Next Phase of COVID-19 Pandemic Requires Tough IT Choices

    Like no other event in modern times, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced organizations large and small to rethink their entire approach to IT.

    The first phase of the pandemic saw entire workforces shifting to working from home in a matter of days. Remote access to applications at unprecedented scale along with the need to make video conferencing pervasively available became immediate priorities. Flash forward a few months and it’s become apparent that while many employees will return to the office, most of them will be working remotely a lot more often.

    At the same time, many organizations are struggling to reinvent themselves. Physically engaging with customers, suppliers, partners and colleagues is likely to be the exception rather than the rule. Once nascent digital business transformation initiatives have come the foundation upon which business continuity strategies are now based.

    Of course, no one is immune to the effects of a downturn in the global economy. Organizations of all sizes are looking to streamline processes to reduce costs. The net effect is organizations are changing IT strategy like never before.

    For example, a survey of 631 chief financial officers (CFOs) conducted last February by Grant Thornton, a professional services network of independent accounting and consulting member firms, found approximately 70% of finance leaders indicated they had implemented key emerging technologies or planned to do so within the next two years. That same survey was repeated in May, with 62% of respondents saying they had now delayed their innovation projects. Another 19% reshaped those projects. Only 19% of respondents accelerated innovation projects.

    At this juncture, IT organizations are now trying to prioritize which IT projects should move forward based on the impact they can have on the business in the short, medium and long term, says Nick Vellani, national managing principal of financial management at Grant Thornton. CFOs are not simply looking to cut costs wholesale, rather Vellani says they are trying to help prioritize projects based on payback to the business.

    “The business still has to innovate,” says Vellani.

    Election adds uncertainty

    A separate survey of 212 financial leaders conducted by Hanover Research on behalf of OneStream Software, a provider of business planning tools, finds 43% are either somewhat or very optimistic about the economy’s outlook and plan to increase budgets across their entire company next year. CFOs said they are closely tracking consumer spending (40%) and sales volume (47%) as critical indicators. Well over half (58%) said they are either somewhat or extremely likely to defer investment or business plans until after the election in November. Most CFOs are waiting to see whether a vaccine will become available and what economic policies might be laid down by any new administration, says Bill Koefoed, chief financial officer for OneSight Software.   

    “Tax policy is going to be the biggest,” says Koefoed.

    CFOs are now a lot more focused on trying to see around the next corner as the COVID-19 pandemic waxes and wanes, adds Koefoed.

    The strong get stronger

    In the meantime, it appears the strong are getting stronger in the wake of the pandemic. A survey of  200 enterprise CIOs and 200 enterprise work-from-home (WFH) managers conducted by ReRez Research on behalf Catchpoint, a provider of tools for monitoring digital experiences, finds top-tier enterprises were 2.6 times more likely to have grown revenue, 2.5 times more likely to have reached profit goals and 2.1 times more likely to have high employee satisfaction numbers. Improved performance was also helped by improved application reliability, network reliability and cyber security among top-tier enterprises.

    Those organizations have focused relentlessly on optimizing their digital business processes, says Catchpoint CEO Mehdi Daoudi.

    “Basically, they are becoming well-oiled machines,” says Daoudi.

    Obviously, the degree to which organizations employ IT to operationalize digital business processes is going to be the difference between success and failure. On the plus side, finance leaders at the very least intuitively understand the potential strategic value of those IT investments. The challenge is identifying which IT projects are going to have the most profound impact on the business both today and tomorrow.

    Mike Vizard
    Mike Vizard
    Michael Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist, with nearly 30 years of experience writing and editing about enterprise IT issues. He is a contributor to publications including Programmableweb, IT Business Edge, CIOinsight and UBM Tech. He formerly was editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise, where he launched the company’s custom content division, and has also served as editor in chief for CRN and InfoWorld. He also has held editorial positions at PC Week, Computerworld and Digital Review.
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