CIO Challenges in the Era of the COVID19 Pandemic

CIO Challenges in the Era of the COVID19 Pandemic
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by Sanjeev Kapoor 12 May 2020

The COVID19 outbreak is currently shaping a new landscape in our economies and societies. During the past months, major cities were shut down and many enterprises had to reduce or even cease their business operations. While most lockdowns have ended or are expected to end soon, the COVID19 pandemic is here to stay for the next months or even years. Hence, businesses will have to operate in an entirely new landscape, where concepts such as social distancing, teleworking at scale and virtual business interactions are expected be dominant and to enable the “contactless” economy. In the absence of a vaccine, enterprises will be therefore challenged to survive and, in several cases to thrive, despite the unprecedented economic recession.  The proper planning and structuring of the digital activities of a company can be a critical success factor in this direction. As a result, IT Managers and CIO (Chief Information Officers) are presented with new challenges.


Accelerating the Digital Transformation

Despite the slowdown of business operations, CIOs are required to accelerate the digital transformation of their companies. This means shortening the implementation timeline for on-going projects, while prioritizing new projects that will enable the company to operate in ways that minimize the number and importance of physical activities. This may be impossible in some sectors like manufacturing and industry, yet it is realistic in a large number of other sectors like education, healthcare, fitness, and retail. For instance, retail enterprises can accelerate their eCommerce roll-outs, while educational organizations can offer the full range of their course portfolio online. CIOs will be therefore judged in terms of their ability to move as many activities are possible on-line. In this way, CIOs can enable enterprises to recover lost revenue. In some cases, online activities can enable enterprises to acquire additional market share as well.


Upgrading and Securing Infrastructures

The COVID19 pandemic has unveiled the importance of enterprise digital infrastructures. For example, networking infrastructures have enabled teleworking, virtual meetings and employees’ access to corporate information. Nevertheless, they have also made organizations increasingly dependent on the proper functioning of these infrastructures. Thus, CIOs must undertake focused actions towards making these infrastructures faster, efficient and dependable. This means upgrading the capacity of existing infrastructures to keep up with the rising demand for their use. It also means investing on the security and trustworthiness of digital infrastructures, given that the impact of potential adversarial attacks against them will have the biggest impact than ever before.

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COVID19 Support

CIOs are nowadays asked to provide novel infrastructures and applications that support business operations during the pandemic. Such applications include for example business continuity platforms, applications that safeguard the safety and well-being of employees, internet systems that provide updates and information about the pandemic, applications that help them track the spreading of the disease inside the organization, as well as applications that link the enterprise with healthcare and insurance organizations. The business management of an enterprise is typically asking for solutions that support business operations during COVID19. CIOs must be well prepared to propose and implement novel ideas in this direction.


Building Up Internal Capabilities

To support the expanded use of digital infrastructures and services, CIOs must build up new internal capabilities. The development of such capabilities will ensure that the enterprise has control over its precious digital infrastructures and services.  CIOs may also have to recruit new personnel that will support the implementation and procurement of new IT products and services. Furthermore, CIOs must closely collaborate with other relevant departments of the company, such as the Digital Transformation Units. Specifically, CIOs and DTMs (Digital Transformation Managers) must collaborative closely and frequently to deliver novel digital products as needed for supporting business operations in the emerging contactless economy.


New Horizons in Outsourcing and New Relationships with IT Providers

In an era where companies have to run a digital sprint, it is unrealistic to develop all projects in-house. Rather, smart CIOs should try as much as possible to benefit from outsourcing. Outsourcing can accelerate the cost-effective implementation of new digital transformation projects. Nevertheless, outsourcing in COVID19 times is based on new principles that differ from the principles of traditional outsourcing. For instance, CIOs have to define new rules of engagement and new expectations from their IT providers. This includes for example expectations associated with project implementation timelines and costs. As another example, collaboration and supervision of IT providers should be based on teleworking and remote collaboration, which is not always the norm with traditional outsourcing.


The ability of CIOs to successfully confront these challenges can help their organizations maximize their productivity during the COVID19 times, which could set them apart from their competitors. On the other hand, failure to find effective solutions to the above issues could put CIOs in a negative spotlight. Overall, COVID19 introduces new challenges and changes the rules of the game. The ability of a CIO to confront these challenges is expected to reflect direct on his/her performance and position in the company. In COVID19 time, the importance of the CIO position is rising. Nevertheless, the expectations about CIOs performance are rising as well, and challenging their abilities and skills.

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