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COVID-19 has challenged leaders across organizations to move at an unprecedented pace, as they go from stabilizing operations to reopening the workplace to growing in the next normal. Startups have crumbled and more than 100,000 small businesses closed permanently in the new economic reality. Ninety-four percent of the Fortune 1000 have seen supply chain disruptions, forcing companies to quickly find new ways to reduce supply chain risk and the likelihood of any future disruptions. It’s safe to say that more has happened in the past few months than the past 10 years.

The impact of COVID-19 has made two things very clear: First, that the need for digital transformation has been accelerated by the crisis. Second, CIOs across every industry are in a mission-critical position to determine their business’ success or failure. IT can no longer be viewed as a separate domain of the business. As Jo-ann Olsovsky, CIO of Salesforce, said, “No matter what industry you’re in, we’re all technology companies, we’re all enabled by technology, and it is so important for us to find ways to drive efficiencies and innovation, and really be change agents throughout all of our organizations.” With all businesses becoming tech companies, CIOs now hold the key to accelerating digital transformation in their organization.

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Digital has moved beyond imperative — it’s now existential. According to a recent survey of Fortune 500 CEOs, 63% said that the crisis would accelerate their digital transformation.

Every industry faces immediate change, and every organization needs to deliver faster than ever before. To do so, companies need a new innovation model based on data processes and digital capabilities that can be easily and quickly composed into new experiences. As a result, IT’s role is more important than ever, as they maintain operations, launch time-sensitive initiatives, enable remote productivity, and serve as the stewards and co-creators of innovation.

The choices CIOs make in these moments are critical, and not all options are equal. According to a Gartner survey in March 2020, 55% of tech CEOs were not prepared for an economic downturn prior to COVID-19. How ready is your business to handle another wave of crisis? How quickly can your business transform to succeed in the new normal? 

During this time, CIOs and IT leaders have the opportunity to lead with future-proof foundations rather than continuing to introduce technical debt. There are two key factors to pay attention to:

  1. Are your technologies flexible and capable of handling change with speed and agility to address today’s needs?
  2. Are you built to scale innovation and set up for future growth?

Unlocking and integrating data with APIs is key to helping organizations respond quickly, increase agility, and scale to meet growing or new demands. Organizations need an API strategy, so they can compose existing digital capabilities to quickly deliver critical services, return to work, and prepare for accelerated digital transformation.

Structuring your approach

We have broken down how IT teams can adapt to today’s environment and beyond COVID-19 in these three tracks:

Track 1: Stabilize

Companies in this track are focused on mitigating short-term risks and stabilizing operations. Their focus is on employee health and safety, business continuity, and financial stability. The imperative is to act quickly and deliver with speed. To respond to time-sensitive, mission-critical initiatives, you need to be able to unlock, unify, and secure data, while maintaining business continuity and transforming to increase speed and agility.

Track 2: Reopen

Companies in the reopen track are planning and orchestrating how to return to the workplace. They are focused on new ways of working to enable reopening businesses and communities. In this location-independent way of working and operating our businesses, remote employees require digital independence. IT must shift from being reactive to proactive in accelerating innovation by democratizing digital access. They can do this via reusable building blocks that securely expose data and capabilities through APIs — enabling teams across the organization to discover and consume these business capabilities.

Track 3: Grow

Companies that enter the growth track are focused on accelerating new digital initiatives to become more agile. Organizations must unlock data quickly to address the digital imperative.

To do this, they need to become a truly composable enterprise. Modern applications are composed, not custom coded. IT needs to design for reuse and scale, so teams can expose and consume business capabilities with standardized APIs — driving innovation, speed, and agility. An API strategy will pave the road to legacy debt retirement by abstracting and loosely coupling systems. This API-led approach empowers IT and the business to create connected experiences and new revenue opportunities, faster.

We refer to “stabilize,” “reopen,” and “grow” not as phases, but tracks. That’s because, in a single company, various parts of the business operate at different paces. You might have one business unit or geography struggling to stabilize because of the lack of leadership communication, or insufficient information available to make fast and accurate operating decisions. They may spend a long time in “stabilize” before they’re able to move to “reopen” — this could be due to issues created by the crisis or pre-existing factors. At the same time, other parts of the organization may already be in the “reopen” track or well into the “grow” track because they were born digital or the market supports their business model.

The key point is that different parts of your business will be operating at different paces. So, by having a clear understanding and plotting out where the various business units in your organization stand, you will know what each needs — making it easier to align leadership teams on next steps.

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.