By Gregory S. Smith

The role of the CIO/CTO will change forever as a result of the recent impacts associated with the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. A new book by Gregory S. Smith, a recognized IT executive with 30 years of experience managing complex IT and business systems explains “industry trends” for both Federal contractors and Federal officials and provides advice for industry on how to think strategically to move their ideas forward. Below are some high-level takeaways.

Post pandemic, significant changes are taking place regarding resource sourcing, the office of the future, and how collaboration tools will continue to accelerate a hybrid office/remote work force across the globe. Risk mitigation strategies and architectures are also changing, specifically around cloud migrations, security mitigation, IT disaster recovery approaches and how plans are adapting to include new worst-case scenarios. In addition, today’s CIOs and CTOs are adapting their IT governance approach to meet the new IT normal and with changes to key performance indicators.

Defining Moment

March 2020 will go down as one of the defining moments for technology leaders in the United States. IT executives who had well-grounded IT strategic plans (typically 3-year) with best practice IT governance oversight and well tested disaster recovery (DR) plans faired very well in the transition to near one hundred percent remote work for company staff. These CIOs and CTOs likely had a good mix of cloud computing solutions with redundancy built-in. If they had an on-premise environment with systems, applications, and data, then disaster recovery plans were well tested, involved non-IT staff, and had plans for all staff to work remotely for a period of time.

Signs of Failure

In the weeks after most organizations went remote, the public began to see the dire impacts of the CIOs who failed to strategically plan to keep their IT environment up to date and, most importantly, mobile. Federal agencies that relied heavily on in-agency desktop computers were significantly impacted and scrambling for mobile computing devices needed to meet the new remote worker demand. On the telephony side, on-premise phone systems without good mobile options hampered call center teams that were no longer able to come into a physical office to perform their duties. Several large public-school systems, even some near the nation’s capital, who had neglected updates to their learning management systems (LMS) and failed to procure necessary hardware and software to allow for online learning ultimately crashed. Many CIOs careers ended abruptly as a result.

Keys to Success

Organizations that truly prepared—from an IT perspective—for events like floods, fires, and hurricanes by default were better prepared for an unforeseen pandemic that dramatically changed the U.S. business environment nearly overnight. Why does this matter? Because the organizations that were prepared remained productive in a remote environment. Technologies that aided in a smooth transition to fully remote work include: cloud computing (IaaS, SaaS, PaaS), encrypted remote access solutions (Citrix, Microsoft, various secure VPN technology), leading online meeting and collaboration tools, and the corporate hardware to use and maintain while staff worked from home.

CIOs that did not maintain an “all laptop/VPN” environment leveraged best-in-class remote access tools that can be run from home computers. Many deployed company-owned desktop computers and monitors (equipped with VPN software) to staff so that performance and productivity were ensured. CIOs that planned well had deployed cloud-based telephone systems to allow inbound/outbound calls while preserving phone numbers and extensions from any location and especially from mobile devices.

Failure to Launch

On the flip, many CIOs were caught off-guard and paid a big price with regards to operational readiness and productivity in their organizations. The leading indicator for a failed disaster recovery plan targeted against a potential hurricane, fire, flood and yes, a pandemic is the surge in need for consultants once a disaster—or in this case, a declaration of remote work for all staff—strikes. CIOs that failed to plan for full remote work scrambled to implement and scale remote access solutions, cloud-based phone systems, etc.

For many who attempted to buy additional computers, laptops, monitors, and video cameras, the purchasable supply dried up almost overnight. The result was swift and impactful—productivity, revenue, and operational capabilities in those organizations fell off a cliff. Technology challenges in these organizations looked a lot like program trading during a major stock sell off—they fall further. As a result, the IT services side of implementing tier-1 remote access and telephony solutions began to skyrocket with demand outpacing supply.

Simply put, today’s IT leaders need to proactively think about situations that could dramatically impact their organization’s capabilities and strategically plan to mitigate them. For those IT leaders who properly, strategically planned and tested their DR plans: Congratulations. You get to keep your job and have proven yourself a battle-ready CIO / CTO. Today’s IT leaders that recognize and plan for a variable and dynamic future will do well. We’re never going back to the technology approaches associated with pre-pandemic thinking. Thus, prepare for waves of impacts going forward.

The New Normal in IT: How the Global Pandemic Changed Information Technology Forever (Wiley 2022), offers new strategic IT trends, challenges, and predictions from my 20+ year CIO/CTO career alongside other C-level executives from a diverse set of business sectors.

About Gregory S. Smith

Gregory S. Smith is the author of several books, including Dream Challenge, Straight to the Top: CIO Leadership in a Mobile, Social, and Cloud-based World, CIO 2.0 (Mandarin), How to Protect Your Children on the Internet, and Straight to the Top: Becoming a World-Class CIO.







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