Technology matters in the present, but the companies that tap the most out of the potential of technology are those that have a view on the future. Leading CIOs will be equally adept at both. CIO priorities include governing the technology that sustains operations today. But they do so in a way that drives future competitive advantage.
COVID-19 is, of course, changing the business landscape – beyond any recognition, in some cases. Forward-thinking CIOs are rapidly adjusting their priorities in response to COVID-19.
Optimising remote working
It would be remiss of us to not consider the topic of remote working. COVID-19 and the associated social distancing measures means that large congregations of office workers are simply no longer practical. Even when social distancing is relaxed, most offices would need to dramatically cut the number of employees present at any given time – for years to come.
So, over and above the lockdown-style requirements for remote working, CIO strategy must also engage with an ongoing remote working practice. In fact, even after the Coronavirus crisis recedes, remote working is likely to persist. At least some companies will take the view that remote workers can be as effective as office-based teams.
But getting the technology behind remote working right can be tough. Some companies still rely on large consignments of on-premise equipment and have few employees that work remotely. Here, CIOs would need to start from scratch: initiating remote working arrangements and delivering the technology to support remote working.
Some companies are already cloud-first, with flexible remote working arrangements in place. However, remote working at scale is a different matter altogether. In other words, moving from a minority of the workforce working remotely to a majority is an entirely new challenge.
Wherever companies are on the remote working scale it involves an adjustment from a CIOs perspective. Managing new, remote endpoints all accessing corporate data across unknown, uncontrolled networks. For some companies that will be a significant change, but CIOs can adapt and reposition their technology estate.
Security and cyberattacks
One of the biggest ways in which COVID-19 is impacting CEO priorities is in the cybersecurity space. We hinted at this in the previous section: as more employees work remotely, CIOs will find that cybersecurity risks are spread more broadly – and that new risks emerge.
For example, remote workers are increasingly targeted by sophisticated phishing attacks. These attacks take advantage of the uncertainty and disruption implied by remote working. With workers now effectively operating in a solitary environment, fewer of the natural defences against deception are in place. You can’t simply walk over to a colleague to verify a request.
Phishing is just one example. Hackers also know that home office networks are more vulnerable. Criminal actors will take advantage of the overall diminished level of control over most corporate networks.
The result is that, in terms of CIO responsibilities, there are new priorities. Companies are now vulnerable in new and different ways when it comes to ensuring the ongoing data security of their employers. That also means that CIOs must review tried and trusted security regimes to compensate for the new COVID reality.
Pressure on IT budgets
From the perspective of technology budgets, COVID-19 is placing CIOs in a difficult position in two respects. First, CIO priorities must shift to cope with expenditures from remote working arrangements while operating within a pre-existing annual IT budget.
There is another growing issue, however. The economic impact of COVID-19 is placing pressure on the revenues and bottom-line of companies globally. For a period, a large proportion of companies will focus on trimming costs. It is inevitable that technology expenditure will come in the firing line.
So, the usual CIO responsibilities are now executed alongside new challenges – all funded by a shrinking budget. Tech leaders will need be very wise with their money. We suggest these steps:
- Identify any non-essential projects that can be reversed. Chances are that budgets will be under pressure for a period of up to three or five years. Now may be the time to defer projects that are useful, but not essential.
- Reduce spending in affected business lines. COVID-19 will affect some business lines more than others. Tech leaders should work with other CXO staff to identify where IT requirements can be cut without affected business lines that are seeing less demand.
- Review vendor agreements. Some vendor agreements may offer some flexibility to reduce billings where demand drops. Cloud contracts often operate in a flexible, scalable manner and here tech leaders should be able to find easy savings.
- Don’t reduce security budgets. COVID-19 is without a doubt bringing new security challenges to the fore – now is not the time to cut relationships with security vendors, or postpone security initiatives.
- Target IT spending toward the new normal. Finally, it’s worth tuning technology expenditure, even where budgets are cut. Expenditure must reflect the new normal. Doing so will tap more business value out of limited IT budgets.
The pandemic is proving to be a moment of major change, and without a doubt it also implies change in the way companies utilise technology – and how CIOs respond to their company’s technology requirements.
As always, a forward-thinking, strategic approach will tap the most value out of IT budgets. However, CIO priorities will need to adjust in order to respond to current challenges. Improving remote working efficiency and focusing on an adapted cybersecurity stance will deliver immediate benefits.
For more on CIO Leadership read how and why CIOs deliver critical leadership through a crisis.