On Tuesday 14th of April, FWB Park Brown hosted the first of our CIO Forums. This brought together CIOs from a range of industries including Oil and Gas, FMCG, Manufacturing and Retail.
The purpose was to share experiences and strategies relating to how we are approaching the current people and technology challenges due to Covid-19.
In this forum, there was a clear message that the initial migrations and transformation to enable remote working and a more technologically enabled and connected workforce had gone well, and that attention was turning to pressing issues around systems capacity and resilience, IT/Cyber Security and how all of this will affect or change the business and its working practices going forward.
The conversation was conducted under Chatham House rules and a very open and valuable discussion ensued covering, amongst others, the following topics:
Migration to home working
The feedback from the group was that the majority of remote working migrations had gone smoothly and effectively. Whether this involved setting up new and higher volumes of hardware or migrating systems and processes onto applications and remote working tools this had largely been successful.
Many commented on how intuitive and simple many of the tools adopted are (Microsoft Teams and Zoom were singled out) and that fact that little training was required to roll these tools out. One organisation had even rolled out Microsoft Teams to 40,000 people with no formal training and zero incident or issues arising.
Most people put this down to mindset and requirement. Because these technology deployments were deemed to be ‘essential’ and there was significant time pressure, there was a willingness to trust, increased risk appetite due to requirement and singular focus to get the job done and get it done quickly. The projects had unanimous buy in and everyone’s support. Some commented that ‘IT has never been so loved!’. The technology professionals in our community have moved mountains in the last 2 weeks, been forced to take high risks and to insight trust at Board level. The fact that IT/Technology should sit at every top table going forward was widely accepted.
There was commentary to suggest that because the transition had been so smooth this could lead to people requesting more flexible working patterns upon the lockdown being lifted. A fundamental change to business culture may ensue. Pre-Covid-19, the number 1 request of graduates looking to join firms was flexible working. An opportunity from this current challenge might be that firms will re-consider their approach to this and develop a competitive advantage in terms of attracting top talent.
While it was widely agreed that the migration to home working had been almost seamless, the reality of employees working remotely has indicated some new challenges and participants were overcoming this with regular forms of communication including:
- Keeping in touch with staff and keeping furloughed staff engaged.
- In business with an ‘office based’ culture, there was a significant journey in terms of adapting to home working and regular communication to these people is essential over the lockdown period. Some of these workers are experiencing ‘burnout’ as they struggle to work to normal working day hours.
- Virtual team coffee breaks, virtual ‘work drinks’.
- Town hall meetings across all staff furloughed and not furloughed. For global businesses, this is allowing them to reach out to employees on a more personal basis than they have in the past.
- Communications being transparent, clear, concise and with purpose.
Investment in technology
The recent investment in technology, whilst for many forced or expedited by the current situation, has been so well received that many companies are continuing to invest further. This crisis for many has exposed specific weaknesses in the business, making them more visible than before but also creating an opportunity to do something about them. Therefore this has been seen as a good time for transformation and automation projects for those that, although challenged by Covid-19 issues, can see some sort of future. These projects ranged from automated finance, invoice and reporting projects to employee engagement and communications tools. For the global businesses, all of this increased dependence on technology has put their global support teams under significant pressure across multiple time zones, both in terms of troubleshooting as well as essential maintenance and upgrades.
Operationally this has highlighted functions and processes that were believed to be agile and efficient but in fact were not as agile or efficient as they could now be and it was felt that now is the time to capitalise on technology to drive through these efficiency programmes and further technology adoption.
With the increased use of technology, more remote access and more applications and communications tools comes the increased requirement for stricter IT and Cyber Security, both internally and externally.
Challenges and possible breaches range from ‘innocent’ employee workarounds in regards to sharing data and communicating, to a lack of training and improper use of the technology, to the extreme external hacks. Many companies have hired Cyber Security specialists, have consultants on retainer or have this included in their Cyber Security Insurance. This was the one area where training for Executive Teams was seen to be absolutely essential. It was felt that shareholders will start to insist on a Cyber Insurance policy in the wake of Covid-19.
There was significant debate as to the value of the insurance, especially with rising premiums each year for some, however the consensus was that it was a requirement and that it gave good access to fast external advice and support when required.
When looking to the future, we debated what the business, consumer and social landscape will look like.
- Will employees need contractual immunisations?
- Will we all use wearable tech to monitor our health more and report this to our employers?
- What will the impact be on workspace and work travel? Potential positives here included the environmental impact however the lack of face to face interaction was seen as a potentially negative impact.
- Starbucks has already hosted the first virtual AGM; will we see more of this and virtual board members?
- With more flexible working also come some mental health risks and some employees being constantly logged on and not taking regular breaks and personal time. For others it will create too much flexibility and choice and therefore a risk to urgency and productivity.
- How will some organisations convince their workers that office and face time is needed, and that home working 5 days a week won’t be the new norm for all?
What was clear from these future focused topics and debates was that there is already a mindset shift towards either ‘rightsizing’ or entering a new normal. It was also evident from the conversation that whilst many businesses will struggle, and some will of course fail, there is significant opportunity, transformation and innovation that will come from this crisis and that businesses are starting to make more time for these discussions after an initial period of crisis.
For a downloadable copy of the above article please click here.
The CIO Forums will be hosted on Zoom weekly, every Tuesday from 6pm.
For further details on this, or future events, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Michael Dickson, Ailsa Sutherland or John Cameron on:
FWB Park Brown
FWB Park Brown continues to deliver its full range of services which includes providing support and advice during the Covid- 19 Public Health and developing global economic crisis.
We have established a range of cross sector as well as sector focused discussion forums for Chairs, NEDs, CEOs and all the main business management disciplines. We are also working closely with the Scottish HR Leadership Group to provide constructive support including discussion forums and Q & As.
Summaries of the discussions will be posted on our news section and also on LinkedIn.
For further information about any of these forums please contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org