CTO Tips for Navigating Business Continuity Through Unpredictability

As businesses continue to navigate through the pandemic, CTOs are trying to maintain balance between business continuity and digital innovation. Ivan Ng, CTO at City Developments Limited in Singapore, shares best practices and lessons learned from his own experience.

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Business and IT alignment has probably never been more important than it is right now. Due to disruption from the pandemic, IT teams are having to figure out how to find the right balance between business continuity and digital innovation. 

The COVID-19 crisis is also forcing chief technology officers (CTOs) and their teams to lead through the disruption by rapidly adapting processes and protocols for effective remote work scenarios, enabling business continuity through unplanned demand, and mitigating new security risks and threats.

As parts of the world are now recovering from the crisis, CTOs are solidifying their lessons learned while starting to revitalize digital innovation efforts. Ivan Ng, CTO at City Developments Limited (CDL), a global real estate firm headquartered in Singapore, shares his best practices for successfully navigating this next phase in this Q&A. 

Read on for Ivan's advice on ensuring continuity as well as helping the company  become more agile and responsive—which will only pay dividends as the focus turns more towards innovation in the future.

How can companies quickly adapt their business to keep up with evolving needs and how can technology help?

Due to the pandemic, every business has been experiencing rapid and massive changes, so adaptability is an almost existential capability for all companies.

The ability to adapt can be attributed to three areas: understanding the early signs of changing needs, managing an agile ecosystem to deliver those changes, and adjusting business models to rapidly commercialize and capture value. This is where technology can be a strategic enabler. We live in a world where data is universally prevalent, but making sense of the data requires sharp business acumen and deep technology expertise to extract insights on changing needs for business products or services. 

Technology also enables supply chains to seamlessly connect across organizations to deliver what the customer needs. Lastly, technology provides a whole arsenal of tools to calibrate business models through analytics, as well as facilitate customer experience journeys.

Why is there a need for IT to deliver remote services and what does IT need to consider in supporting remote work?

Traditionally, IT was about providing services on-site. Now, IT is so interwoven into key business processes that the requirements on IT should be the same as for the rest of the business. For many companies, the expectation for IT services is to be available anytime, anywhere. The pandemic crisis has clearly demonstrated why onsite-only IT services are insufficient for the modern enterprise.

To effectively support remote work, CTOs need to look beyond the technology and recognize that remote work is truly different. Amidst the crisis, many organizations have discovered that even with  prior business continuity planning and new digital tools, nothing could have prepared us for such significant disruption. IT can better prepare by investing in enterprise solutions that center on technology, data, security, and cloud computing.

“The pandemic crisis has clearly demonstrated why onsite-only IT services are insufficient for the modern enterprise.”

Ivan Ng CTO City Developments Limited

How can IT ensure anytime, anywhere access to data to support remote business functions?

To deliver anytime, anywhere access is non-trivial. Modern IT architectures are inherently complex and made up of interlinked IT services that span from applications to infrastructure, with a large number of components. This means that one weak link can potentially disrupt a critical IT service. 

While other approaches exist, my recommendation is for IT to adopt a cloud-first strategy. In my experience, adopting a cloud-first architecture has greatly reduced the complexity around infrastructure and allows us to quickly scale up the capacity to adapt to business needs. 

Beyond leveraging the cloud, it's also important to fully embrace being digital across all business functions. Over the last few years, we embarked on a journey to digitize most of our documents and move our core processes online. We have also focused on building the capability for staff to collaborate on documents virtually, enabling our employees to work remotely and complete training on mobile devices and laptops.

How can IT evolve their operating models to ensure business continuity during a crisis?

The COVID-19 pandemic clearly shows how disruptive a crisis can be on people, businesses, and economies. As IT leaders, we need to focus on how we can best evolve our operations to enable our businesses to serve our customers regardless of disruption. There are three things that IT should consider doing:  

  • Create workforce resilience. Evaluate collaborative technologies to allow work to be executed across your employee workforce, and supplement it with digital capabilities such as robotic process automation (RPA) and IT remote services.

  • Establish a command center. Prioritize critical processes and develop a command center to coordinate work while ensuring compliance, insights, and engagement through a centralized model.

  • Establish an agile ecosystem. Use a combination of service models and leverage your ecosystem of in-house, outsourced, and cloud partners to deliver key services to customers while minimizing risk.

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