (for example, PCs, iPhones) and a distribution process for getting them where they need to go. In addition to addressing key issues (like rapidly scaling up infrastructure capacity, network bandwidth, VPN access), CIOs need to consider second and third order effects as well.
They should also identify and test for a range of scenarios, including extreme use cases. In addition, CIOs need to work with colleagues in other critical business functions to evaluate system requirements and prepare for changes.

Role Model and ‘stick to your guns’

Many employees face what can seem like a plethora of tools as they remodel their work practices – with little understanding of how to use them effectively. In general, new behaviors take about 30 days to become established, so it is crucial that CIOs promote them within a set timeframe, and encourage employees to learn to use tools within a month. It takes twice as much investment to get users to adopt a new tool as it does to develop it in the first place. Although it’s important to provide clear guidance on tools and processes (e.g. downloading the necessary apps or using multifactor authentication), it’s crucial to implement behavioral-nudging techniques, training sessions, and certification in order to ensure the tools are not just adopted but actually helpful.
CIOs need to role model, as this is an effective way to influence behavior. If you’ve advocated communicating through collaboration tools, holding meetings on Teams and asking every participant to turn on video – then you need to do it too.

Look beyond standard options to make work-from-home work

As employees are increasingly working from home, a host of issues have arisen, ranging from poor videoconferencing capabilities to slow internet access at employees’ homes. The CIO must move quickly to advise the CEO and direct the company on how to work remotely before each department picks its own collaboration tool. Many CIOs are already buying additional licenses and upgrading network to increase access. The benefit of a skilled, highly resourceful vCIO is that he/she can bring in expertise from enterprise-level experience and introduce better solutions and technology.
Ultimately, tech is simply an enabler. New ways of working require a mindset change. CIOs can contribute to the mindset change by sharing best practices and proactively managing. In crisis management, cross-functional approach is key, and the CIO is well-positioned to help.

A now-or-never agile approach to customer reach

While businesses strive to maintain business continuity, they can lose track of their customers. In many cases, customer behavior is now shifting towards digital channels. It is in the CIO’s best interest to accelerate investments that will enable their companies to compete at a higher level. CIOs need to be supportive to design new business models with the help of technology and make it happen quickly. For example, many stores need to ramp up their online orders and delivery channels as their physical stores close for long periods.

Embrace the ‘new normal’

COVID-19 is yet to come to its conclusion, so we have no idea what impact it will have on the economy. COVID-19 will inevitably force CIOs to reduce costs, especially in the short term. Examples include evaluating fixed capacity that isn’t used and prioritizing initiatives. CIOs will need to understand what will have to change and what the new tech-enabled operating model can look like. CIOs have begun experimenting with these new ways to work to lock in new practices, such as removing attachments in internal emails and only using Slack for communication. In a time of crisis or reduced capacity, they believe there is also an opportunity to improve routines for work intake and demand management to ensure only essential and worthwhile work is taken on. CIOs have the opportunity to lead innovation rather than merely manage it.