CIO Leadership and COVID-19: Ensuring Critical Business Processes

In the second of our three-part series for CIOs, we look at specific steps technology leaders can take to maintain critical business processes during times of crisis or significant business upheaval.

While every leader in an organization must think differently in this global crisis, the CIO faces some of the most pressing challenges. All vital processes must operate continuously and be able to flex and scale to meet unpredictable workloads, and much of that falls within the CIO’s domain. 

In a three-part series, we’re exploring how the CIO can help ensure business continuity through three different lenses: employees, critical business processes, and data assets. In this second post, the focus is on critical business processes.

We realize CIOs may have already taken some of these steps during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, because they apply to all times of crisis, and because our cloud-enabled world makes success a shared responsibility between customers and their technology providers, we’re detailing these steps (based on our own experience and industry best practices) as part of a blueprint for CIOs to use both now and in the future. 

Step One: Identify What’s Critical

In times of crisis, the most important first step is to distinguish and prioritize mission-critical business processes. That includes those that may need some adjustments in order to adapt to new constraints or requirements brought forth by the upheaval, especially when on a global scale.

From navigating through this current situation ourselves and with our customers, much of the focus has been on the business process frameworks related to hiring, scheduling, and paying workers at a time when schedules, shifts, and organizational structures for some of our customers are constantly changing. In addition, businesses may experience spikes in requests for sick time, disability, leaves of absence, and other workforce benefits. 

On the financial management side, processes related to consolidation and close continue to be mission critical as well as sourcing, procurement, and expenses, as organizations may need to shift purchases and payments during this time. And of course, supply chain and project management systems must be resilient to perform as designed in the midst of constant change.

Step Two: Create Alignment

Business continuity starts with business alignment: CIOs should quickly align with their C-suite partners and create a heat map of the mission critical business capabilities that are supported by IT and digital technology. One way to create this heat map is by:

  • Assessing mission-critical system availability, performance, elasticity, and resiliency. The systems that support essential business capabilities must be closely examined for their ability to respond under heavier load and unplanned spikes in elasticity. Now is the time to keep a close eye on monitoring tools that help you understand if you're nearing capacity. If you are unaware of those capabilities or don't have them, work with your technology providers to ensure service won't be impacted.

  • Ensuring that vital systems are able to function even if performance is impacted due to external factors or varying network bandwidth. IT teams need even higher levels of visibility so they can anticipate performance and scale issues and rapidly allocate additional infrastructure resources to keep systems and processes operational. At the end of the day, the CIO is responsible for service delivery at their companies, and needs to take steps with their technology providers and within their own organizations to ensure business continuity.

  • Sharing how your vital systems will be monitored during a crisis. For example, here at Workday we have monitoring and dashboards that continuously monitor the health of our customers’ (and our own) tenants. We also have the ability to proactively identify potential performance issues brought forth by erratic and unplanned spikes in demand and reallocate resources in real time to keep availability constant. And, as noted above, reaching out to your technology partners, both in and out of the business, to make sure you’re taking advantage of all the monitoring tools available, is always worthwhile.

Once you have this heat map of critical IT infrastructure that the whole C-suite agrees on, identify gaps that require immediate attention. 

Step Three: Develop an Action Plan

With an inventory of the systems and processes that are mission critical for the business, and agreement from the rest of the C-suite, CIOs and their IT teams should (until it's clear the crisis is over) plan for:

  • Potential degradation in system performance. Prepare ahead of time by testing the ability to rapidly scale more resources and communication to users who may experience performance degradation. Ensure you have a clear understanding from your outside technology partners around the timelines and planned actions if there are performance issues with their systems.

  • Implementing self-service for as much of the critical processes as possible, in order to free up the IT team to focus on triage and stabilization. In addition, IT should scale automation wherever possible.

  • Consolidating systems of engagement and streamlining processes. The fewer interfaces for the user and the simplification of processes will reduce the support load on IT while increasing remote worker productivity. 

  • Scaling all levels of the IT stack. Wherever possible, choose cloud systems and optimize cloud and hybrid infrastructure.

  • Continuing transformational activities. Necessarily, IT leaders need to focus on infrastructure to support the remote workforce. This doesn’t mean, however, that transformation initiatives should completely stop. In fact, business continuity efforts help the whole company become more agile and responsive—which will only pay dividends as the focus turns more squarely towards innovation in the future. 

The authors of a classic Harvard Business Review article, examining how companies fared after the Great Recession of 2008 (an imperfect, but helpful example during our unprecedented crisis), write, “According to our research, companies that master the delicate balance between cutting costs to survive today and investing to grow tomorrow do well after a recession.”

And for an IT audience, it should go without saying: Keep iterating on your action plan. 

Some Perspective on These Trying Times

As IT leaders, many of your systems and processes have been stress-tested in ways that would have been hard to imagine at this time last year. And overall, most IT leaders are passing this historic test. In many ways, this time is a crucible for CIOs, where their actions are more vital than ever to a company’s health, and whose agility in fast-moving situations is steadying many pitching ships of commerce. 

Read the first article in this series, “CIO Leadership and COVID-19: Supporting a Suddenly Remote Workforce.” For more guidance on navigating the challenges of COVID-19, visit our resources page.

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