What Can IT Learn From the COVID-19 Pandemic?

COVID-19 Pandemic
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In this article, I share some of the insights from CIOs with whom I’ve spoken since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak and give some opinions on what we can learn for the future. As early as 2015, Bill Gates predicted the onset of a global pandemic that would challenge the very fabric of society, irrespective of geographic, religious, or cultural boundaries. And sure enough, his prophecy has come true, presenting the world with a whole range of challenges, the like of which has never been witnessed in our lifetimes.

In the big scheme of things, the challenges faced by an average IT department in a medium-to-large sized company may appear insignificant when compared to the harrowing pictures of health services under immense pressure, the prospect of global economic decline, and the impact of the vulnerable and underprivileged in our society. I wouldn’t detract from these challenges for one minute, but I will naturally gravitate to my areas of expertise. Particularly in ensuring that IT departments are able to meet the needs of their customers in a changing world.

Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed immense pressure on IT departments. Not just to stand up remote working capabilities, but to adjust the IT support model to ensure that end user’s needs can still be met, and critical IT systems maintained.

This article by @SteveBMorgan looks at what IT leaders can do to maintain a successful relationship with the rest of the business in a post #COVID19 world. #ITSM Click To Tweet

How have the companies I’ve spoken to fared during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Some companies have done better than others. Those retailers or business-to-consumer (B2C) businesses that already had a web presence have the advantage of still having one resilient online channel available, through which they can sell their products and services. Those that didn’t have automated channels available before the COVID-19 pandemic have either developed them hurriedly or are busy throwing resources at the issue to resolve it quickly.

One CIO I spoke to said, “We’ve been trying to convince the business to invest for years and suddenly, overnight, we’re met with the challenge of scaling our remote access services by 400%. I’m trying to resist the temptation to say, ‘I told you so’.” 

I feel his pain. For years, we’ve certainly been attempting to help the business understand the impact of a catastrophic issue, through the creation of business continuity and IT disaster recovery plans, underpinned by a risk register. But were they really equipped to truly grasp the scale of the risk of a global pandemic, or were the business continuity plans too parochial, too myopic, and lacking in depth to truly be useful?

Another CIO told me, “We’ve been stuck with an old version of Yammer for a while, but our attempts to propose a solution for collaboration which spans our organization and beyond have been met with derision by the business. Overnight, we’re being asked why we don’t have Microsoft Teams, and why we can’t share screens and virtual whiteboards with our supply chain partners. It’s incredibly frustrating, but we’re taking the opportunity to get sponsorship for the rollout of Microsoft Teams, which we’re actually starting in a few weeks’ time.” 

Proactive CIOs have indeed been attempting to demonstrate innovation and ideas to the business for years, and yet they’ve failed to gain traction. If there’s a positive to be gained, it’s that the need for alignment of IT services with business needs is now better understood than ever.

If there’s a positive to be gained from #COVID19, it’s that the need for alignment of IT services with business needs is now better understood than ever, says @SteveBMorgan. #ITSM Click To Tweet

A marriage of convenience?

It seems that many IT leaders have been struggling to find a voice at the top table. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, business leaders have recognized the critical nature of IT in enabling their organizations to function effectively.

The trick now is for IT leaders to capitalize on this new-found reliance, to form long-term relationships where technology leaders are seen as equal with their business counterparts. I wonder whether these IT leaders will be able to pull this off.

The trick now is for IT leaders to capitalize on their new-found reliance from #COVID19, to form long-term relationships where technology leaders are seen as equal with their business counterparts – @SteveBMorgan #ITSM Click To Tweet

A long-term relationship (after the COVID-19 pandemic)?

I’d hope that IT leaders can capitalize upon the newfound trust and credibility they’ve gained as a result of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. If there’s a small positive which can be taken from this global pandemic, it’s that new relationships have been formed. Crisis management and disaster recovery will perhaps now take the prominence it deserves on the agenda of senior executives, particularly within those organizations that have called upon heroic responses from their IT teams.

As a society, I feel that we’ve also become more patient and tolerant of each other, which I believe is another good sign for the chances of a long-term relationship between IT and the business to continue in this positive manner, without the sense of conflict and frustration that’s sometimes witnessed.

What to do next

To increase the chances of the new closer relationship actually lasting long after the COVID-19 pandemic, IT leaders can:

  • Ensure that leadership gets to regularly hear about successes in IT delivery
  • Ensure that leadership is regularly involved in reviewing IT risks and issues, so solutions are jointly developed
  • Ensure that the business benefits of potential service improvements (see my Remote Access example above!) are articulated in such a way that the true business benefit is known
  • Establish more rigorous risk management, disaster recovery, and business continuity processes, which can utilize a broader range of potential scenarios as their basis. Because the business will have a greater appetite to understand the potential risks that it faces.

How did your organization fare in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic response? Are there any lessons that you can share with others? Please let me, and them, know in the comments.

Director at Syniad IT

Steve is the Director of Syniad IT, an independent IT consulting organisation, specializing in the design, build, implementation and optimisation of service integration and management (SIAM), IT service management (ITSM), and IT transformational change programmes.

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