CIO Pulse: CIO’s on crisis & recovery

CIO Pulse: CIO’s on crisis & recovery
Published: 16 April 2020

Over the course of the last month every UK Board and leadership team has become increasingly aware of their IT capability. The current pandemic has thrust IT into sharp focus, and has seen CIO’s, CTO’s and IT Directors successfully deliver technology services integral to business continuity.

As impressive as large-scale mobilisation of workforces into working from home have been, they are only part ‘IT’. And there is the rub. These are programmes of complex people and process change; way beyond the scale of the technology deployment alone. Positive proof that the right IT leaders ‘lead’ as a whole enterprise senior manager. They don’t just provision tech.

Few senior IT leaders would argue that they have delivered anything remarkable in terms of systems. The answers have been linear; cloud first, with proven unified collaboration and communication tools baked in. The big wins for IT leaders have come from ensuring high availability and resilience, coupled with strong process change and effective user adoption.  

I’ve been holding a series of ‘digital check-ins’ – coffee breaks for us both - with CIO’s within my network. These have been cross industry; Manufacturing & Engineering, Housing, and Charities. Pleasingly, the mood within the UK CIO community is one of determined diligence. Not a community who are naturally at ease with ‘business as usual’, the COVID-19 crisis is bringing out their best.

With informed board teams embracing ‘in it together’ thinking, the best IT leaders are cementing their value as rounded business leaders. Now that the mobilisation is largely ‘complete’, their attention is shifting to the creation of long-term value. In a market with constrained consumers, and impaired supply chains, where are CIO’s focusing their time in order to add value for their businesses?

These discussions have identified five key areas of focus:

Capture the mood of creativity

Flexible working enabled by cloud services is now somewhat proven. Maintain momentum of change, ‘stay brave’ and drive for the wider transformation goals with the customer front and centre of mind. Commercial pragmatism and a keen eye to cost or revenue advantage ready for the market recovery is key.

Maximise digital & UX

Scalable resilient and secure digital channels with a strong customer experience and ease of use are a priority. Protecting existing and sourcing new digital revenue growth will be a critical part of survival and recovery.

Really engage your leadership peers

This new working normal is extreme, but make sure to learn lessons, refine processes and systems to ensure improvements endure into recovery. This will see CIO’s more effective in securing budget for technology investments that deliver an enhanced digital workplace (productivity) as well as those that create and serve digital services for customers (revenue).

Cyber & Risk

As change happens new threats emerge, be this through the provision of new systems or the adoption of new processes. CIO’s must ensure cyber security remains a whole Board and business priority.

Improve IT

Amidst all of the above it would be easy to become ‘cobbler’s children’. Now more than ever should IT leaders be confident that they have the right people, resources, partners, standards and policies etc. in place. This is as crucial to business survival, as it will be to growth and recovery.

A study delivered by our group (Odgers Berndtson) in partnership with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, discovered that of the c.2000 global senior business leaders surveyed; 53% cited the CIO/CTO as pivotal to successfully navigating business disruption. Where 60% felt sure that the CEO could do what’s needed, this percentage saw a dramatic dip to 31% who felt the CIO/CTO was similarly capable. The challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic have demanded that IT leaders act with authority and agility whilst holding a fine balance of commercial, operational and attuned people leadership; all under extreme pressure. Nonetheless the victories of a successful mobilisation need back-up.  IT leaders must now show their ability to navigate disruption longer term, thriving in growth and recovery in order to remain a fixture at the Boardroom table.

Matt Cockbill leads the IT & Digital Leadership Practice for Berwick Partners.

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