CIOs reshape IT priorities in wake of COVID-19

Surfacing from crisis mode, CIOs find themselves redefining IT priorities, thanks to budgets in flux, a rising need to refine business processes, and new outlooks on the future of work.

Conn’s HomePlus CIO Todd Renaud spent the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic’s office shutdowns and store restrictions “just trying to get through the next day.” One month later, he’s setting his sights on what the next new normal might be, and what it will mean to the appliance retailer’s IT strategy over the next year.

“I’m going to assume that our remote workforce will be a larger percent than it is today,” he says. “How will that impact the company, assets and data? I’m thinking about the impact in our stores if we continue to have restrictions on the number of people” inside and other safety requirements. For example, Renaud is considering videoconferencing capabilities that could enable customers to virtually walk through the store with a sales rep serving as a guide to simulate an in-store sales experience.

 “The unspoken expectation is of me staying as far ahead of the curve from a technology and an impact perspective as I can,” Renaud says.

That same expectation has been heaped onto most CIOs as organizations look to technology to help them pivot quickly. The coronavirus pandemic is affecting IT leaders’ roles and priorities, and forcing them to consider its long-term impact on their IT organizations and on business as a whole.

An IDG survey of 414 IT leaders in April found that most budgets will either hold steady or increase in the next 12 months. They also expect a renewed emphasis on operational efficiency, expense management and cost controls. Meanwhile, business collaboration, hiring and training will take a back seat in the coming months. CIO.com compared these responses to its 2020 State of the CIO Survey, which posed similar questions to IT leaders in September 2019 about their organizations’ IT budgets and priorities for the coming year.

Here is a deeper look at how IT priorities have shifted since the coronavirus upended business operations — and how several IT leaders are responding to the challenge of uncertainty in the months ahead.

Budgets hold mostly steady — while initiatives accelerate

Some 40 percent of IT leaders say their IT budgets will hold steady. Only 25 percent say their budgets will still increase in the next year, down from 59 percent who believed so in September.

Some of the budget increases are being used to ramp up remote work capabilities. At mortgage servicing firm NorthMarq, CIO Dan Ritch suddenly had to enable 500 employees to work from home on infrastructure that was set up for only 165 remote users. In three weeks, the firm put $150,000 of core infrastructure in place, extended its Citrix environment, added a new Citrix VPN, and purchased 50-plus laptops for remote users, a capital investment that was planned to take place over 18 months. “We’ve been able to put a sense of urgency into the infrastructure investment,” Ritch says.

More than one third of IT leaders (35 percent) say their IT budgets will now decrease in the next year compared to the past 12 months, as a result of COVID-19 disruption. That’s up from just 7 percent who had planned to decrease IT budgets when surveyed in September 2019.

With no clear timeline for a return to “normal” business, IT leaders say they’ll focus long term on cost control and expense management (45 percent), up from 29 percent in September 2019. With that, IT leaders also expect a bigger emphasis on increasing operational efficiency, according to 37 percent of survey respondents, compared with 24 percent in September.

Operational efficiency had always been on CIO Bron McCall’s mind at Extra Space Storage, especially when it came to enabling remote lease-signing for its storage units to save additional paperwork and physical steps. “I’ve been talking about that for years, but we had become hesitant to change processes that were already working well,” McCall says. 

But when COVID-19 temporarily shut down offices, executives quickly came on board. “Within three days we were able to deploy remote lease-signing capabilities for customers,” from development to testing to releasing code into production. “That cycle time is what people hope to have with DevOps, and we’re actually realizing it,” McCall says. “I also realized that if we were all onboard with doing something, how quickly we could do it when we took down all the barriers.”

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The pandemic pivot: IT leaders innovate on the fly

Already accustomed to moving quickly, CIOs are testing and scrapping new solutions to accommodate customers. Their work could provide blueprints for future innovation.

As the coronavirus forced Aspen Dental Management to shutter its offices in March, the company quickly moved to connect patients with doctors virtually.

But a problem cropped up: Many patients didn’t care for Aspen’s self-service telemedicine portal. “For the most part, they abandoned it, so we said this is not going to work,” says Yogish Suvarna, CIO of Aspen Dental Management, which provides business services for more than 830 offices.

The solution? Aspen quickly added call center representatives to broker virtual care sessions between patients and doctors. Problem solved.

Pivots such as Aspen’s are playing out all over the world as the coronavirus roils industries forcing organizations to adapt more quickly to satisfy customer preferences, as well as technical and business hurdles.

Rapid-fire digital solutions built in sprints provides a schema for how IT organizations operate going forward, says David Clarke, digital strategy and innovation leader at PwC, adding that IT leaders should view the pandemic as a digital accelerator rather than a deterrent. Seventy-eight percent of CFOs PwC polled in July said they cut investments, though only 17 percent say those cuts extend to digital transformation, Clarke says.

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The 7 most popular IT pilot projects today

The coronavirus pandemic has IT leaders shaking up IT priorities, with innovation pilots shifting to areas and technologies best suited to set up their organizations for near-term success.

Tech spending is trending downward, with multiple studies showing IT is once again being asked to do more with less.

A July report issued by research firm Gartner said worldwide IT spending in 2020 will drop 7.9 percent from last year’s figure. IDC in May predicted a 5.1 percent decline in worldwide IT spending. And a survey of 100 IT leaders from Apptio found that 80 percent feel pressure to cut IT spend, while 50 percent have already cut budgets.

CIOs are clearly tightening budgets as the pandemic and its economic fallout have forced cost-cutting measures across many organizations. Yet these same events are also driving the need for new tech-enabled services. The Apptio survey, for example, found that 63 percent of the IT leaders report an increase in demand for IT capabilities. As such, CIOs continue to move forward with innovation-aimed projects — albeit more selectively.

IDG’s CIO Tech Poll: Tech Priorities 2020 research found CIOs launching pilots across a swath of IT capabilities, with artificial intelligence/machine learning, customer experience, employee experience, business intelligence/analytics, business process management/workflow automation, cybersecurity and mobile enterprise apps being the capabilities most frequently listed.

Although the IDG poll predated the pandemic, CIOs and executive advisors say IT continues to pursue pilots in those areas, but the pilots getting the greenlight now must show they have a short time to value, lower budgets to complete, and/or have a high return on investment, says Gartner analyst and chief forecaster John-David Lovelock.

Leading tech executives have reworked their IT roadmaps to align with revised organizational strategies that reflect and respond to the unanticipated realities of 2020 and the continuing uncertainties of the era, with multiple sources and studies showing that CIOs are testing out technologies that help their organizations become more efficient and effective as well as more responsive and resilient.

“CIOs are accelerating pilots that make employees as productive as possible and that can reduce costs,” says Steve Berez, a partner at Bain & Co. and a founder of the firm’s Enterprise Technology practice. “Businesses are becoming much more agile out of necessity in the way they prioritize the piloting and innovation they’re doing.”

Here’s a rundown of popular pilot projects that CIOs are pushing forward to improve their organizations through the pandemic and beyond.

1. More advanced collaboration capabilities

2. Remote anything and everything

3. Automation

4. Technologies for improved employee experiences

5. New security paradigms

6. Tools that support optimization

7. Technologies that push forward digital transformation

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Secrets of successful business-IT co-creation

Great things happen when business and IT define and solve problems together. Here’s how to make the shift — and deliver results.

In mid-March, as social distancing became widespread in the U.S., the IT team at LogMeIn noticed some changes. LogMeIn provides remote access for people working away from the office as well as the video conferencing software GoToMeeting, so it wasn’t surprising that activity was on the rise. But the very sharp increase presented some challenges.

“The IT team runs all the contact centers for our customer care and sales teams,” says Ian Pitt, LogMeIn’s CIO and senior vice president. “We noticed our call queues were getting too big.” On top of that, he says, there were leading indicators that suggested sales were about to rise sharply as well.

Something had to be done, and fast. Pitt came together with the senior vice presidents of global sales, business operations, and customer care. The four held weekly meetings and set up a Slack channel devoted to the COVID-related demand surge. It was a problem and opportunity that had to be met with a mix of technical and non-technical solutions. “We were tracking product sales across the world,” Pitt says. “This turned into IT reviewing all the contact center infrastructure.” At the time, like many of its customers, LogMeIn had itself just moved its customer care team to working from home, which posed its own set of challenges.

The customer care SVP reported that many of the calls to the contact center were from frustrated customers who needed to buy more licenses as soon as possible but couldn’t get through to the sales team because of the volume of incoming calls. To solve that problem, the COVID demand response team set about increasing the company’s sales force from about 800 people to its current size of about 1,000.

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The 10 most powerful companies in enterprise networking 2020

Between the pandemic and the subsequent economic upheaval, these are challenging times for everyone. But the networking industry has some elements in its favor. Technologies such as Wi-Fi, VPNs, SD-WAN, videoconferencing and collaboration are playing an essential role in maintaining business operations and will play an even greater role in the reopening and recovery phase.

At the same time, it has become obvious that as enterprises continue to migrate applications to the cloud, data-center networking will cease to be a high-growth industry. So what are the most powerful networking companies doing? They’re diversifying, expanding into new product areas, and moving up the stack beyond nuts-and-bolts connectivity and into areas such as hybrid-cloud management and the automation of networking processes.

This year’s list of the 10 most powerful companies in enterprise networking includes traditional networking powerhouses, with an emphasis on the extent to which they’ve embraced these new approaches, along with pure-play market leaders in areas such as wireless networking and hyperconverged infrastructure. (Editor’s note: Power is a subjective quality, and this list is not a ranking based on simple, quantifiable metrics. Our list is ordered, with input from industry watchers, to reflect the companies that are making the biggest power moves and the broadest impact on the network industry.)

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20 reasons why software projects fail

7 steps to turning around an inherited IT department

Congratulations, you’ve just inherited your predecessor’s IT dumpster fire. Now, it’s up to you to get essential operations back on track. Here’s how to get started.

It may be the toughest job in IT — and perhaps the most rewarding. Taking on a troubled IT department isn’t a job for the faint of heart. Repairing damage and putting things back in order will require a great deal of time and effort. If you succeed, you’ll be lauded as a hero. If you fail, your washout could haunt your career for years to come.

Getting a derailed IT department back on track requires persistence and a success-focused action plan. The following seven steps will help you get started.

1. Assess IT’s ability to support business goals

Assessing an inherited IT department’s alignment with business strategies and objectives is an important first step toward rebuilding it. “In today’s increasingly digital world, IT plays a key role in enabling business strategy,” says Rahul Singh, managing director of Pace Harmon, an IT management consulting firm.

Ensuring alignment with business goals is necessary for IT to be viewed as a strategic business partner. “Engaging with the business will help one discover what’s working versus what isn’t working, to identify the most pressing challenges and how deep the issues go,” Singh explains.

The new leader must also assess whether the IT department, in its current state, is even capable of providing operational stability. “It’s hard to be seen as a strategic partner when ‘keeping the lights on’ is an issue,” Singh notes.

2. Stabilize the situation

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IT’s latest survival skill: Embracing risk

In today’s digital business world, IT has to stop playing it safe, as you can’t innovate without taking some risks. Still most IT professionals remain deeply risk-averse.

If you’ve spent your career in IT, you’ve probably gotten really good at making sure nothing goes wrong. Outages are unacceptable, even if they’re only a few seconds long. Cybersecurity is a constant worry. Success is measured in reliability and availability. Your most important skill is anticipating issues and fixing them before they occur.

There’s just one problem. In this time of rapidly changing technology and upstart industry disruptors, making risk avoidance your top priority will only help you get left behind. You can’t play it safe, because there’s no such thing as safe. In today’s digital business world, IT leaders must accept and even embrace a certain amount of uncertainty and risk. Even more challenging, they must help the people who work for them embrace it as well.

“Risk is always relative,” says Scott Buchholz, CTO of Deloitte Consulting’s government practice. “Getting out of bed in the morning and taking a shower is taking a risk. But when we talk about risk in IT, what we sometimes mean is doing things that have a higher than normal chance of failure. And the reason that’s important is that technology is changing very quickly and there are fewer and fewer people who understand all the implications. Being able to handle risk becomes increasingly important.”

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Keeping your software and systems integration ahead of the curve

Integration of software and systems is an effective strategy in terms of reducing costs and increasing performance. It begins with the software designer who assembles units and components and then adds a quality assurance team that validates a consistent arrangement of the software and components.

I have found that the best integration plans contain system level standards, practices and enhancements of continuous improvement (CI) /continuous delivery (CD) and non-CI /CD system software.

The nature of technology requires companies to upgrade and enhance capabilities continually. However, some enterprises execute processes and workflows manually; and as a result, it is not cost effective. Here are some examples of technology upgrades that benefit from integration of software and systems.

1. DevOps: The success of a development team can be measured by throughput and stability. The former can be defined as the frequency of production releases, while the latter refers to the time required to heal and/or recover the application. DevOps aims at increasing coordination between development and operations teams by automating repeatable tasks and developing a continuous delivery pipeline. The results: faster time to market, increase in frequency of production deployments and shorter lead-time for addressing issues and fixes. If your organization expects to achieve these outcomes, it should be using a proven-effective product for managing the latest upgrades and operations.

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Where in the cloud is IT headed?

The cloud permeates all facets of IT — from applications to infrastructure. To find out how tech leaders are planning their cloud strategy, Insider Pro interviewed hundreds of tech decision-makers.

The new hot topic in the tech industry has been around since – and this is a conservative estimate – the early 2000s. 

It’s taken us a while to get where we are today, but these days the cloud permeates all facets of an IT environment – from applications to platforms to infrastructure. A quick look at the leading public cloud service providers – AWS, Microsoft, Google and IBM —  shows the competition is fierce among vendors and the decision-making process for technology buyers isn’t for the faint of heart.

With the roster of vendor-behemoths chasing your cloud dollars, it comes as no surprise that the stakes are high. In its Worldwide Semiannual Public Cloud Services Spending Guide, IDC predicts that spending on public cloud services and infrastructure will more than double between now and 2023 with public cloud spending, growing from $229 billion in 2019 to nearly $500 billion in 2023.

IDC reports that software as a service will be the largest category of cloud computing, capturing more than half of all public cloud spending. Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) will be the second largest category of public cloud spending, followed by platform as a service (PaaS). IaaS spending, comprised of servers and storage devices, will also be the fastest growing category of cloud spending

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