Throughout the challenges presented by the Covid-19 crisis, technology helped businesses respond quickly and effectively. Companies – often with the chief information officer (CIO) leading the charge – used cloud software, platforms and infrastructure to become more resilient, to collaborate more effectively, and to find new ways to engage with customers.  

Companies are now looking ahead. They know that things will never be like they were, but we see broad agreement on three key priorities for the next few months. These are:

1. Building resilience with cloud at the core of the business.

We saw in the crisis that companies with a “cloud-first” approach were able to innovate faster, create new revenue streams and derive more insights from data. Our own research found that interest in the cloud increased significantly in the second and third quarters of 2020; for example, 80% of business executives are now looking to cloud to mitigate business uncertainly and lower risk. 

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Cloud technologies are the foundation of a future-state IT architecture. To achieve digital transformation, companies also need a Technology Transformation approach. That’s a self-funded model in which continuous business value is achieved through a series of transformations that multiply innovation. Companies also need to fundamentally rethink how work gets done, who does it, and how consumers engage with and experience what the company offers. 

The immediate action steps for CIOs are:

  • Establish a cloud industry narrative to select and integrate fit-for-profitable growth solutions and align them to new market realities;
  • Re-evaluate ecosystem partnerships to accelerate digital transformation;
  • Make necessary adjustments to cloud governance, operating models, value cases, and application development; and
  • Optimize cloud investments through resource efficiency and lower operational costs.

The CIO takes responsibility for these actions, but the cloud agenda is now a CxO governance issue that calls for C-level orchestration. 

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We saw in the crisis that companies with a “cloud-first” approach were able to innovate faster, create new revenue streams and derive more insights from data.

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2. Designing a collaborative environment to foster resilience.

Many companies are looking at permanent changes in the way work gets done. Remote working has been successful from a productivity standpoint, but we see concerns about its effects on creativity and collaboration, as well as data security and the overall well-being of employees. For the longer-term, we will need to look at the whole employee experience, including virtual workrooms, collaboration tools, videoconferencing and messaging tools. 

CIOs will also need to figure out what happens when people return to physical workplaces. Hands-on people like factory workers and maintenance personnel will need new digital skills to handle increased human-machine interaction. But a cloud-centric setup can support everyone by monitoring employee experiences, engagement and well-being. CIOs should also be mindful of the need for new technology-driven capabilities and skills to keep pace with employee expectations for increased digitization. These include machine learning, low-code or no-code development platforms, augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI).

Next steps for CIOs to improve the remote work experience include: 

  • Work with the chief human resources officer (CHRO) to develop a personal enablement program, using bots, AI, document transfer and other technologies to improve employee engagement, experience and service delivery;
  • Augment key business processes with hyper-automation to enhance the employee experience and free people to work on more creative tasks;
  • Use cloud to leverage ready-to-use data, AI and other advanced collaboration tools – such as augmented reality virtual working sessions – to generate insights and innovation; and
  • Shift from a focus on specific digital solutions to more integrated ways of working, such as travel assistants that advise on Covid-19 restrictions.

3. Adapt to the new ways in which customers engage your business.

E-commerce and social media are great for engaging customers in today’s environment, but companies need to step up their efforts by using virtual reality (VR) technologies. VR can provide virtual showrooms, so customers can shop safely and enjoy a meaningful experience from their homes. 

Virtual technologies also apply to business customers. We are seeing innovations across industries, such as augmented reality that can service production machinery without engineers traveling between production lines, or digital twins of processes, lines or plants which can optimize the whole production environment. Data is the key enabler of the virtual customer experience, so companies need to put a good data architecture and strategy in place quickly. 

Other key steps include:

  • Strengthen business-to-consumer (B2C) digital interactions through omnichannel integration and more personalized products and services;
  • Strengthen business-to-business (B2B) relationships using Internet of Things manufacturing for remote maintenance and digital twins;
  • Redirect IT investments to create new revenue streams that reflect new products, services and customer needs; and
  • Tailor the customer journey and experience based on new behaviors and a changed business environment.

In the post-crisis era, CIOs should look to innovation to drive growth. This will mean continuous revisions to the future IT architecture so that it, in turn, can adapt to changing realities. IT talent should have the skills and tools to cope with this new environment.  Finally, automation and a revised sourcing model can help develop a more variable cost structure. This should be coupled with a zero-based mindset, which means starting from scratch and building up to what costs should be, based on desired outcomes. 

Organizations should put technology innovation at the core of their business revival strategy. With the right tools and resources, the CIO can champion and lead tech-enabled business transformation in 2021.

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See more IT Strategy insights.

Frédéric Brunier

Senior Managing Director – Technology Strategy & Advisory, Europe

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