Coronavirus crisis

CIOs and COVID-19 crisis: thoughts on business continuity

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a group of CIOs look at business continuity and share what’s working, what’s not and what lessons they have learned.

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Coronavirus crisis

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As the COVID-19 has made life a Groundhog Day for CIOs, it’s important to look at what has worked and what hasn’t work in terms of business continuity.

The first step is understanding what business continuity is. "It amazes me how many people, including technology executives, confuse business continuity with disaster recovery,” says Stan Bush, CIO at VA Midwest Healthcare Network.

Former CIO, Stephen diFilipo, adds that “many technology executives don’t understand that business continuity is core to sustainability.”  And even worse for those that get it, Bush claims “their business continuity plan can often be overly simplistic and not account for every major system."

Each system needs to have its own plan and each plan needs to have cascading levels. IT leaders need to account as well for non-IT related events, like a pandemic, diFilipo, agrees and says, “it's all about the ecosystem. Everything today is interconnected in some way.”

Do business-critical services and information have sufficient resilience?

COVID-19 has caused many CIOs to rethink their game plans. Milos Topic asserts, “this is a great learning opportunity for us all.”

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 CIO Rick Osterberg suggests, “this has actually helped determine what is important. It has also helped us identify some services thought to be essential, but they actually are not.” At the same time, CIO Martin Davis says, “his team has discovered associated critical processes that we never even considered.”

Clearly, COVID-19 is a new challenge for CIOs.  “This one is so different than from 9/11,” former CIO Tim McBreen says. “That had a finite ending and limited scope — for me, only one 345-person location. This is going to go for months with entire corporation being impacted. I have been reviewing what I would do different now because of this.”

From a people perspective, McBreen suggests, “this has been problematic for people who are not used to working from home. At the same time, you have to look at network capacity and security differently when most of company is remote.”

Looking how the conversation was evolving, former CIO Joanna Young suggested “the meaning and measurement of resilience varies. Where one person or one business unit is resilient the combined entity is still stuck. At the same time, you can't make something resilient when don't have clear business/customer-centric definitions and measures.”

CTO Peter Salvitti has been smart and to use his words “lucky” about business continuity. He says that his IT organization “has always tested their resilience at Boston College, COVID-19 notwithstanding. We have been fanatical regarding testing our disaster recovery, business continuity plan and other response plans.”

Young, however, points out that “the stress on the system coming from the needed expansion of capacity and capability for large scale work at home, often has required IT heroics. Sooner or later, there will be models of redundancy, resiliency based on new ways of working, the new employee experience as part of new business models, organization structures.”

“Our team just pivoted all our courses from in-classroom instruction to online with minimal systems disruption,” CIO Joshua Fiske says. “Lots of user-side effort was needed to change teaching styles, but our systems absorbed the load with a minimum of fuss. I'm encouraging our faculty to move now to asynchronous instruction. Unless the class is discussion-based, it could be much better to chunk materials into smaller topics to align with typical attention spans.”

 Meanwhile, Michael Archuleta, a healthcare CIO says, “the crisis is accelerating digital transformation, and the mass adoption of telecommuting is the most explosive change to occur due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis has fully displayed the value of IT and digital transformation. Out of every crisis, a new opportunity arises, and telehealth is a key tool to continue to provide efficient care for patients.” Paige Francis added, “I’m personally in disbelief about the resiliency during this disruption. It’s almost as if we know what we’re doing. It reinforces focus for sure and those gaps that will arise.”

Are there elements of your business continuity plan you would change after the crisis?

CIOs had many things on their post corona bucket lists. The good news says CIO Milos Topic “is that we are doing well, but we will be even better as this year continues.” Jack Gold agrees and says, “I think the advantage that higher education had is that they were ready for so many remote users. Not all industries are structured to allow that so easily.”

However, CIO Rick Osterberg says “there will be significant prioritization efforts after COVID-19. Lots of take-aways to implement, but also lots of new financial constraints due to higher education’s enrollment/revenue instability.”

Below are the CIOs suggestions grouped by highest frequency:

  1. Have a better training capability for kicking off day 1 of a future crisis.
  2. Perfecting adequate, seamless work from home workspaces, including broadband/Wi-Fi, ergonomic furniture, large monitors, better chairs and better sound isolation.
  3. Make mastery of collaboration tools a required capability for all personnel from the C-suite to entry-level workers
  4. Eliminate or minimize single points of failures. Commit towards more redundancy with staffing and hardware/software/network.
  5. Intensified focus on strategic planning for a digital future including preparation to launch new initiatives when the crisis passes.
  6. Sufficient supplies of physical equipment. Greater ongoing education of people on how to use the equipment they have.
  7. Better provisioning of remote access to applications.
  8. Improve cross department workflow.
  9. Have service desk in better shape to handle a spike in calls during a crisis.
  10. Have better monitoring and security logging.

CIO Michael Archuleta says that he “believes this unprecedented pandemic puts us all in a position to be more progressive and open to learning from it.” In terms of item 4 above, Young suggests that “single points of failure in talent must be considered, too. They can be even more damaging than technology. New business continuity business plans need to address talent resiliency and redundancy.”

Where did your business continuity tests validate your plan?

Young says that “boards should now take more interest in measurable quality and frequency of business continuity planning from design to testing.” Clearly, several #CIOChat CIOs over-preparation has proven a valuable leadership trait for this crisis. In terms of his experience, Topic says that their communication and collaboration tools and resources such as email, calendar, drive, Google Meet, CRM, ERP, VPN, LMS... all performing well, scaled appropriately and with great resiliency. This has been as great of a test as any of us could have imagined.”

Archuleta says that “if we can take the experience gained from this unique challenge, we can evolve our practices and continue to invest in digital transformation and improve our business continuity plans.”

Post crisis, what are biggest changes you will implement?

Young says that it is important to “anticipate cloud journeys including how a surge in demand will accelerate as part of seeking higher resilience. Business change must lead technology change while technology change must inform business change.”

“Serious paradigm shifts towards more modern teaching and learning techniques will happen in higher education,” Fiske says. “Our faculty now knows what IT’s role isin the organization. For this reason, I suspect we'll see higher demand for our services.”

In terms of changes, Topic argues for training, awareness, documentation, redundancy of personnel and authorities, and flexibility in work schedules and locations. In addition, “we will be replicating more services out of our data center in geographically dispersed locations.”

Davis agrees, saying “training, awareness, documentation are essential.” Meanwhile former CIO Mike Kail says “CIOs should plan for failures and continue to increase overall resiliency.”

McBreen agrees and says, “the changes will not be that high. Plus, this type of remote is very different than normal business remote working. This is all hands-on deck just surviving and having to take care of your family/kids at the same time.”

“The biggest changes will need to happen is focusing on digital transformation and incorporating IT as a core component to the organizations strategy which will take us to a much better space,” Archuleta says. “ We must be opened to learning from this crisis. We, also, need to continue to work together to transform our industries. Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

Post crisis what modernization efforts should be the first on the CIOs list?

“This will be very industry specific and not for everyone,” says analyst Jack Gold claims. “Work from home will not be 80 percent of all enterprises going forward. But for most organizations, remote work was already growing. It will accelerate now. First and foremost, IT teams should do an assessment of what they just learned, what worked, what didn't work, and then move forward from here.”

Young adds, “first should be people-related (employees and customer) improvements to increase resiliency, diversity, and safeways of working, delivering, interacting, and supporting. This must include communities where we live and work. As waves of new normal get longer and more predictable, we must not forget the lessons of the frantic and frequent waves we're experiencing now. I'm keeping a list, so I don't forget.”

 “CIOs must be open to learning every day, especially during this crisis,” Osterberg says “In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back too.”

Archuleta goes even further and says, “If we can take the experience gained from this unique challenge, we can evolve our practices and continue to invest in digital transformation, which will better allow us to design the asynchronous tools that benefit our patients both inside and outside our organizations.” This is clearly important but also is creating the operational backbone needed for the future. For most legacy businesses, this is the starting point for digitization. It represents the foundation for expanding and accelerating innovation. For this reason, Davis suggests that “tech debt should be removed while focusing on digital transformation.”

Closing thoughts and COVID-19 and business continuity

There are clearly things that CIOs should do now in the immediacy of the crisis. And there are things that CIOs should do post-crisis. To learn more insights from the #CIOChat, there is a free virtual event on April 15th. #CIOChatLive 2.0 will provide you more guidance on navigating your journey through the days ahead.