How the CIO role has evolved due to COVID-19
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When the pandemic hit, businesses largely went into crisis mode. People at all levels of the organization tried to figure out how to navigate WFH without falling too far behind. CIOs stepped up to the plate to not only troubleshoot the day-to-day pressures on networks, systems, and staff but to set companies up for success in a post-pandemic world.
The result? CIOs are now more essential to the organization than ever, and to continue adding value, they will need to focus more on virtual solutions, strategic business partnerships, and setting their organization up for long-term success, even after the pandemic.
How the role of CIO has evolved due to COVID
Today's CIOs have evolved beyond a gatekeeper. They've had to navigate and adapt to the evolving needs of post-COVID business.
Even before the pandemic, the CIO’s role was changing—in 2019, 82% of companies surveyed were in the digital transformation process. However, for any company still working to fully embrace digital transformation activities like migrating to the cloud, instituting BYOD policies, and building up a tech stack, COVID-19 accelerated the shift.
Think about the abrupt shift that occurred at most organizations due to the pandemic. Seemingly overnight, entire workforces were relegated to home offices. All meetings switched to virtual, and significant employee conferences were either canceled or moved entirely online.
Customers could no longer go to brick-and-mortar locations, and retail businesses hoping to survive needed to find a way to reach their customers at home. Early data showed that consumer and business digital adoption vaulted five years forward in the eight weeks following the onset of pandemic-related restrictions and workplace disruptions.
In a post-pandemic era, CIOs need to continue to help organizations quickly adopt digital products, stay agile and adaptive, and drive rapid change. Below are a few specific ways the role has changed—and how that change drives impact across their organizations:
CIOs are more strategic
CIOs have shifted from being managers of the status quo to strategic implementation partners. Twenty years ago, for example, it was enough for CIOs to know how to manage the current systems in place and "keep the lights on," so to speak.
Today's CIO must thoroughly consider what’s needed to support the company as it grows and matures – whether that includes emerging cloud platforms, AI technology, or new cybersecurity protocols. The role of the CIO continues to become more strategic as businesses adapt to the short- and long-term requirements of a post-pandemic economy.
CIOs are centered around more creative solutions
Under ordinary circumstances, businesses have a reasonable amount of time to evaluate new technologies and make strategic plans. The pandemic eliminated that luxury, instantly shifting the employee and customer experience.
Employees were largely dependent on IT to help them access the tools that allow them to do their work, and customers lost no time switching from shopping in brick-and-mortar stores to making purchases online. This dramatic change meant that CIOs needed to find quick, creative solutions to transform the employee and customer experience in a responsive, agile, and budget-friendly way.
Hospitals, for example, were faced with challenges from all sides— doctors and nurses were stressed with the influx of sick patients; patients were eager to get care but didn't want to go into the office, and administrators were dealing with unprecedented amounts of paperwork. Healthcare CIOs stepped up to quickly implement telemedicine tools, admin platforms, and collaboration tools to more effectively and urgently COVID.
CIOs are focused on improving employee and customer experiences
As the world was forced indoors, communication via digital channels became a necessity for business continuity. It was either adapt and survive or wait-and-see, leaving your business vulnerable to the whims of an unpredictable virus.
When it came to employees, CIOs needed to quickly adjust to new work-from-home realities, including video conferencing, virtual events, and readying employees with secure access to the necessary equipment, networks, platforms, and tools to do their jobs well from home.
Work all but halted if companies couldn't handle user demand, compliance and security protocols, and the hardware to support remote employees. For example, video conferencing systems needed to handle an onslaught of meetings happening at the exact same time. If systems were not set up to handle that many calls at once, employees found it hard to simply conduct a meeting.
Additionally, CIOs needed to find ways to keep customers engaged and happy as companies vied for their attention across digital channels of communication.
Many companies faced early hiccups when adapting to customer service requests and meeting customers on these new digital channels. Every corner of the internet was plastered with apologetic messages about delayed customer service wait times. These messages revealed the same hard truth: businesses were woefully unprepared for a global event of this magnitude.
For many companies, the COVID crisis also exposed the customer experience as outdated and inflexible for an always-on, constantly changing world. CIOs overcame these challenges by taking a two-pronged approach: creating temporary solutions to stem the tide of demand to buy them enough time to implement long-term solutions.
What CIOs should focus on post-COVID
The period of adjustment is over, and CIOs must now turn their attention to the future. Here are a few priorities to help CIOs continue to support their companies embrace agility and innovation in a post-COVID economy.
Prepare for a hybrid workforce and office environment
Some organizations vowed to permanently shift their business operations and company culture to fully remote work (Shopify, Twitter). Some initially planned to maintain remote work but later announced plans to return to the office (Google). Others may choose to embrace hybrid work environments or to bring employees back to the office as soon as possible.
While the future workplace is yet to be seen, future-focused CIOs need to optimize remote work capabilities. Shoring up security measures to protect against cybersecurity attacks will be necessary, and CIOs will need to work with their security officers to educate employees around cybersecurity best practices.
With many companies likely to employ a hybrid work model, CIOs need to ensure that remote and in-office workers can easily connect without any gaps in communication or information access. Facilitating interactions through collaborative tools and visual aids can help teams work together seamlessly.
Consider business continuity in the Next Normal
Pre-pandemic, many companies already had business continuity plans in place. However, those plans were typically centered around data and disaster recovery rather than sudden changes to the actual fabric of the way work gets done. COVID-19 highlighted how businesses, vendors, and customers may be forced to change how they interact at the drop of a hat.
Business continuity going forward needs to establish contingencies for if vendors are suddenly unable to supply essential products and services, such as when AWS outage occurred this past year and many organizations faced downtime. Additionally, it needs to establish flexibility around how to service customers should one or more of their preferred channels become unavailable.
Focus on strengthening business partnerships
CIOs are strategic partners who work closely with other departments to implement new technologies and tools to help the organization keep pace with changing demands.
This approach involves true collaboration between teams to identify the right tools to encourage thorough integration among varying departments. These integrations need to eliminate silos to embrace the future of connectedness, improving how companies serve their customers.
By blending business objectives and IT considerations, companies can embrace agile digital transformation — and create better customer experiences. For example, many grocery stores implemented contactless shopping through digital applications for customers who didn’t feel safe shopping in store.
Boost IT operations to meet the changing demands
More than ever, businesses need to maintain an elastic workplace environment to stabilize operations and ensure the business is adaptive to change. That elasticity extends to IT teams, too. CIOs must boost IT operations to meet demands responsively and efficiently.
That boost starts with moving more apps to the cloud to allow more flexibility in updates, installation, and accessibility for employees. Next is building software to fail fast so that teams can innovate quickly and streamline the path to ideal state. Finally, creating a single source of truth and embracing visual collaboration will help teams align in real-time and stay informed throughout the life cycle of any project.
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