Marc Dowd
Marc Dowd (Principal, European Client Advisory)

In a previous blog I reflected on the IMF’s expectation of a rapid shrinking of the worldwide economy and what CIOs (along with everyone else) need to do right now in order to be ready for the challenges ahead.

For the CIO and those in the technology team, this is a moment of great opportunity as well as a challenge. Whilst we would not have chosen the method, it is fair to say that many sacred cows around processes involving people being physically present have been slaughtered without a second thought in the name of survival though the COVID-19 crisis. To use another metaphor – the Digital Transformation Genie is well and truly out of the bottle, and it’s not going back in.

We have seen lots of evidence through the rapid shift to home working and the way organisations have coped with the change to working at distance, that those who have invested in digital transformation programmes in recent years have been very grateful for those tools that allow them to manage, collaborate and create value through digitised processes and reduce the shock to their systems from the pandemic restrictions. So, it stands to reason that investors and boards will be expecting more from their technology teams as they enter a period of slowdown where the issue for most organisations will be how to ensure they can continue to trade, retain as many staff as possible and be ready for growth when the recovery comes.

What this looks like for your team depends a great deal on your current business model and how exposed you are to the most affected markets as the recession begins. For example, we’ve seen exceptional efforts by retailers who have previously not worked to a delivery or e-commerce model, to pivot and change stores into warehouses, deliver software and tools in very short periods of time. Rapid changes to key customer interaction channels have been essential for those who operate traditional call centres which will remain closed or run at reduced capacity for many months to come. Healthcare providers have deployed video consultation processes, consultancies have built virtual job fairs, manufacturers have leveraged their additive manufacturing capabilities to provide PPE to meet local needs.

The CIO has been at the forefront of these efforts and of existing moves to integrate processes with customers and supply chain, building agile capabilities that utilise on-premise hardware where appropriate and scalable cloud tools where they fit best. We should expect that companies looking at shrinking markets will need ways of mothballing certain products or services, or delivering in a different way and focusing on how they add value to the process as a whole. I’d also expect the CEO and CFO to be demanding rapid, high-quality data about the performance of their business so that they are not faced with unexpected bad news or having to make time-pressured decisions without knowing the full picture.

Responding to these demands with cash constraints is not easy but it’s fair to say the CIO community has had a lot of practice over the years! Staying aware of your opportunities and potential for wins can be tough when the overall trend is down, so keeping in touch with your networks and advisors for that chance to take a step back and see what is happening around you will be really important.

Whilst a recession is tough for everyone, there’s no reason to think that technology teams with forward-thinking and practical leadership shouldn’t be the go-to people to give organisations the very best chance of success and survival, with all the rewards that go with that in the longer term.

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