Wednesday, June 03, 2020

The New Abnormal

Varying stages of lockdown – voluntary and forced – created stress for CIOs and tech teams globally; Work-From-Home (WFH) became another 3-letter acronym that everyone embraced willingly and only a rare organization had capacity that could scale up and cater to the large swaths of workers who suddenly fell in love with their laptops. Those who shunned webinars, web conferences, and electronic tools of collaboration were all now talking about scheduling online meetings with all and sundry. IT organizations flooded with calls on VPN connectivity challenges, access to applications, and capacity of collaboration tools, managed to scrape through by the skin of their collective teeth.

As weeks turned double digit and the tunnel appeared to be endless with no visible light, speculation started on, what CIOs need to focus on and what the future foretells for the tech industry as a whole, whenever the end comes. Webinars aplenty with CIOs, academicians, vendors, consultants and self-proclaimed experts, who discussed and debated actions that IT organizations will need to take. Strategies and plans were bandied around for the hapless and the informed, confusing more than bringing clarity. It was reminiscent of what happened during the financial meltdown a decade or so back and probably Y2K and dotcom bust, the events that remain firmly imprinted on the industry. The joke going around is that the current abnormal accelerated digital transformation faster than what the collective might could achieve in the past.

Everyone now acknowledges that the new abnormal will continue and what we all knew as normal would be the good old days of nostalgia. Social distancing brought virtual closeness and it has already become the norm for meetings, events and getting together with digital engagement a preferred option; it is evident that human behaviour will not be the same in the foreseeable future. After grudgingly accepting the new abnormal, leadership teams have now started (thinking of in some cases) planning for the resumption of life; everyone accepts that it would be slow progress and life may never come back to the good old days. As workers go back to manufacturing facilities and services start operating again, the reopening will require enormous effort. So what is the real impact for technology teams?

The discussions and debates between the folks above provided for aspirations that largely assumed that they can set aside the elapsed time and go back to life as usual. Some talked about bringing back paused projects, restart of digital transformation and automation, aggressive deployment of mobility, and focus on cloud with variable models. It took a couple of the weather-beaten members to bring them back to reality; revenue and cash flow, review of office spaces with everyone not required to work from a central location anymore, or a push for automation to reduce costs, and finally positions that need to be extinguished with a smaller business. So the 10 recommendations were:

1.      Address the ad-hoc that was created to manage the extraordinary demand for WFH; whether it is connectivity solutions, exceptions to policies around access to applications and other products used for collaboration and conferencing.
2.      Manage licenses required going forward for solutions that some functions or individuals may have procured or downloaded free versions of.
3.      Ascertain the impact these may have created on the cybersecurity or compliance requirements and remediate.
4.      If not already initiated, renegotiate – licenses, maintenance contracts, and third party and outsourced manpower requirements.
5.      Relook at the roles and staffing within your function; roles that can be let go with the resultant impact being managed. Hiring freeze, exception only if critical resources exit.
6.      Wear a business hat and challenge other functions assumptions on solutions and costs; shave 20% or more costs across the board. Automate, automate and automate.
7.      Consumer behaviour has changed permanently; enable seamless customer engagement across channels – applies equally to both B2B and B2C.
8.      Create information visibility across layers for effective decision making without significant additional investment in tools and technologies.
9.      Defer payments to manage cash flows and match incoming revenue; critically review suspended projects and ones that were waiting to take off. The lens for evaluation is no longer the usual strategic intent and ROI (Return on Investment), it is about what is necessary for survival. The building of new capabilities and applications can wait for another time when there is money in the bank.
10.   Watch industry trends and benchmark efforts to ensure that we don’t lose relevance with the market or to our customers.

Oh I am sure that given some more time and deliberation, a distinct list of another 10 can be created and that would be equally relevant. The abnormal reality is that there is no normal now for which we can prepare and sustain; depending on the industry, the actions will be different and all actions will not work for everyone. The playbook will have to be rewritten by every company and it will remain a living document even in the short-term. Tech will be in the forefront of every decision; after all tech is what allowed some semblance of normalcy and continuity of operations.
It would be foolish to relegate tech at this time; having said that some organizations will and some tech leaders will fail to rise to the opportunity. After all, everyone does not like history !

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