How CIOs can Navigate the Coronavirus Pandemic | Straight Talk

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The Covid-19 outbreak has put the spotlight on technology infrastructure and those who run it

By Pragati Verma, Contributing Editor, Straight Talk

As the Covid-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, CIOs are facing one of the biggest challenges of their careers. The abrupt halt of commercial activity and the sudden shift to a remote workforce is changing the economy. Analysts at leading technology research companies expect a fundamental impact on the technology needed to conduct business. Several of them are advising CIOs to get out their playbook for worst-case scenarios.

Plan for a disaster

CIOs needed to prepare for a hit as hard as a natural disaster or cyberattack, according to research and advisory firm Gartner. “With such a dynamic situation like Covid-19, it has the potential to be as disruptive, or more, to an organization’s continuity of operations as a cyber intrusion or natural disaster,” says Sandy Shen, senior research director at Gartner.

Forrester vice president and principal analyst Andrew Bartels, in a blog post. lays out CIO’s options in best and worst-case scenarios. “Every CIO with any experience in weathering recessions has a playbook of what to do when the CEO says to cut tech budgets. This playbook can be used to identify the categories of tech spending that will be cut sequentially over time as the outlook gets worse,” he says. In the best-case scenario, he expects CIOs to “cut hardware spending, “pare back the new project portfolio,” “review cloud-application subscriptions” and “renegotiate telecom agreements.” And in a worst-case scenario, he believes that they may renegotiate outsourcing agreements and, as a last resort, lay off workers.

International Data Corporation has slashed its forecast for global IT spending and now expects it to decline 2.7 percent this year. In early March, IDC had predicted a growth of 1 percent, compared to its original forecast of more than 4 percent growth back in January. Their IT spending index, based on a global survey of enterprise IT buyers and a composite of the market and economic indicators, dropped to 987 in April, down from 1,005 in March. A score above 1,000 indicates that IT spending is expected to increase, while a score below 1,000 means a likely decline. "Overall IT spending will decline in 2020, despite increased demand and usage for some technologies and services by individual companies and consumers," says Stephen Minton, program vice president in IDC's customer insights and analysis group.

Back to Basics

As CIOs contemplate business disruptions and budget cuts, their priorities seem to be shifting too. Cutting-edge technologies, such as blockchain and quantum computing, are taking a back seat to essential technologies that enable virtual work and collaboration securely at scale, according to this blogpost jointly written by Forrester research director, Glen O’Donnell, senior analyst Naveen Chhabra, and principal analyst Danny Mu. They note that IT teams are scrambling to provision laptops and deploy multifactor authentication to employees working from home. “The current crisis has laid bare just how important core infrastructure and operations are to business resiliency and dependability,” they note.

Forrester predicts work from home programs will depend on collaboration tools, phone services, virtual private networks and virtual desks. Their research indicates that these “boring technologies” will now help “people remain engaged, productive, and happier so they can keep [their] business running smoothly amid the turmoil.”

Blueprint for Remote work

Setting up infrastructure is essential, but will not be enough to support remote work on such a big scale, according to Gartner. The Connecticut-based research firm urges CIOs to take three immediate actions to help their employees and customers embrace remote working.

First, CIOs should source digital collaboration tools required to support a remote workforce while ensuring secure access to all applications and data. Next, they need to engage customers and partners through digital channels and maintain sales activities. “The value of digital channels becomes obvious as market demand shrinks and as people rely more on online platforms for daily supplies. Organizations can leverage digital channels, such as online marketplaces and social platforms, to compensate for some of the demand loss,” says Shen.

Third, they need to establish a single source of truth for employees to reduce anxiety and improve decision-making. “Organizations can offer curated content, drawn from internal and external sources, to provide actionable guidance to employees,” says Shen, “Organizations should set up a site, app or hotline to share this information on a regular basis. Employees can also use these platforms to notify the company about their health conditions and seek emergency support and care services.”

Gartner expects some of these changes — from remote workforce to digital channels — to stay even after the coronavirus is tamed. In a webinar, Roberta Witty, vice president and analyst at Gartner advises CIOs to prepare for a long-term shift. “Remote working is here for a long time. Organizations across industries need to plan for this to be a permanent and persistent pattern for their workforce,” she says, and recommends automation technologies and alternate employment models for better workforce planning.

She goes on to offer a mantra for long-term resilience: “Develop a digital workplace strategy that includes all the remote work tools you are putting in place now,” “automate some of the mundane tasks” and “increase resilience by supporting multiple channels and developing digital extensions of their employment models.” These, she adds, “will prepare [CIOs] in the future for another kind of pandemic or major business disruption.”

Pragati Verma is a writer and editor exploring new and emerging technologies. Previously, she was a business journalist and managed technology sections at India’s The Economic Times and The Financial Express.