CIO Pulse: The world of work - indelibly changed, or not?

CIO Pulse: The world of work - indelibly changed, or not?
Published: 23 April 2020

With the onset of a new decade the ‘Workplace of the Future’ topic has resurfaced with alacrity. Many firms seized the opportunity to consolidate office space, formulate ‘work anywhere’ policies, and (which now feels conservative) promote flexible or agile working to traditionally office-based teams. In recent years field force automation had been transformational –enhanced mobility solutions, intelligent routing, dynamic work scheduling, smart devices with real time sales and service data all gave meaningful benefits. The upsides to agile working have historically been more associated with the softer benefits around employee engagement and work-life balance. But ‘work anywhere’ was also troubled by concerns over stymied innovation, tech limitations and culture corrosion. Enter COVID-19.

As impressive as the large-scale tech-enabled working from home mobilisations are, the ‘IT bit’ has been relatively mundane.  And there is the rub! These are programmes of complex people and process change way beyond the scale of the technology deployment alone. However, amongst the upheaval of the last four weeks, there have been big wins for technology leaders. In less enlightened firms, the pandemic has enabled CIO’s and CTO’s to join their peers firmly centre stage as ‘whole enterprise’ change leaders. Any thoughts that the contemporary tech leader simply provisions good tech have been banished! In truth, the good ones have never been that narrow.

Few senior IT leaders would argue that they have delivered anything particularly remarkable in terms of ‘systems’. The answers have been linear; cloud first, with proven unified collaboration and communication tools baked in, plus a healthy dose of expanded provisioning for rapidly upscaled digital and online transactions. By ensuring high availability and resilience, coupled with strong process change and effective user adoption, CIO’s and CTO’s have proved their Board credentials. Their ability to draw together commercial and operational imperatives, landing hard delivery of outcomes against cases of rapidly evolving use have been invaluable.  Technology is clearly material to riding the COVID disruption, but it is the agility of thought and action which has energised the process and people change leadership which has enabled successful delivery.

Arguably mass remote working has been augmented by two key themes – firstly the shared human mission of ‘survival’, and secondly the Government Furlough Scheme.  If everything goes to plan, we should cheerily wave goodbye to both. The smart CIO’s & CTO’s are already working hard to maintain the momentum of change within their Board communities; harnessing the boldness of adoption displayed by remote working and refocusing it upon the evolution of commercial products, and operational practices.  The crisis hasn’t spawned innovation but simply triggered a shift in the pace of adoption and adaption. 

Technology is seen as a tool to drive enhanced performance, richer customer experience and service or simple cost reduction. Be it machine learning, robotic process automation or artificial intelligence, or performance management systems in support of newly embedded remote working & collaboration tools, it still needs careful delivery management. CIO’s must ensure they remain at the forefront of delivering the full ‘outcomes’ of the business case, not just the tech, if they are to fulfil their potential as whole enterprise leaders.

With recession upon us the instinct to mothball technology investments will no doubt resurface. The pandemic has opened levels of trust between teams and colleagues, beyond our imagination. If technology leaders can capture and propagate this spirt, their leadership contribution will continue at the forefront of growth and recovery.

Matt Cockbill is a Partner and Head of the IT Leadership & Digital Practice at Berwick Partners, specialising in recruiting senior management and leadership roles.

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