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How are CIOs Responding to COVID-19

How are CIOs Responding to COVID-19


'How are CIOs Responding to COVID-19' Digital Boardroom Summary

GB Intelligence hosted a digital boardroom with some of the key members of our Senior IT Community to see how they are dealing with the current outbreak of COVID-19 and the effect it had had on their organisations.


I am very conscious that different businesses are affected in different ways by the outbreak. And so I wish to ask ‘How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected your business?’

A large number of organisations have been fortunate enough to have made updates in the past two years which have helped the transition, or have been agile enough to be able to put provisions in place very quickly. Others have been able to procure equipment and work quickly to facilitate the change. As a result, companies have been able to enable staff to work from home with varying levels of success and time. 


Terry Makewell, CTO- UK Hydrographic Office- 'We had the foresight to know this was likely to be a long term thing, so rather than clear the office of tech, we procured extra monitors, keyboards and mice for people to take home early last week to set up their home offices. This has worked really well for us and has enabled a smooth transition to a new hybrid way of working.'


In light of the enforced changes, it has been promising how receptive staff have been. Some require a part of the workforce to still go into places of work, but actions are being taken to ensure their safety. Some are experiencing delays with regards to certain technology being available in their homes to fulfill certain necessary tasks or procedures not being in place, but these steps are being taken and when they are complete, it is possible these tasks can be removed from the office environment entirely to save costs.


Helen Taylor-Walsh, IT Director- Travis Perkins- 'I think IT aside, the impact on people is significant, but I would say we have responded remarkably well, ensuring we reacted quickly and responsibly. As an organisation we are proud of how we enabled all of our teams to continue to work remotely and support the critical services that Travis Perkins provides to the nation. 


Dependent on the business, certain low priority areas are being slowed down or stopped to allow focus to be placed on more digital solutions as well as putting the customers at the forefront regarding service desks and points of contact to keep them informed and reassure them.'


In an effort to assist employees at this time of great change, mental health advisors are in place in several organisations to monitor vulnerable team members as the isolation hits, attempting to keep morale up with live chats and department calls. 


Helen Taylor-Walsh, IT Director- Travis Perkins- 'We have a number of mental health advisors supporting us through this crisis. We are working with the branch networks and our own IT teams to ensure that through this difficult period, we monitor our vulnerable team members because as isolation starts to hit, it is a significant challenge to keep morale up. Utilising live chats, department call and 121 conversations are key right now.'


How will this change the picture of the future? What changes is COVID-19 bringing about that we may stick with moving into the long term future?

With many organisations seeing the swiftness and the levels of flexibility and productivity that has been achieved from the move to remote working, it is highly likely that this will remain a viable option for many employees post COVID-19. In term, the reduction of employees in an office environment could lead to the reduction of the need for large office buildings, or the termination of plans for new and expensive offices.


The ability to work from home could be of great benefit to parents following maternity/paternity leave, allowing staff to return to work under more flexible working conditions to suit their needs and benefit the business.


Tony McCandless, CIO- Thames Water- 'Our major contact centre is our customer facing one, but our internal service desk for IT isn’t huge but we had already managed to work out how to get it to function from home and we have had to do so a number of times previously due to other issues. 


The other thing we have been exploring is how to allow people a more flexible working pattern for our IT service desk. For example, how can we allow returning mums and dads to have a flexible working day? The more we get into a working from home capability, I think we can open up access to a wider set of people to take part in work than the restrictive ‘ you have to be in one place all of the time’ model.'


As we are discussing the opportunities that can be taken from this situation, are they any other ways people are using this time to try new things to approach them differently from a technical perspective?

The ability to slow down and focus on other areas has allowed for testing of new products to take place in markets which are still thriving as well as research into digital offerings available to all businesses to show the public their ability to adapt and work more efficiently.


Ritesh Jain, COO- Digital Technology Foundation, HSBC-  'You never let a crisis go to waste, COVID19 is a threat or opportunity, it's neither a threat nor an opportunity by itself -  threat and opportunity is the way to look forward! We’re witnessing the creation of the next normal, which will be more evident post COVID19 a virtual/digital world, new unicorns are just around the corner, we will see a significant revolution in Financial Services, Supply chain, Delivery, communications, Commerce and supporting infrastructure and systems. These sectors are growing despite the crisis, the next thing is the virtualisation of companies in these sectors.
Organisations focus is to support our customers and provide better services during a difficult time of COVID19, HSBC & Alibaba to offer digital financing solution to Alibaba's merchants up to US$500,000 without any collateral or financial documents, HSBC is utilising the power of Technology & BigData to lead the trend in the home market and empowering merchants. HSBC announced a new overdraft facility amid COVID19 and committed to supporting our customers.
These are Unprecedented times, I am anticipating budget cuts across industry, CIO/COO’s need to find a fine balance between Service Operations and Innovation.'


Looking to the future as we come out of this, a number of businesses are being hit while others haven’t. I wondered how many of us are expecting to be hit by budget pressure.

While the majority of businesses are likely to experience issues with regards to budgets, due to different budget cycles, industries and priorities, these are being felt differently depending on the business. Many are solely focusing on the short term, while others are forced to balance between now and the future.


Duncan Macmillan, IT Director- Elis- 'We are a private company, but a large amount of money has just been borrowed by the UK which will take a long time to pay off. I think we are all sitting here expecting COVID-19 to be sorted in 12 months time, but the hangover won’t be. We will be looking at a damaged economy for quite some time which I suspect will affect both the public sector and also the private sector.'


To learn more about future Digital Boardrooms, view our full event calendar here.

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