CIO Leadership: 2020 CIO Summit of America – Virtual Meeting – Leading in a Crisis

When a crisis strikes, true leaders will rise to the occasion and prove their mettle. As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to roil businesses, the international epidemic is impacting everything from business continuity to cash flows to supply chains operations, resulting in dramatic shifts to remote work and changing customer behaviors.  

More than ever, CIOs and technology executives are being called upon to guide the ship through the storm and apply their expertise in technology and process management to enable the company to survive and thrive through these times of uncertainty.

To tackle these challenges head on, HMG Strategy recently hosted an HMG Live! CIO Summit of America Virtual Meeting on March 26 where a slate of rock star technology executives shared the courageous leadership attributes and fresh mindset needed to identify new opportunities for innovation and partner with the CEO and the Board to lead the organization through this quandary.

The speakers for this 90-minute Virtual Meeting included Nicole Eagan, CEO at Darktrace; Ralph Loura, SVP, CIO at Lumentum; Hunter Muller, President and CEO, HMG Strategy; Wendy Pfeiffer, CIO, Nutanix; Steve Phillpott, CIO, Western Digital; Bhavin Shah, CEO and Founder, Moveworks; and Angela Yochem, EVP, CDTO, Novant Health.

Here’s what they each had to share:

Hunter Muller: Innovation often requires some kind of a flashpoint or some limitation of resources or crisis. And I think what we’ll find coming out of this is that, as leaders, we’ll be able to learn and grow out of this extremely difficult time as we look to reimagine and reinvent our go-to-market strategies going forward.

This requires leaders to get their teams dialed into what really matters and what they need to be focused on in a situation where there are opportunities and risks in this global crisis.

Nicole, what are you seeing?

Nicole Eagan: Similar to many companies, we have a business continuity plan that we quickly put into place. A significant percentage of our workers were set up for remote work, so that change was relatively easy. But in other areas, we see this as an opportunity to create new business models and accelerate plans

Being a Cyber AI company, our customers have asked for additional help as remote work suddenly exposed new vulnerabilities. People began hooking up remote webcams to their computers, they began using new collaboration technologies that aren’t necessarily covered by their security stack. We have extended offers of free technology and services to the Darktrace Community for new email attack campaigns and to assist with 24/7 coverage while our customers’ security teams are stretched thin.

Bhavin Shah: We have purview into all of the changes that are occurring from a support standpoint. Each of us are working remotely and we’re seeing increased demand for IT services, including a 2X increase in overall IT support ticket volumes.

Every walk-up help desk in America is vacant — they can’t be used. So, we’re seeing a 3X increase in demand coming through the chatbot using these digital channels. Systems and access have gone through the roof, from collaboration tools to things like VPNs and Global Connect.

In Brian Hoyt’s environment at Unity Technologies, demand for Zoom access has increased 6X, accompanied by similar spikes in requests for other apps and troubleshooting help.

So, we’re seeing greater demand for automation, to use AI and machine learning to resolve support issues. And this shift to remote workforces has become a semi-permanent thing that America and the world is experiencing.

And while many of us will eventually return to the office, we’ll gain a deeper appreciation of what it takes to provide that type of support remotely and digitally.

Angela Yochem: First, we are focused on keeping our communities healthy during this outbreak. We’ve run thousands of virtual visits with physicians every day, provided a screening chatbot that has been used by tens of thousands of community members, support new testing locations that have popped-up across our footprint, and many other changes to business-as-usual.

Second, we are preparing for the potential tidal wave of very sick patients in our hospitals by optimizing our facilities and processes to address COVID-19 patients. Anything we can do to support our patients and the brave clinicians who will be caring for the acutely ill is on the table, and we work around the clock on this.

And of course, like every other industry, we need to keep our distributed workforce up and running. This isn’t just back-office functions, but also thousands of providers who are seeing the millions of patients we support through virtual means.

There’s no shortage of opportunity or appetite for providing patients and our providers collaborative capabilities. It’s a race against time. But we’re also encouraging our team members to take breaks, to spend time with their families and to stay healthy and resilient during this challenging time.

Ralph Loura: As I look at the role that IT leaders can play, we obviously think of ourselves as the tool providers that allow people to collaborate with one another.

But perhaps what’s overlooked is that IT leaders should be role models in the work-from-home environment because we’ve been doing it for 20 years. We’ve been managing remote teams in India, Manila, and other locations for the company to keep people engaged and motivated. We should bring that experience forward to help other organizations that haven’t operated in a global fashion to be digital leaders.  

In the past decade and accelerating over the past 5 years. the CIO is part of the C-suite and operating as a strategic leader in the company. These times are really becoming make-or-break opportunities for CIOs to either step up strategically or be stepped over.

Steve Phillpott: This over rotation to working remotely will forever change our work environments and we’re not going to return to work as it was before.

Second, as we manage through times of crisis, it accentuates the importance of communication and the robustness of our communication and collaboration tools. Now more than ever, communication is critical, and we need to communicate more than you think you need to, and we need to seek out new forms of collaboration.   As we’re working remotely, we need a robust set of tools that can scale. On our side, we’ve seen a 3-5X increase in collaboration tool capacity in days, so the ability to scale quickly is critical.

Third, IT must serve as a role model to the rest of the company as a remote workforce. My IT team is global and has been across many companies for decades, and we’ve become the role model for how to keep connected as a remote workforce

Wendy M. Pfeiffer: One of the big things I’m thinking about is that many of our employees who are working from home are using consumer technologies such as consumer WiFi or computers they would otherwise use for gaming. So, this is a time when our IT technology is highlighted against that backdrop of modern consumer technology.

Sometimes it performs very well. But at other times it’s complex or difficult to have enough bandwidth. I’m talking to a lot of folks in finance, healthcare and education who have this mix of legacy systems but who need to create an interaction design with that modern technology. We’re getting so much positive feedback for doing this at Nutanix. Folks are returning our NPS surveys and providing incredibly positive feedback. One of our SE’s in Europe says this is how IT should work. We don’t just talk about automation – we drink our own champagne.

We measure everything we do using NPS. We just went from an NPS score of 89 to 94 over the past 30 days by relying more on automation, which is massive for an IT organization. As we’re watching our costs in these times of uncertainty, we’re contributing to a decreases in costs and we’re measuring that.

Steve Phillpott: I’ve probably never been thanked as often in an IT role as I have over the past few days because we have 32,000 workers working remotely and the executives recognize that. It’s IT’s chance to be recognized as a role model.

We also need to be considerate of the stress that people are going through as they’re working remotely from home. Not getting upset when the UPS guy rings the doorbell and the attack dog starts barking like crazy. That’s kind of the norm of our meetings now. As leaders in the organization, we also need to reasure folks that we’re there supporting them in a time of crisis.

Bhavin Shah: It’s important to give people an understanding of how the landscape is shifting. We’re helping organizations to quickly transform and become better at supporting employees as they are remote. We’re seeing a massive uptick in chat adoption. How you operate in this mode is going to separate those companies that succeed going forward and those that don’t.

Wendy M. Pfeiffer: The biggest lesson for me over the last two weeks is how to help people create structure when they are working completely remotely. The knee jerk reaction is to feel like it’s an emergency and to work 24/7. But that will exhaust people. So, what I’ve done with my team and we’ve since rolled it out to many employees in the company is that I’ve asked people to block out their work hours so that they can be available to help their kids with homework or if they need to take a walk.

What we discovered is that when we didn’t force people to fit into traditional work hours, we found more capacity for people to be available for extended hours in exchange for taking some hours to being available for their families. I’m encouraging people to do this. Even creating that schedule week by week is extremely helpful from a psychological standpoint.

Ralph Loura: We’re all entering very uncertain economic times depending on what business you’re in. Amazon’s certainly going to have a banner quarter with all of the shipments they’re making to homes. Then there are companies that are facing opposite situations. So how are you as an IT leader helping to provide your company with the financial agility it needs. Have you taken every item in your IT spend and broken it down from a ‘Run’ versus ‘Grow’ versus ‘Transform’ standpoint? And within `Run,’ how much of those costs are fixed versus variable?

Have you instrumented your IT budget against initiatives in the company that will survive? In IT here at Lumentum, we’ve been approaching this as a kind of mental pit stop like Ford v. Ferrari where we’ve been running this race and we’ve deferred maintenance because we’re competing so hard all the time. But while you’re in the pits, what are you doing to set yourself up to more effectively win the race? Are you investing in ITIl training or DevOps training? Are you paying down tech debt? Are you investing in systems that you could never afford downtime for but now you can?

Finally, as people are working from home, many of them have difficulty separating home from work. So, we’re urging people to set work hours for themselves to prevent burnout.

Wendy M. Pfeiffer: I see each member of our C-suite not only connecting with each other but also reaching out to schools and their communities to help them to connect during this crisis.

Ralph Loura: In these times of crisis, I’d offer the following suggestions: Be human and be empathetic. It’s all about your people.

To view the 2020 Virtual Summit of America on HMG Strategy’s YouTube channel, click here.

To learn about HMG Live! and other upcoming Virtual Summit Meetings, including our 2020 Dallas CIO Virtual Summit Meeting taking place on April 2 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET, click here.