Lessons from the pandemic will reshape the enterprise, its tools and the leadership styles of CIOs and CTOs.

The dramatic change to working culture that has taken place since March 2020 and the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic will bring about major changes in the way people work, and how services are delivered. Last year, and at present, organizations have had to embrace the concept of the distributed enterprise, and rapidly scale up the ability to remote work and collaborate across homes, offices and production centers.

Remote working and the distributed enterprise are far from new ideas, and have been heralded for some time, but it took a pandemic to really demonstrate the value and business sustainability of the concept. Now proven, leading CIOs reveal elements of the distributed enterprise will become widely accepted, and as a result, change the leadership methods of being a CIO and the applications that organizations use to deliver their products and services. 

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“It needed the pandemic to prove that it is possible to work in different places,” observes Georgina Owens, chief product and technology officer (CTPO) with Life’s Back-Up, a start-up business. Owens, until joining the start-up, was a CIO in a major media organization with teams across the world. “In healthcare, they have seen more digitization in the last eight to nine months than they had previously seen in five years,” adds Martin Carpenter, a CIO with experience in health services, housing and the construction sector. “Previously there had been a lot of reticence to adapt to the digital world by staff and clinicians,” he says of how culture was a barrier to modernization, but the global pandemic changed that as health organizations had to consult with patients remotely. 

Carpenter adds that the health sector is far from alone in having delayed its digital journey; retail businesses were caught out by the need to suddenly become online businesses.  But with hospitals now able to keep administrative staff at home and check-up on patients via video or calls, shops delivering to the door and start-ups continuing to grow despite the pandemic, is the office a thing of the past?

“Brainstorming has been the biggest issue for us, but in general the productivity has increased,” says Ryan Purvis, CIO with HiLo Maritime Risk Management of how there are certain activities that are just more effective in person. “It had to be something huge to push organizations along,” Owens adds of the change that has taken place, but all three CIOs believe there will be a continuation of the distributed enterprise, but with a more enhanced element of physical working - once it is safe to do so. 

“I think a lot of people are looking forward to going back to the office. In the first lockdown, many enjoyed not commuting, but now I am seeing a real swing in opinion back to the cities,” Owens reveals. Carpenter agrees: “Everyone was in jubilation in lockdown one, but you have to think about the workforce as a whole, there are a lot of people that don’t have the right level of comfort to do their work. But the days of people in an office en masse is over,” he says. Owens and Purvis both added that they are seeing worrying levels of illness as people find the lockdowns increasingly hard on their families, jobs and communities. 

Businesses are benefiting from the change in culture though. Initially, there were fears that a distributed enterprise would lead to a decrease in productivity. “We have had to adapt and simplify our processes and try to cut back on bureaucracy as much as possible, and that is a nice thing to do,” Purvis says. Carpenter says the health sector has been on a similar journey to maritime risk. “In the NHS there has been a definite shift to less bureaucracy, and it has led to a ‘lets get this done’ attitude. In the past, there was always a concern about failure. That means cutting across processes, less release forms, and just focusing on the service. So there is a lot more pragmatism,” he says.

Business methods like Agile standups have also been proven to work in the distributed enterprise says Owens. “People always said you had to be there in person, but we have developed a product road map online, so it has been good for people to trust and challenge their beliefs,” she says. 

New Leadership Methods

Leading a distributed enterprise requires a new approach, and all three business technology leaders believe it will have changed the way CIOs and CTOs get results from their teams. “We now need to be very careful with the people we work with,” Owens says of the impact of the pandemic, a leadership change Carpenter describes as being “less transactional”. Purvis says he now books time into his day that is not work, its family time. This has resulted in the CIO being more productive and in agreement with his peers, better able to be caring to his team members. “Lets not have meetings for the sake of meetings, so go and book time out in your day to think, go for a run or a walk.  It has been a big process change for the business,” Purvis says. 

Looking beyond the pandemic, all three CIOs believe it will change their leadership style long term. “We will lean in and say to our team members to think about how they maintain a balance in life, and you will have to be more visible about how you conduct yourself and stand up for people,” Carpenter says. Owens and Purvis both add that it will be important for leaders to make sure that team members are aware that an email or message does not have to be responded at the time it arrives, and that all members of the leadership community will need to be aware of cultural differences in teams and parts of the organization - especially in global businesses. 

Applications, Tools and Platforms To Be a Remote Enterprise

CIOs have been enabling remote working and the distributed enterprise for the last decade, particularly through the use of cloud computing and the latest generation of application development platforms.  The pandemic has demonstrated the technology works and that organizations must adapt their culture, Owens adds that organizations will develop a “hybrid model” beyond the pandemic that enables the distributed enterprise, but also improves and increases the role of the head office. As the distributed enterprise grows in adoption, business technology leaders will need to ensure the applications that the workforce use can be developed and adapted to meet the needs of teams and employees in a variety of locations and scenarios. Carpenter says to achieve this, organizations will return to their enterprise architecture to guarantee that the “momentum to adopt new tools” takes place in a way that benefits the employee and the organization. He says the tools available today, when combined with a good enterprise architecture will deliver efficiency and clarity to the workforce. 

“Revisiting the applications and platforms the organization uses is really important,” Carpenter says, adding that any modernization of applications and the architecture must lead to greater interoperability, flexibility and work with standards.  Purvis says this will benefit CIOs, whose role it is to “solve business problems and do so affordably”. He adds that he expects the trend of ‘bring your own App’ to increase as a result of the rise of the distributed enterprise, as teams across the organization work with the CIO to create applications to solve business challenges. Application development platforms will provide CIOs and CTOs with the toolset to work in partnership with frontline teams to create the point solutions they require, safe in the knowledge that although a point solution, the application is integrated into the wider technology stack of the business. 

Owens says in a distributed enterprise, there is a lot more experimentation with technology or adoption of tools to do a task - sometimes dubbed shadow IT. She believes this is good and beneficial to the organization and adds: “Your auditing and monitoring should allow you to be on top of this activity and where necessary support it.” Carpenter adds: “There are technologies like low code and automation that allow those at the coal face of an organization to think about how they can improve their processes. As a CIO you have to think about how you harness these technologies and put the right ecosystem around them. The reason being most people have positive intent and that should be encouraged.”

In the next episode, business leaders from banking and staffing discuss how personalization is becoming vital to customer service and the way teams work. Don't miss it! 

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