How the pandemic has changed the way tech leaders deliver digital transformation

First a big thanks to the following CIO WaterCooler members and expert contributors for taking some time to add their voices to this article.

•      Nick Burton, Chief Information & Digital Officer – Digital Platforms and eCommerce Channel at Avon International

•      Victoria Higgin, Chief Information Officer and Executive Director at Highways England

•      Chris Lord, Group CTO at Babcock International Group

•      Sue Walnut, Head of IT Service, UK and Germany at National Express Group

Right out the gate, it’s evident that the pandemic has shifted perceptions, changed the business landscape and how businesses operate. IT unsurprisingly has played an invaluable role in enabling continuity.

We wanted to know essentially what our tech leaders have learned from the pandemic experience, how has it changed their thinking and whether it has changed the way they do their jobs i.e delivering continuous digital transformation.

Here are the TOP 5 takeaways:

1.    Focus on less to deliver more meaningful impact opposed to several projects all at once

2.    Identify and highlight clear priorities to support stakeholder buy-in

3.    Challenge the status quo especially if alternative approaches show promise

4.    Authenticity and transparency fosters trust

5.    Invest in hands-on people who ensure continuity of basic operations

For more detailed expansions, read on…

Nick observed exceptional efficiency in his team, saying, “It’s amazing how much can be achieved in a short time when it’s clear what the priority is and everyone is aligned behind it. We will do less at once, and we will strive to keep the politics and positioning out of the room.” Digital transformation has long dominated the business agenda, often accompanied by the temptation and sometimes pressure to deliver many outcomes at once. However, when survival is dependent on the rapid delivery of very specific goals, it’s been shown that decisive and focused prioritisation is an effective ingredient in the success recipe. This is an important point and resounds the sentiments of Steve Jobs, when he said: “We try to focus and do very few things well.

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Victoria says being able to adapt has been key to continuing operations. “We will be working from home a lot more than ever, and will keep adapting to the situation as the business must continue in the safest way possible.” Change takes longer to permeate the structures of large organisations, compared to their smaller nimble counterparts. And that may always be the case, however, adaptability need not be a casualty of protracted change. The people we spoke with are thinking differently now about disaster preparedness and recovery, readying their organisations for any eventuality – meaning the requirement to adapt need not be the end of the business if it prepared.

COVID-19 has changed attitudes according to Chris, “We will challenge more unspoken blockers, as now we know they are not necessarily valid, for e.g. ‘the teams can’t work effectively from home’ assumption”. So many times we hear that things are to be done in a particular way purely because they’ve always been done in that way. COVID-19 has proven that when its a matter of survival, businesses can and must challenge the status quo.

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Authenticity in management style has proven effective for Nick; “Be genuine, tell people how it is, empathise with their feelings and situation, be yourself”. Victoria echoes this, saying, “We have managed to convey to all employees how much we care and are putting their needs at the forefront of what we are doing”.

Pre-pandemic, we may not have appreciated the important role of retail or delivery personnel. That has since changed, as social distancing guidelines mean that we depend on operationally-oriented workers, now referred to as “essential”. Much like the emphasis on essential workers during the pandemic, Sue says, “ we, like many, have put a lot of store in our hands-on people.”

Most agree that an “entrepreneurial” effect was activated during the pandemic, here are some of the keywords our contributors use to describe their organisations’ responses.

It’s remarkable how adversity has the power to bring people together, focused on identifying opportunities and delivering solutions. This is evident in the way contributors to this article describe the responses of their teams.

As far as COVID-19 goes, we’re certainly not out of the woods, however, it must be acknowledged that the pandemic has changed us, as a society, businesses, and individuals. As we look to a post-COVID-19 recovery, it’s possible to capture and leverage the tactics used to overcome this monumental event, for continued growth and improvement.

Let us know in the comments what you’ve learned during the pandemic that has changed how you tackle problems and deliver value.

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