The COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping the world as we know it, presenting unique challenges that many business leaders have never confronted before. We are now forced to rethink future operating strategies and with the landscape continuously shifting, IT resilience will be key to protecting the health of both your people and your business.

At the federal level, the Malaysian Government recently announced the Short Term Economic Recovery Plan (PENJANA) – which envisaged to Empower the People, Propel businesses and Stimulate the economy. But what can us technology leaders do today to stable the ship at the organizational level? In the coming weeks and months, technology leaders managing through the crisis can expect to follow three waves: stabilization of the core, optimization of estate, and emergence into a more competitive position.

By taking action now in 10 priority areas, technology leaders can help organizations respond and realize a quick and competitive recovery:

1. Focus on critical problems

Don’t panic. While urgency is critical, the best way to tackle a challenge as big as COVID-19 is to think holistically and be intentional on your immediate, next, and future steps. Start by identifying the processes and systems that must be stabilized to support the business and prioritize daily work there. Then, prepare for the possible further degradation in performance using what-if scenario modeling and engage business partners and suppliers to understand what changes they are expecting to make and when.

2. Put people first

This is a decidedly human crisis. Making changes that support employee health and well-being is critical, including implementing flexible work hours or embedding work-from-home arrangements in your HR policy so that your people can balance remote work with family duties. This would mean a whole new way of working for your organization.

3. Communicate

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Communicate frequently, in an empathetic and clear fashion. Make sure to communicate in small, bite-sized chunks to avoid overwhelming people already awashed in information.  And don’t forget to use “human” channels, such as video, which help people engage and connect. This is also a prime opportunity to highlight your corporate values, as people look to the business for strong leadership in uncertain times.

4. Enable remote work

COVID-19 is forcing remote work arrangements for a large portion of the workforce and for an extended period of time. To maintain mission-critical processes, you’ll need to address alternative work areas you may not have considered before. Focus on immediate needs: right-scaling infrastructure capacity; buying new equipment, like laptops and modems; refreshing access rights policies; developing training aids to support remote employees in new ways of working; and mobilizing more resources for a significant increase in call center activities. Remember, just because you deploy the technology, doesn’t mean your teams would know how to use them; so, invest in enablement and providing hyper-care resources.

Once stabilized, create connectivity through standard, secure, and easy to use collaboration tools. According to KPMG’s survey involving over 3,000 respondents in Malaysia, those who leverage on collaboration tools (such as Microsoft Teams, Skype, etc.) as their main mode of communication while working from home reported the highest productivity levels (77%) compared to other modes of communication.

5. Invest in self-service and automation

If there was one silver lining from this pandemic, it’s probably the accelerated adoption of automation-related technologies in operations and businesses. Many Malaysian companies were already in the midst of deploying automation tools pre-COVID-19. What you can do now is cushion the impacts of COVID-19 on your customers and employees by giving the self-service options where they can quickly engage with the company.

Consolidate front-end channels and streamline interfaces wherever possible to create a clear and easy experience. This is also an opportunity to increase your use of bots and AI, which can help increase the productivity.

6. Optimize cloud infrastructure

When the majority of the workforce is remote, activity in your cloud and traditional infrastructure will peak more than usual. Is it ready to handle the load? Put a plan in place to scale cloud services, as well as hybrid and traditional environments, to meet increased demand. The plan should include compute, hosting, storage, network, telephone and collaboration suites. Remember to consider the data compliance, security, and regulatory requirements when shifting workloads and locations.

7. Review security, risk and governance

Significant changes to enterprise risk management are absolutely necessary for managing the COVID-19 crisis. For example, certain decisions may be pre-authorized or accelerated. However, each business change can weaken security and controls measures and put your organization at risk. Cyber criminals are already trying to turn the COVID-19 outbreak to their advantage, stepping up attacks, targeting victims with misinformation on fake websites and phishing campaigns.

To protect the business, ensure you have a clear understanding of impacted policies and controls and monitor accordingly. This is also the time to be extra cyber vigilant, deploying more resources, working collaboratively with others in your ecosystem, and applying extra scrutiny to your lines of defense.

8. Continue transformation work

When pushed to conserve cash, it’s easy to put transformation programs on hold during a crisis and revert to traditional working models. Resist the urge. By continuing to invest in high-value areas such as cloud, automation and agility, you can help the business survive and thrive in the short- and long-term. These hard-won programs are the key to emerging more competitive and ready to respond to the newly transformed business environment.

9. Reframe funding

Given the widespread business and economic impact of COVID-19, cost reductions within the technology function will probably be necessary in the next year. To lessen the burden, consider opportunities to move to variable cost models, such as XaaS, and remove unused fixed-capacity. Leading organizations will likely reshape both their funding processes to be leaner, more responsive and focused on continuous value delivery. 

10. Adjust the IT operating model

Every change you make to navigate the COVID-19 crisis will impact your IT operating model across multiple dimensions: process, technology, governance, people, service delivery, performance insights, and data. For many organizations, the future is suddenly now, with their digital enablement plans having been massively accelerated and scaled overnight. Going forward, think about how you can drive value by embedding these changes together, using methods and tools such as agile working, collaboration and integrated cloud. 

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