We are so thankful to all who took their time to participate in the 2020 Metis Strategy Digital Symposium. During this period of heightened uncertainty, it was especially encouraging to hear perspectives from global CIOs, CEOs, entrepreneurs, and investors about not only about how they are navigating the current challenges, but also how they are seizing the tremendous opportunities that have arisen.
Here are a few takeaways from the event:
The digital acceleration goes beyond the #WFH pivot. The pandemic forced many companies into to speed up their digital initiatives as they pivoted to remote work, bolstered cybersecurity measures, and began to automate a broader range of business processes.
In a poll of roughly 100 global CIOs who attended the Symposium, 42% said their digital initiatives have accelerated significantly, while 30% said they saw some acceleration. We have heard many CIOs say that digital projects that would have taken years under normal circumstances were completed in a matter of weeks, if not faster.
That acceleration appears poised to continue. CIOs noted that their firms have an increased appetite for transformation as they think about how technology can prepare them to emerge from the pandemic in a position of strength, armed with the digital tools that allow them to seize future opportunities.
This transformation requires more than automating tasks or cutting costs, however. Teams are now thinking about the broader changes across people, process, and technology that will make these transformation efforts stick.
People come first. Speakers noted that it is critical for leaders to openly acknowledge the human element of the crisis and the fact that people at every level of the organization are facing new challenges. Leaders continue to focus on ensuring their teams’ safety while working to create a sense of belonging.
It is critical for leaders to be visible and lead their teams with empathy, speakers noted. Overcommunicating – even to the point of sounding like a broken record – is essential, particularly while managing a largely remote workforce.
As the crisis wears on, many CIOs are also thinking about how to keep their teams motivated and productive, remove obstacles, and unleash their ability to innovate. That includes providing employees with the technologies they need to work productively and creating opportunities to gain skills that will help them thrive in the new normal.
Let customer needs guide new initiatives. A common refrain during our sessions was the need to focus relentlessly on the customer. This is particularly true in IT, where technology sometimes is deployed for its own sake rather than solving a particular customer need. CIOs noted that when they allowed customer needs to be a beacon for new initiatives, payoffs were often more immediate. They reiterated that a solution doesn’t need to be sexy to be effective, as long as it solves a key customer issue.
A customer obsession at the enterprise level, particularly with strong buy-in from the CEO and the rest of the C-suite, can also help break down organizational silos and provide a common cause for teams to rally around. CIOs noted that driving this customer-centric mindset requires a culture shift and new governance structures, but that the work is paying off.
Get the basics right. The quick and massive shift to remote work amid the pandemic changed the way many CIOs think about business continuity and scenario planning. It also created a heightened focus on security and spurred new discussions around the technology needed for employees to do their jobs effectively.
These discussions have driven home the need for companies to have a solid foundation in order for new digital initiatives to thrive. As companies plot their paths forward, many CIOs are seizing the opportunity to make sure the basics are as good as they can be. That includes reassessing enterprise architecture and evaluating systems and partner ecosystems.
Adaptability is a new core competency. Many CIOs noted the remarkable speed and adaptability shown by their teams as they pivoted to work from home and quickly shifted business processes to adapt to the new business landscape. Facing an uncertain future, the ability for organizations to quickly assess changing market needs and shift gears accordingly is becoming a must-have skill.
CIOs noted that in many cases their teams are more productive and moving faster than they ever thought possible. A key question now is how to maintain that momentum in a sustainable manner and ensure teams are chasing the initiatives that help the company meet its strategic goals. To that end, extreme focus and ruthless prioritization are critical, as is broad alignment across the enterprise.
As one CIO noted, it is important that technology leaders gain alignment with the rest of the organization rather than chasing new revenue opportunities for revenue’s sake. A shift to product-centered operating models is helping to drive that alignment, dissolve organizational barriers, and increase agility.
Look for the silver linings. While executives expect it will be many months before a return to some version of normalcy, speakers underscored a number of silver linings, including a renewed focus on strategic imperatives, an openness to new ways of working, and an increased appetite among corporate leadership to drive growth through digital.
While it is difficult to know with certainty what the weeks and months ahead will bring, there is nevertheless a strong push to identify and seize new opportunities.