Remote work isn’t the only ‘crisis innovation’ that’s here to stay

“Robots don’t have to be in quarantine, so they’re still working,” said a CIO in the oil sector. “It’s battle time,” he said at a virtual discussion on “DX and the New Normal”, sponsored by Wipro Canada. It was a bold assertion but it was a memorable quote supported by all of the CIOs. While the pandemic has created many challenges for organizations, it has also created opportunities to advance leading-edge technologies, like robotic process automation (RPA). Today, in this “warlike” footing of the pandemic, even early-stage projects are being accelerated if they can help meet the challenges the organizations are facing. “Everyone is rallying around a common enemy. There is nothing like a crisis to get some change,” said the CIO.

“People pull together in a crisis,” echoed one CIO. “We are doing things we’d never dreamed we could.” As a result, participants said some elements of their digital transformation plans are moving forward at a record pace to deal with the pandemic. They expect that most of these innovations will become part of the “new normal.”

“IT/Technology has become a lot more important than perceived to be in the past and customer experience re-imagination through design thinking will need to be done quickly to operate in the new norm,” said Amit Majithia, Wipro’s vice-president country head, Canada.

The debate on work from home is over

The IT leaders acknowledged that although their work from home programs was “in progress” before the crisis, they were the subject of ongoing debate. “We had the debate for years, and now we’re there in a few days,” said the oil sector participant. “This has debunked the belief that remote work doesn’t work that well.”

Everyone agreed that the work from home debate is done. “You can talk about a lot of things, but just do them,” said an IT leader from the energy sector. “This has proven that people can work from home and they’re okay with it. It’s opened our eyes that people can be just as productive, if not more so. We look at it differently now.”

All anticipate that working from home will continue after the crisis ends. It will be needed to save costs, and, as one IT leader put it, video calls “are normal now.”

Accelerating digital transformation projects

Projects that were part of longer-term transformation plans have been implemented quickly in the last few weeks. Organizations are continuing their digital transformation, but focusing on very practical applications. Technology that enables remote work and collaboration such as Microsoft 365 and Teams, are increasingly important. “We’ve shown people what’s possible in a short time,” he said. “The ability of people to adapt to technology is amazing. We’re rolling out things like Teams and people are using it within a week.”

The focus is clearly on projects that will have an immediate and practical impact on the organization. “You have to learn to be humble,” said one CIO. “One week I was leading our digital strategy, the next I was making sure everyone had laptops.”

Does this mean that digital transformation plans have been shelved? Not so, according to our panel. One CIO described it in these terms. “If you think of digital transformation as a continuum, you could visualize it with the far right-hand side being ‘true DX’ with a revolutionary approach to reinventing the company and its work. On the far left is optimization with a focus on adding value. Before the pandemic, I think we were really in the middle. Today, we are still doing digital transformation, but I think we’ve shifted more to tactical optimization. The time to value is very important.”

IT has come to the rescue

While these projects might be more tactical than some of the strategic work that was on the books earlier, they are essential and challenging. IT has proven to be up to the challenge, according to our panel. One participant gave a great example where 4000 employees went into self-quarantine and Human Resources needed a faster way to check in on all of them. The IT team came up with an automated solution almost overnight, said the IT leader. “These are things you could never dream to do process-wise,” he said. “The technology was there, but the process changed in a day and a half, adding real value to HR.”

While practical applications are the rule, customer experience also has to be a priority. “We’re doing some design thinking on how to improve the customer experience remotely,” said Majithia. But at least one of the CIOs noted that customers are more eager to have digital and self-service options than they were in the past.

The participants agreed that change management has “gone out the window”, and that may not be a bad thing. Companies are discovering how many of their “perceived obstacles” can be moved aside in a crisis. “So much digital transformation gets held up in change management and resistance,” said an oil sector CIO.

Everyone agreed that when this crisis is over, a lot of people will remain working remotely. “It doesn’t bode well for commercial real estate or REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts)” said one Calgary-based executive.

Despite the challenges, participants were also very positive about the contribution IT could make to their companies and proud of the accomplishments of their team. “We should not forget the things we’ve learned to be grateful for during this crisis,” added Majhitia.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jim Love
Jim Love
I've been in IT and business for over 30 years. I worked my way up, literally from the mail room and I've done every job from mail clerk to CEO. Today I'm CIO and Chief Digital Officer of IT World Canada - Canada's leader in ICT publishing and digital marketing.

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