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Seven Ways COVID19 has Changed the CIO Role

Seven Ways COVID19 has Changed the CIO Role
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by Sanjeev Kapoor 02 Dec 2020

2020 has been the year of the large scale COVID19 healthcare crisis, which had a disruptive impact on business operations worldwide. Following the pandemic outbreak, many enterprises faced restrictions as part of measures against the pandemic. For example, several companies had to operate with reduced capacity and to lock down entire sites. Others implemented a rapid shift from physical activities (e.g., shopping in retail stores) to digital activities (e.g., e-commerce and e-business transactions). In many cases, companies had to reinforce their existing digital channels and activities, while reducing the use of physical channels. For instance, digital marketing activities were increased in favor of conventional physical marketing activities. Moreover, many enterprises implemented massively teleworking and work-from-home policies.

These policies enabled enterprises to boost their business continuity despite COVID19 limitations. They also helped them maintain contacts with customers and recover a significant part of lost sales and revenues. However, they also manifested the importance of digital infrastructures for the operation of modern enterprises. In this context, the COVID19 pandemic has created more headaches for IT Directors and CIO (Chief Information Officers), who have more reasons to stay awake on a 24×7 basis. COVID19 has changed the CIO role in many ways. Many analysts claim that this change will last forever.


1. Ensuring the Trustworthiness, Resilience, and Scalability of Digital Infrastructures

CIOs have always been concerned with the establishment of a secure and resilient IT environment for their business users. Following the COVID19 outbreak, they must deal with a larger number of user requests due to the increased number of digital activities. This means that they must scale up their digital infrastructures, including for example cloud data centers and the bandwidth capacity of their network connectivity. Likewise, they must revise their IT risk management plans to address higher impacts for most IT risks. In an era where digital channels represent the sole route to accomplishing business activities, IT service disruptions have a greater business impact than in the past. Therefore, during COVID19 times CIOs had to revise their cybersecurity and cyber-resilience strategies towards accomplishing more stringent availability and trustworthiness targets.

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2. Supporting Remote Working and Work from Home

In the COVID19 era CIOs are responsible for supporting remote working and work from home policies. This entails a host of different activities from providing employees with the right terminal equipment (e.g., desktop computers, tablets) to ensuring their connectivity to the enterprise network infrastructures. In most cases, the implementation of these activities entails significant upgrades in various IT infrastructures like VPN concentrators, enterprise portals, and application gateways. In many cases, remote working requires providing support to contractors, freelancers, and business partners. These activities place an additional load on the CIO’s team.


3. Scaling Up Digital Channels

COVID19 scaled up the use of digital channels overnight. Traffic in social media channels and call centers exploded, as digital channels replaced conventional forms of interaction with customers and collaborators (e.g., physical service desks). Hence, CIOs must ensure that these channels operate gracefully. This entails many different actions, such as staffing call centers with more employees, increasing digital marketing budgets in social media platforms, and boosting Search Engine Optimization (SEO) activities. Staffing tasks can be particularly challenging during COVID19 times, where employees may be sick and absent due to coronavirus infections.


4. Supporting Employees during the Healthcare Crises

Digital infrastructures are also used to support employees through communicating hygiene practices and helping them report their work and healthcare status. In this direction, many enterprises enhanced their HR (Human Resources) applications to provide information about processes affected by COVID19. Other companies have also provided mobile apps that help employees report their COVID19 symptoms while tracking days of remote work, COVID19 absences, and shifts’ schedules. In many cases, these apps also provide guidelines about a safe return to work following COVID19 infections. CIOs supervise the design and implementation of such applications, along with upgrades of relevant HR systems and enterprise applications. This is a challenging task that comes on top of other IT chores.


5. Optimizing the Cost-Effectiveness of IT Operations

During the COVID19 pandemic, most enterprises operate on constrained budgets. This affects IT spending as well. Hence CIOs are forced to provide access to IT resources and services in cost-effective ways. In this direction, they must be effective and intelligent. For example, they must effectively negotiate with IT suppliers, while seeking free yet reliable IT services (e.g., free teleconferencing tools). Likewise, they must establish resource sharing agreements with clients and business partners. Overall, they must find ways to increase the value for money of their IT investments.


6. Innovation and Creativity at Scale

Following the COVID19 outbreak, CIOs cannot afford to have an auxiliary role. Rather they must be creative in the ways they connect and interact with suppliers, customers, employees, business partners, and other stakeholders. For example, they are in charge of specifying and supporting the implementation of innovative customer journeys through digital channels. In the post COVID19 era, CIO teams are expected to be innovators and leaders rather than support staff.


7. From Tactical Activities to Strategic Planning

Considering the above-listed activities, CIOs are playing a key role in shaping the corporate strategy. In the past, not all companies gave a board seat to the CIO. In the post COVID19 era, this is bound to change as CIOs will contribute to strategic planning rather than limiting themselves to tactical activities. IT strategies will be revised to evolve in-line with the changes to the business strategy. The implementation of the latter will be increasingly dependent on the digital infrastructures of the enterprise. Overall, CIOs will undertake more challenging activities and will gain more strategic positions in their companies.

The COVID19 pandemic has changed the role of the CIO forever. In the post COVID19 era, CIOs will be innovators and creative leaders with a central role in the specification and implementation of the business strategy. They will have to solve more problems in exchange for a higher salary, bigger bonuses, and a more strategic role in the organizational chart of their company.

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