CIO Must Pivot to a Safer-Smarter World

My boss used to say to me, "Isaac, read the tea leaves" to get a sense of what to present, share, and focus on depending on the business temperament.

Just two weeks ago, I was keynoting to CIOs about investing in data governance, agile data practices, and changing the culture to prepare their organization for machine learning organizations. I reminded IT leaders that a competitive, digital world required smarter-faster organizations.

But today, the world is a different place to lead.

The world has taken a hard pivot right.

For many of you far away from epicenters, the impact of Covid-19's spread may feel a little distant. You dusted off the BCP plan and updated its scenarios. You either asked employees to work from home, or you're prepared to require this change if problems materialize. You curbed travel. Most importantly, you communicated with customers, employees, and suppliers about your plans.

But yesterday's announcement deepened the level of response and medium-term impact on this crisis. European travel is banned. Most of the sports leagues are suspending play or conducting games without fans. Large numbers of universities are closing classrooms and shifting to remote ones.

This will impact everyone. It will crush many small businesses. It's time to recognize that the world dynamics have changed.

From a WSJ Survey: Coronavirus to Trigger U.S. Economic Contraction in Second Quarter

"Business and academic economists in the survey now expect, on average, gross domestic product to contract 0.1% at an annual rate in the second quarter. That is a large downgrade from February, when they still expected GDP growth of 1.9% from April to June." - 

The world is slowing down, at least temporarily. We must act safer. We still must make fast decisions, but they must be smarter and prudent despite having less information.

For CIOs, that means a new playbook or at least a highly modified one. I'm not suggesting abandoning prime directives, but let's face it, what business you can impact and risks you take on over at least the next several months needs rethinking.

What should CIO focus on?

  1. Focus on what people need - Employees, customers, and suppliers will all have different needs, expectations, and challenges. Stay close to them and listen for patterns. Be highly empathetic to those that are sick or caring for someone. 
  2. Ensure digital collaboration is working for everyone - Don't fall into the trap that just because employees have laptops, connectivity, VPNs, and your choice of collaboration tools (i.e., Slack, Zoom, Jira, Teams, etc.) that people and teams are ready to use them productively. Don't assume that teams know the best practices in engaging people working remotely using different tools. This is an important time to develop standards and share conventional methods. 
  3. Narrow down the priority list - At the end of last year, I challenged CIOs to seek out one absolute priority before going deeper into other wants and needs. Today, you must weed out the portfolio. There's no way leaders and employees can manage multiple conflicting priorities while working remotely with an oversupply of distractions.
  4. Pause significant organizational changes - As one CIO told me, this would be a very bad week to perform a major VPN upgrade. This is not the time to take on new operational risks or to make significant technology or process changes that require organized change management programs.
  5. Don't stop learning and experimenting - People still need to grow and explore. The speed and competition from digital business will pick up again. You might not be sending high performers to conferences, but there is still a great need to sponsor a learning organization that's always experimenting. 

Crucial for leaders: Now is the time to talk to colleagues and get ideas. I'm happy to schedule a call with you or find me as @NYIke on Twitter to start a public discussion.

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld,, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.