It’s a time of crisis for businesses from every sector and specialism, and digital readiness will enable them to weather this storm more easily.
Dave Jones, Non-Executive Director, portfolio CIO and Chair of the Northern IT Leaders Group, explains why those who understand the value of infrastructure, policies, and strategy are the ones coping more capably through the coronavirus crisis.
The COVID-19 crisis has created an immediate and huge sense of urgency. Organisations of all sizes and from all sectors have had to rapidly respond, equip and enable their employees to work remotely.
In my career, spanning 30 years in IT, I’ve never seen a single crisis drive change in how we work in the way COVID-19 has. IT leaders and their teams have performed miracles in equipping and enabling employees to work remotely.
As a Fractional Chief Information Officer – a CIO who spends time with multiple organisations – and Non-Executive Director, I have clients in sectors including manufacturing, retail, healthcare, gaming and technology. And as founder of the Northern IT Leaders group I talk regularly to IT leaders from all sectors.
What’s stood out for me is the vastly different stages of maturity in organisations I have spoken with. I’ve already drawn a conclusion about those who have been best prepared for COVID-19. They are the ones with strong board-level IT representation and a board that understands and listens to advice on investments in IT or Digital Transformation.
Those who have showed they have the areas of Infrastructure and Security; Policies and Procedures; and Strategic Thinking covered are the ones who have continued to operate without too much trouble through the crisis. So far, at least.
Organisations that haven’t had good advice, or have had good advice and chosen not to listen, will have had a massive scramble to equip and enable their teams to work remotely. Furthermore, getting people connected is just the start of the journey.
Infrastructure and Security
Having spoken to many CIOs and IT Leaders over the weeks since COVID-19 took hold, there are, as you may expect, very different scales of ‘readiness’ for remote working.
One end of the scale are the organisations who have invested in technology. They have enabled their workforces to work safely, from anywhere, using any device. Investments in cloud, SaaS and security mechanisms such as multi-factor authentication mean they were better equipped. The culture supports the ability to work from anywhere and has therefore, in this respect it has been business as usual.
At the other end of the scale are the organisations who haven’t invested in IT or updated their IT systems. They would have faced huge tasks, including having to purchase and deploy laptops, upgrade on-premise licenses or hardware to cope with the volume of remote users, and quickly deploy remote collaboration tools such as video conferencing (many choosing products that have been found wanting from a security perspective).
Those at this end of the scale have faced a much bigger hill to climb and credit must be given to the IT leaders and their teams who have rapidly enabled remote working in these circumstances. However, questions need to be asked about why they were in this position to start with.
Many organisations are somewhere in the middle – elements of remote working existed, but the COVID-19 crisis has provided the sense of urgency to rapidly scale up the use of the technology that has been invested in.
Policies and Procedures
Well-managed businesses will have tried-and-tested procedures on how to cope in the event of a disaster or crisis. Typically, these organisations will have a disaster recovery plan.
This plan will provide all the details of critical systems, and how they will be restored in the event of a disaster or crisis. The plan will be specific to each sector and organisation’s requirements, based on how long they can operate without critical systems, and Return to Operation (RTO) targets will have been identified.
Business continuity procedures supplement disaster recovery plans, bringing together the people element; identifying critical individuals and roles, and establishing how they continue to operate, mapping out different scenarios such as not being able to work from normal locations.
If you have tried-and-tested procedures around disaster recovery and business continuity, you would have been best placed to deal with and respond to COVID-19. Regular testing will have ensured you had the right technology to support and will have driven investment decisions to modernise infrastructure and security, moving to cloud and SaaS models where appropriate.
A good technology leader at board level will advise the board on technology investments – this includes the areas already mentioned, such as infrastructure and security. However, perhaps more importantly, they keep the board abreast of new technology.
They’re there for translating technical jargon into business speak, for example – or for answering how cloud, SaaS and other technologies remove risk, drive efficiency, increase sales or profit, create a competitive advantage, and add shareholder value.
COVID-19 has changed the way we work – perhaps for good. Technology has never been more important. You need to be available for your people, operations and customers, securely, anytime, and anywhere.
One common theme I’ve heard when talking to CIOs and IT leaders during the crisis is, “we’ve made a great leap forward; things we have wanted to do for ages and have been blocked have had to happen!”
To quote a Non-Executive Director from the NHS, “the gate of avoidance has closed,” when referring to internal barriers which slow down change in the sector.
This final point above cements now, more than ever, why boards of all sectors and sizes should have a technology based advisor to:
- Be the organisation’s technology champion – challenging the board to ensure investments in technology optimise the organisations performance.
- Advise on where technology can remove risk and ensure organisations are well-prepared and well-placed to deal with unplanned events.
- Advise on emerging technology, particularly where it may drive efficiency, increase sales or profit, create a competitive advantage and add shareholder value.