Yousuf Khan, CIO of Automation Anywhere, views his responsibilities as chief information officer today as more critical than ever before. “My highest priority is to do whatever myself and my team can do to protect our employees and their families,” said Khan. 

Khan shared his thoughts with CMSWire amid the growing worldwide spread of COVID-19, or coronavirus. The world health pandemic has paralyzed business productivity and the economy, immobilized employees to their homes to work remotely and suddenly thrust CIOs onto the center stage with perhaps their greatest career challenge: becoming caretakers of employee experience and enablers of business operations in a time of crisis. “For me as a CIO, this means ensuring that remote work can be as seamless as possible to provide the highest level of support to our customers and partners,” Khan said when asked about top priorities due to COVID-19. “We’ve carried out a variety of activities to further support our employees during this time, whether that be guidance on working from home, training on some key tools and increasing our general support engagement with employees.”

Employee Engagement Should Be Top of Mind

It’s not as if CIOs like Khan never had challenges before COVID-19. A 2019 report by McKinsey found that CIOs face several challenges when pursuing IT modernization: talent gaps, security and compliance requirements among others. 

That goes for remote work, too. It was challenging before coronavirus. And it was growing. FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics found that over the last five years, remote work has grown 44%. Over the last 10 years, it's grown 91%.

However, now more than ever, CIOs should primarily be thinking about how to ensure employees can be as engaged as possible when working in a remote scenario, according to Andrew Hewitt, a Forrester analyst who covers employee technology experience and digital workspaces. 

This includes:

  • Technology enablement: Ensuring that employees have the right collaboration, data access and productivity technologies to enable a baseline remote work experience. 
  • Capacity management: CIOs need to plan in advance by encouraging usage of cloud-based technologies or spinning up additional servers for VPN, etc. They may even look to reimburse employees for certain technologies, such as network connection. For video-conferencing, it's recommended that users need 50 mbps.
  • Culture: Setting expectations and giving demonstrations on how to use technologies in a remote setting. The big one of course is video. The CIO has a role to play in helping HR leaders understand how these technologies can play a role in creating an inclusive remote work culture. 
  • Security: Making sure employees have up to date passcodes, know how to authenticate to their systems, and are aware of increased scams and phishing attempts that are happening around COVID will also be a top priority for CIOs.

Related Article: CIOs Discuss Primary Drivers of Changing Business Models

Preventing Shadow IT

headshot of Anudeep Parhar CIO of Entrust Datacard
Anudeep Parhar

What's top of mind for CIOs in terms of making the shift to remote work? Preventing shadow IT is definitely a top priority with everyone transitioning to remote work all at once, according to Anudeep Parhar, CIO of Entrust Datacard. “To combat a potential surge in shadow IT, we’re making sure employees have the workstation gear they need to be productive, such as monitors, laptops, webcams and conference speakers, so they aren’t tempted to introduce any unapproved applications or devices into the network,” he said.

Entrust Datacard’s pandemic business continuity plan includes critical human and technology resources in order to ensure all hosted commercial solutions and services continue to meet customer SLA and service expectations, Parhar said. “Given that much of our global workforce is transitioning from in-office to remote work, I’m also working to ensure our network and resource infrastructure is equipped to handle this mass migration, so employees don’t experience any interruptions,” he said. "My top priorities right now are maintaining business continuity, handling customer support for all Entrust Datacard’s hosted services and commercial tech support, and ensuring we have the proper infrastructure in place to support our global workforce’s seamless and secure transition to fully remote work.”

Ensuring Effective Collaboration

Yousuf Khan CIO of Automation Anywhere
Yousuf Khan
Automation Anywhere has devoted significant resources and attention to ensuring that its employees have the necessary tools to collaborate, communicate and work regardless of where it takes place, according to CIO Khan. “Our channels of communication for employees, customers and partners will always remain open and unrestricted,” he said. “The proliferation of new video conferencing and cloud technologies means you can get work done from anywhere. Work becomes something you do, rather than somewhere you go. As the first CIO of Automation Anywhere, my goal is to provide governance and harness the positive momentum that we have experienced during the company’s steady growth and become a partner to the product, marketing and sales teams.”

The company has also expanded its A-People community for engineers and thought leaders to collaborate on critical problems like those many organizations face today. “In this space,” Khan said, “we are sharing practical advice and use cases to help localities struggling with similar issues find potential solutions, along with vast amounts of information, the ability to join forums, obtain support and share ideas and expertise.”

Related Article: The Remote Working Pendulum Swings Again: 9 Lessons Learned

CIO’s Collaboration Agenda: C-Suite Partnership

CIOs also have their own collaborative needs. Parhar of Entrust Datacard said he’s working with a wide range of C-Suite members and executives, including the CEO, CFO and chief human resources officer, as well as heads of customer support and commercial and corporate infrastructure. He’s also working closely with the CISO and general counsel on risk management and compliance.

Learning Opportunities

Khan of Automation Anywhere is working with CEO Mihir Shukla, CTO Prince Kohli, CSO Stephen Dewitt and CHRO Nancy Hauge to meet global IT needs, adhere to guidance from the CDC and WHO, and deliver a consistent experience for employees and customers alike. “We’re ensuring open lines of communication with employees, partners and customers to identify and resolve issues in real-time,” he added. “A crisis such as COVID-19 can bring a global community together, and technology can be an important conduit to solve immense problems. I am working closely with the rest of the Automation Anywhere leadership team to enable greater efficiency and foster significant cross-industry collaboration. I continue to frequently engage with my CIO peers so as to share strategies.”

Ensuring Continuity of Business Operations

Eric Adams CIO of Kyriba
Eric Adams

One of the executive leaders CIOs will no doubt be working ever so closely with is the chief information security officer (CISO). This is the case for Parhar, as he cited above. What's top of mind for CISOs?

Eric Adams, chief information security officer at Kyriba, said ensuring the continuity of operations is operationally effective after his CEO activated the company’s Business Continuity Plan (BCP) to work remote is naturally top of mind. This includes, he said, items tested in advance as part of the annual BCP testing. Further, the cloud platform has to have key personnel in place and must be operational to support the functions and maintenance of his company’s Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution.

Employees need to be able to access all of their resources as usual from any office and must be working under a secure VPN with multi-factor authentication. Normal operations such as antivirus updates, system monitoring, endpoint detection and response capabilities need to be active and functioning, Adams said. “Employees need to have access to IT while working remote and have the ability to contact them to remotely triage issues,” Adams said.

Related Article: 6 Ways to Keep Employer Data Secure When Working Remotely

Customers Need Love from CIO

CIOs like Khan also have customers deeply in mind. He called this a disruptive and anxious time for everyone. "However,” Khan added, “our customers and partners still need us, perhaps now more than ever. My job is to make sure that our IT team and RPA platform continue to operate as seamlessly as it always has. We want to further expand the platform to further support our business processes as we all work remotely.”  

For example, Khan and his team collaborated with one of its technology partners in Macau, China, to build a public service GPS-enabled dashboard that shows current local COVID-19 statistics, sites of infection, hospital wait times, local availability of masks, bank status and other useful information. It’s updated every few minutes. “In its first few days, nearly 10% of Macau’s population logged on to receive real-time, trusted information,” Khan said.

All About Employee Well-Being

For CIOs like Khan, the growing COVID-19 health crisis serves as a reminder the well-being of the employee should be a high priority. During this global pandemic and period of uncertainty, CIOs need to provide guidance to ensure business continuity with all IT projects, whether or not they are deemed critical, Khan said.

“In recent days, for instance, the reach of the coronavirus has become a stark reminder that this pathogen knows no limits and no corner of daily life is immune,” Khan said. “As global businesses implement mandatory remote work and office closures, CIOs will need to up level how they support employees who now work remotely, so that organizations can promote employee well-being without compromising on productivity or customer service.”