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As we stepped into the new decade less than six months ago, there was a lot of excitement about what’s in store for individuals and organizations. However, nobody could have predicted the speed of change that would take place over the last few months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Still, many businesses have adapted and used the pandemic as a catalyst for modernization and change — proving their resiliency. 

There are a few common themes that emerge when we think about the companies that have weathered the storm and adapted to change. Companies that have responded well to the change are the ones that were already leaning into a “digital/cloud-first” mindset or had a solid digital transformation plan coming into this crisis. In a work from home economy, the digital businesses have seen exponential demand and the companies that were prepared for it, have gained market share and earned customer and employee loyalty. Now that governments and organizations have started to build a reopening strategy, it will be worth understanding how the businesses and institutions need to react to continue that momentum into the next phase of socially distant society. For context, we think of this crisis in three phases: 1) Response to the crisis, 2) Reopen, and 3) Next normal.

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The pandemic has just highlighted the need for speed, agility, and resilience. The businesses today need to be ready for any magnitude of change and the ones that have done well so far in response to the pandemic have been the ones who are fast, agile, and nimble. 

The initial stage was driven by the need of the hour, top-down response (adhering to the federal, state, and local regulations). Phase two will be more nuanced. It will present the organizations many opportunities to get ahead and leverage the tools they put in place during phase 1. Organizations will need to respond quickly and be more agile. IT provides that agility to business. An IT leader’s vision, foresight, and preparedness will be key to get the business ready to respond, survive, and thrive as the economy starts to reopen. 

As businesses look to reopen they are looking to answer the following questions:

  • How and when do I get my employees to return to work? 
  • Do we need to reimagine who we are and how we engage with our customers? 
  • Will my employees have the right skills for the next normal? 
  • Is my organization set up to handle any future crisis? 

How and when do I get my employees to return to work? 

Here you will evaluate if it’s safe to bring back employees to the workplace. You will need to evaluate if the workplace is ready to take employees safely (adequate testing, social distancing, etc.) and vice versa. Are the employees physically, mentally, and emotionally ready to be back?

Do we need to reimagine who we are and how we engage with our customers?

This is where the organization will need to evaluate the strategic outcomes of the business. How has the pandemic impacted the customers, their needs for our products/ services and our relevance? Should there be additional channels of delivery for the same products / services to make them attractive to the customers?   

Will my employees have the right skills for the next normal?

This is really important to get right as employees will feel a sense of vulnerability as they come back to work in the office or from home. There is a clear need to re-skill your workforce to lead and support digital transformation and use real-time data to respond more quickly. This will set the stage for who can actually achieve agility and properly adjust to the needs of the market.

Is my organization set up to handle any future crisis? 

This goes to the heart of the issue at hand. What does the new operating model look like? Is the organization ready to deliver the recontextualized outcomes? How can we leverage the institutional knowledge gained during these trying times to set up our enterprises for future flexibility, resiliency, and success?

As the business goes through the turbulence — know that the next normal will require the organizations to pivot even more quickly than before. Digital transformation will be front-and-center during this next phase. CEOs and CIOs must collaborate on the outcomes and IT will be the strategic driver of these value initiatives. 

  • Align IT and the business around a target digital operating model that will bring the CEO’s vision to life.
  • Create a single enterprise digital governance model that underpin digital operating model.
  • Unlock value of data through “build once, reuse infinitely” API network model.
  • Automate decision making for greater speed, especially for known work patterns.

As the employees return to work, provide them with greater flexibility around location. The crisis proved that remote work can be successful. Now the focus should shift towards providing employees more flexibility around talent fulfilment. Here are some things to keep in mind as technology leaders think about their talent pool: 

  • Centrally review new skills and roles needs based on market changes.
  • Explore overall best hiring options (hiring, reskilling, contracting, labor partnerships, etc.).
  • In addition to the onshore/ offshore model, think about the gig economy approach to find the right talent anywhere in the world. 
  • Enable business teams to build powerful apps through low and no code platforms and augmenting teams with design expertise. 
  • Emulate your delivery model on the lines of a composable enterprise. 

The ripples of the business disruption of the past four months will continue to come at us for the foreseeable future. In order to respond efficiently, you should flex your ‘start up’ muscle. A powerful example of this business model transformation is Fender. They are a popular guitar and acoustic instrument maker founded in the 1950s. However, during the lockdown, they evolved into the largest online guitar lessons provider. Here at Salesforce and MuleSoft, the teams are doing the same with the newly launched product to help governments and organizations reopen safely around the world. The product went from ideation to announcement to a successful launch in six weeks. Today, over 35 states and many businesses are using this technology to reopen safely. 

CIOs and IT leaders are uniquely positioned to lead the business through challenges in each track. To dive deeper into the steps of how to navigate these tracks, download the CIO guide to crisis recovery.