How CIOs Are Navigating Today's Crisis

This article by Zuora CIO Alvina Antar was originally published on the Forbes Technology Council blog


This pandemic has reshaped our lives and has put all things into perspective. It has magnified the importance of caring about what matters most — our families, our employees, our customers. Building and continuing to invest in meaningful relationships is more important than ever during this time of crisis. Technology functions have supported an immediate and seamless shift to remote work globally, ensuring our employees are productive and engaged and showcasing the operational resilience built. Now more than ever, CIOs are looking to accelerate digital transformation initiatives to use technology to ensure business resilience and fuel growth.

CIOs must confidently display to both their employees and customers that their organizations can withstand adversity. In the face of this emerging health and economic crisis, we should provide our employees, customers, and partners security, compassion, and clarity.

Focus On Fundamentals

It’s essential that we focus on our core fundamentals and accelerate our digital transformation efforts to not only carry us through these challenging times but to come out stronger and more resilient than ever.

Let’s examine three critical priorities:

1. Employee Empathy 

Technology organizations must show empathy to each employee to understand their unique needs as the transition to more flexible work environments becomes a more permanent reality. Especially now, CIOs need to ensure employees are engaged and empowered with the technology and infrastructure to be productive no matter where they are working. Every single employee in globally dispersed locations should have access to the data and tools they need to be wildly successful. We can’t afford to create added pressure by having our employees experience any drop in productivity or feel disconnected.

Collaboration tools like Zoom, Slack, and Okta were built to create seamless and secure experiences that drive productivity regardless of location. Providing employee self-service capabilities and process automation are key to streamlining end-to-end business operations and driving overall efficiencies.

By reinforcing the importance of consistent communication and connected teams, companies will build a stronger and more collaborative work “place.” Genuinely caring for your employees’ well-being and showing compassion will go a long way in evolving your unique culture during this trying time. Let’s focus on what matters most — our people!

2. Customer Focus 

It is more important than ever to be hyper-focused on our customers and proactively reach out to help in any way possible during this time of uncertainty. Take this time to show your customers how much you truly appreciate them and that you will be there for them every step of the way.

Subscription models are built around customers and meaningful relationships. The success of any subscription depends on its ability to acquire, nurture, monetize and delight customers throughout the customer lifecycle.

As customer behavior shifts — with a bias toward digital channels — how can your business prepare to manage these changes? In a B2C business, this could mean upgrading capacity to handle increased consumer traffic. In a subscription business, this might mean building out an infrastructure that can support the many changes customers will likely be making to their accounts — suspending subscriptions while keeping customers, increasing services or offering new bundled offerings to support customers.

CIOs play a key role in ensuring that customers feel valued and protected as they continue to do business with your organization. Companies are displaying innovative and creative ways to deliver customer value by providing free services and trials, suspending payments and pivoting their business models. Show your customers that you are committed to their success as an essential partner, and this will create long-term loyalty.

3. Operational Resilience 

Business continuity and operational risk management programs require accurate and timely data to make sure that an organization understands its operational dependencies.

Cloud-first companies depend on XaaS applications to run their business. You are not just reliant on your business continuity plans but on your vendors’ business continuity plans. Technology leaders are accountable for the security and reliability of all SaaS, IaaS, PaaS services and applications that support their organizations.

CIOs must minimize exposure, monitor risk, and increase penetration tests to identify and resolve areas of vulnerability. We must strengthen our security posture by ensuring layers of security and increased cybersecurity awareness to reduce risk exposure.

CIOs need to be on the offensive, continuously anticipating security threats. During this heightened time of risk, investing in security before it becomes a problem is critical — and failing to invest is not a bet worth taking.

Accelerate Business Transformation

Technology leaders must be change agents enabling business transformation acceleration to drive growth and stay competitive. Innovative companies are looking at this challenging time as an opportunity to execute against business strategies and come out of this crisis swinging.

Now’s the time to reinforce alignment with your business strategy and ignite growth through process, data and technology. Today, there is no reason why any business should be constrained by technology limitations that prevent them from experimenting or launching new customer-centric business models.

Technology-driven business leaders are now looking at further investing in subscription-based business models given the proven resilience. CIOs should seek out innovative ways to use data as a competitive advantage to drive critical business decisions. The speed at which you shift gears toward strategic, tech-forward projects will propel your business and prepare it for a new future. Technology functions are in a unique position to be connectors in this time of distancing.

Given the sharper lens on the challenges employees are facing both personally and professionally and the horizontal, cross-functional view of the company, it’s the CIO’s responsibility to have a direct pulse on the business and influence the change needed.

This crisis is a wake-up call to CIOs that the status quo is a slow death. Technology leaders are accelerating and evolving their transformation strategies to support the changing needs of the marketplace, their customers and their employees. Together we should communicate to our employees and customers openly and often, building more meaningful relationships than ever imagined.

Download the full CIO Playbook for navigating the coronavirus crisis

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