COVID-19 didn’t spell doom and gloom for all CIOs. In fact, 68% agreed their technology infrastructure was prepared to handle employees working from home, according to a report from IDG. And things didn’t change from six month’s prior to COVID-19 when CIOs were asked to rate their CEO’s top priority: again, even during the pandemic, it was leading digital business/digital transformation initiatives.

The work’s not done, of course. The pandemic’s effects on the workplace will be long-lasting, and CIOs won’t be without their challenges, according to Prem Khatri, vice president of operations for Chetu who oversees his company’s software development. “The economic and health impacts of COVID-19 has exposed numerous holes and issues within many industries that CIOs of businesses are now looking to address,” Khatri said. “The thought of another pandemic, or even a resurgence of the COVID virus in the future, is something that CIOs are viewing as a real possibility and are looking to adjust their IT roadmaps and IT budgets accordingly.”

CIO Priorities: Resource Planning, Expense Management

Where are CIOs investing most of their time? Khatri sees automation, resource planning and remote working as the top three. IDG researchers in late April reported cost control/expense management (45%), improving IT operations/systems performance (38%), redesigning business processes (37%), developing and refining business strategy (36%) and security management (33%).

“Expense management becomes a key task on IT leaders’ radar as they shift their focus from strategic and innovative to responsive and preventative,” IDG researchers wrote. “More efficient processes are being prioritized, such as increased operational efficiency and transforming existing business processes. Initiatives to create a more digital business continue to be top of mind for IT leaders and businesses overall.”

Related Article: CIOs Share Business Continuity Plans Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Leading With Empathy

Technology and business processes aren’t the only thing on the mind CIOs. Paul Chapman, CIO of Box, when asked about his technology roadmap for 2020 and beyond, said leading with empathy is priority number 1. “With such a huge amount of stress and concern in our world today, focusing on the human element and leading with empathy needs to be our collective number 1 priority,” Chapman said. “While physically distant from each other, it is key to be socially connected and make sure that we have open and intentional communication with our teams.”

Chapman found video has been effective for this. However, he added, it lacks that “last 2% to 5% of high-fidelity interaction.”

“The ethos at Box from the beginning,” Chapman said, “has always been to enable our employees to be able to work from anywhere, at any time, so our communication and collaboration technology services were already in place to support mass remote work.”

Now, his technology teams at Box are expanding with new integrations across their best-of-breed stack and adding new capabilities for better user experiences and reduced security risks. “We have also increased investments in services like Kudoboard for posting praise and callouts for teams and colleagues and in services like Headspace for employee mindfulness and meditation,” Chapman added.

Staying Connected and Moving in Contact-Less World

Rick Huff, CIO of Paycor, said for his business, operating in a pandemic is still about scale and agility through modernization of its technology footprint. “If 2020 has taught us anything,” Huff said, “it's that we can move even faster than we thought and still be there for our customers. Processes that are slow or manual still need to be eliminated or automated. Putting more capabilities into our systems of record and doubling down on those investments is just as critical.”

At the same time, IT needs to continue to support contact-less services, he said. How customers and employees interact with the company in a new non-physical world requires technology solutions and business processes already set up to work that way, Huff added. “How do we push even faster for less physical devices we need to manage?” Huff asked. “Whether it’s a server in a data center, an employee’s laptop or desktop phone — IT needs to push for ‘contact-less’ services. How do we get out of the business of managing or relying on anything physical and move faster towards cloud, IaaS, PaaS solutions whenever and wherever possible?"

Related Article: How CIOs Can Manage Digital Transformation

Focus on Maintaining Culture

At the outset of the pandemic and its impact on the workplace, Chapman said in order to strengthen business and operational resiliency and secure remote work, Box technology teams built a cloud-first technology architecture of integrated best-of-breed services. That infrastructure supported business processes and employee communication exchange (chat, collaboration, video, etc.).

Learning Opportunities

Now, nearly six months into what feels like the world’s largest work from home experiment, Chapman said Box is focused on continuous improvements to how it works and maintaining its culture. “Business conduct is in the midst of great change,” Chapman said. “The work days have been flattening, people are escaping the 9-5 mindset and with flexibility in daily schedules and in where work happens people are designing a better lifestyle to best suit them.”

Employees are no longer bound to the traditional working day and this new way of working affords flexibility to help to reduce stress and increase focus and productivity, according to Chapman. “Everything we do is designed for resiliency,” he added, “so when disruption happens it is business as usual — as it can be —and not an event.”

Doubling-Down on Security

But that work-from-home, work-anywhere-anytime environment has its challenges. Particularly, with security. According to KPMG research, some current ransomware patterns include:

  • Information about vaccines, masks and short-supply commodities like hand sanitizer.
  • Financial scams offering payment of government assistance during the economic shutdown.
  • Free downloads for technology solutions in high demand, such as video and audio conferencing platforms.
  • Critical updates to enterprise collaboration solutions and consumer social media applications.

Investment in improved cloud-based technologies, video conferencing and enhanced cybersecurity are all on the IT roadmap for CIOs moving forward, according to Khatri.

“Responding to a crisis does not mean security threats or compliance risk are any less pervasive,” Chapman said. “In fact, we have all seen an uptick in COVID-19 malware attacks using bogus news articles, malicious emails, etc. With people now working from anywhere and an increase in the use of personal devices and networks, the attack surface to be exploited has grown exponentially.”

Chapman said staying focused on this is a top priority for CIOs and CISOs alike, and many are finding the cost of impacts are greater than the cost of the solution investments. He’s spent a great deal of time working on product enhancements regarding security updates “At Box we will continue to be focused on building innovative security solutions to our platform,” Chapman said. “We have already accelerated our product roadmap by delivering improved malware scanning, automated classifications for sensitive content and enhanced device management capabilities.”

Staying Positive, Hopeful About the Future

What’s the vision down the 2020 road and beyond for CIOs? Investments and decisions today are intentionally designed for the long run, according to Chapman. He doesn’t see a return to the office environment anytime soon and even then, foresees it as a hybrid working model and not the same as pre-COVID-19.

“Personally, I do not think there will be a day in the future that goes by where we will say we are done with COVID,” Chapman said. “However, we believe we can come out of this with a stronger way of working. We are going to learn a lot, and this is an opportunity for CIOs to have the courage to stand tall and accelerate their company's digital agenda.”

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