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Gartner: Three questions CIOs must ask before updating strategy post-pandemic

Corporate leaders are turning to IT to build a digital future for their organisations – and CIOs can use their experience of pandemic-induced changes to build a new post-Covid strategy

After six months of the Covid-19 crisis, most CIOs have begun looking beyond immediate response measures to focus on more strategic priorities. IT leaders are rightly re-evaluating strategies to make their organisations more resilient and better able to respond to future uncertainties.

Unfortunately, the rest of the organisation’s corporate leadership also want to know how IT will help the company recover financially. Strategy proposals are being demanded for capturing value from new digital opportunities and enabling digital business outcomes. For many leadership boards, the value of digital channels, products and operations is now a priority.

CIOs need to deliver these digital opportunities for the rest of the organisation. However, before new strategies can be proposed and actioned, all CIOs must ask three questions to make sure the post-pandemic strategy conversation is the right one.

What factors have enabled us (and our competitors) to be resilient during the crisis?

Organisational resilience accelerates a business’s response to both positive and negative change – a sharp rise in customer demand can be just as disruptive as a sharp drop. At the beginning of the pandemic, the best-prepared CIOs gave their organisations the ability to resist, absorb, recover and adapt to business disruption. The foundations they built have set up the organisation to deliver its objectives, rebound and prosper in the ever-changing and increasingly complex post-pandemic environment.

To understand how to further bolster your organisation’s resilience today, reflect on what has already helped during the Covid-19 crisis for you and your competition. For example, many Chinese retailers were able to shift quickly to an online customer and employee experience by leveraging digital dragons such as Alibaba.

More than 40% of CIOs and IT leaders consider their relationship with digital dragons to be tactical and view them solely as technology providers. Less than 2% of businesses think of the digital giants as strategic business partners – the pandemic has proved that this ratio needs to change for most CIOs to ensure they can be resilient in a crisis.

In contrast to many CIOs’ perspectives, more than 60% of CEOs believe digital dragons have a significant impact on their businesses. Even so, CIOs might still shy away from partnering with their competition, but the reality is that many of these partnerships have been successful for both parties.

Leading CIOs also acknowledge that an organisation’s business model and strategy itself could be a threat to building its resilience. Learning from that, it is best to continuously examine employee and customer experiences when they interact with the organisation, for ways to minimise disruption. To make this work, collaboration is key – work with colleagues in cross-departmental teams to determine what impact proposed IT strategies might have on the rest of the organisation.

Have IT decision-making procedures allowed us to respond with speed and flexibility in this crisis?

Traditional strategic planning approaches are usually only communicated at the top of an organisation, decided by a few individuals, and are calendar-based rather than scenario-based. This method may be efficient during times of relative calm, but only limit a business’s ability to respond to volatile market conditions in times of uncertainty.

Although no single approach can steer a business perfectly in both economic booms and crashes, CIOs should evaluate the decision-making processes created in response to Covid-19 to see whether they may be beneficial to keep during the recovery and beyond.

CIOs need to reflect on whether their procedures not only enabled the organisation to spot IT opportunities and threats across the business, but also how quickly it was able to respond to the challenge at hand.

Organisations that allow distributed decision-making, where business units, functions or teams make autonomous, strategy-related decisions aligned to overall corporate objectives, are better equipped to respond quickly to the right opportunities and threats. To make this work, however, communication channels must be strong, with the CIO ready to steer teams in the right direction should they differ too widely in their approaches.

Which people became our key resources inside and outside IT for execution of technology strategy?

The pandemic is fuelling many digital opportunities across business departments. IT is being held responsible for everything from revamping sales and service channels to securing and scaling infrastructure. This has the potential to overburden IT employees and lead to capacity and bottleneck issues.

Leading CIOs acknowledge that corporate IT cannot be solely responsible for “digital” and they look for additional capacity outside IT to help. They enlist tech-savvy employees from outside IT who customise or build data and technology solutions – such as website development and analytics – as “force multipliers” to advance the digital transformation agenda.

The role of the CIO is to orchestrate the work of these distributed technology producers outside IT by fostering consistent ways of working, promoting reuse and providing secure, efficient digital foundations for technology production.

With technology proving to be paramount to organisations during this crisis, CIOs need to take this opportunity to reflect on how they can help their organisations to be better prepared for future uncertainties.

George Brocklehurst is a research vice-president at analyst Gartner and is the leader for the tech CEO initiatives for corporate development, product strategy and launch.

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