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Enterprise execs talk post-pandemic strategy

At the Connected Enterprise conference, a cross-section of CIOs and other IT leaders discussed their plans for a future in a post-pandemic workplace and what they've learned so far.

It's hard to overstate the impact COVID-19 has had on enterprises. Many had to restructure their workforce model from on-site to primarily remote and adjust to rapid changes in consumer needs while operating in a slumping economy. While those obstacles were too significant for several companies to overcome, those that have survived the effects of the pandemic have learned valuable lessons.

At Constellation's Connected Enterprise 2020 conference, a range of C-suite executives shared their post-pandemic strategies. Jay Ferro, CIO at concrete and cement maker Quikrete, said the pandemic has elevated the role of the CIO.

Jay FerroJay Ferro

"Rather than the pandemic hits and you go off the rails, it's driving innovation," he said. "I hope CIOs take advantage of this to keep the spotlight on IT and help everyone understand that IT is a critical part of the business."

Even in a time of crisis, Ferro said technical skills aren't necessarily what he looks for first -- rather, he is focusing on the soft skills.

"Adaptability, intellectual curiosity -- those are the skills I want along with a bias for action to serve the customer and follow up," he said. "I'm doubling down on the importance of soft skills -- I can teach the technical stuff."

Sandeep Dadlani, global chief digital officer at candy maker Mars Inc., also found a silver lining by using this time to accelerate innovation within the organization. "The pandemic has been quite awful from an economic and health perspective but a godsend for driving pace in the organization," he said.

Sandeep DadlaniSandeep Dadlani

For example, with retail opportunities limited, Mars launched WhatsApp ordering in Asia -- for Halloween, they launched Treat Town, an online community where virtual trick-or-treaters could appear in costume and give or collect candy credits to redeem online or in stores.

According to Dadlani, launching the digital platform and other new business models is a measure of success. "We want every associate to go a hundred times faster. That's now, but I don't think it will change post-pandemic -- it's how fast organizations have to be [in order] to react to change," he added.

Creativity and innovation flourish

In a more "normal" time, you might think companies would experiment and try new things more freely than when society at large is dealing with economic pressures. But it's quite the opposite according to Rajan Kohli, president at Wipro Digital.

Rajan KohliRajan Kohli

"I believe creativity and innovation flourish under constraints, and this is about as constrained for business as it gets," Kohli said. "In many cases, we're seeing businesses need to change because they have no other option."

Kohli points to several innovations that have come to the fore during the pandemic, including increased direct-to-consumer selling, contactless payment systems, curbside pickup and more advanced voice-enabled user interfaces.

Looking ahead, he said the move to work from home will have an impact well beyond the pandemic. "As a global company we always had a hybrid model with some people working in a physical location. We're finding now that some things that were hybrid work better," he said.

When creating a post-pandemic strategy, Kohli believes companies would be well-advised to recognize what's worked better and make more accommodations to ensure remote workers have enough access to other employees and the resources they require.

Brook Colangelo, CIO at Waters Corp., agrees that while the health crisis has caused "tremendous loss and challenges around the world," it's also given companies like his -- a leading provider of lab equipment, supplies and software for scientists across the world -- a greater clarity of purpose.

Brook ColangeloBrook Colangelo

"We have an innovative response team working on vaccines and therapies with 200 companies and we're seeing end-to-end teams working with no friction," he said.

As the pandemic took hold in February 2020, Colangelo said it became more important than ever to have a customer-focused mission. "Putting the customer at the center of it all makes [the business] more transformative and changes the speed we operate and it's fun -- speed is fun."

Adapting to the new normal

Management guru Tom Peters noted that a lot has changed since he cowrote the best-selling book In Search of Excellence almost 40 years ago and highlighted the management by wandering around style of Hewlett-Packard's founders.

"It was an analog for connecting with the people who do the work -- now we're in a Zoom world," Peters said at the conference. "But here we are having an emotional, connected conversation. For those who say they can't translate body language and energy in a Zoom call, they're full of [it]."

According to Peters, while the pandemic has significantly changed the way companies operate, the basic principles of how to manage have not.

"What you have done in the last six months, and what you will do in the next 12 months, will define your professional life," he said.

Moving beyond fear

Management consultant and author John Hagel is researching how people move beyond fear -- perhaps no better skill to have now. He said it starts with the kind of passion you see in extreme sports like big wave surfers.

John HagelJohn Hagel

"It's a very specific form of passion - they are afraid, but their passion drives them," Hagel said.

But society doesn't always see passion in a positive light. "Passionate people take risks; but starting when we're children, we're taught to carefully plan our careers," he said.

It takes specific skills to effectively integrate your passion with work. For some, that may mean rethinking and a move away from the institution they're with today, he said.

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