Coronavirus disruptions: How CIOs can prepare

By Ellen Daniel

Coronavirus has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, with 83 new cases declared in the UK in the last 24 hours.

Not only is this presenting an unprecedented public health challenge, organisations are bracing for business disruptions in the event of “social distancing” measures such as self-isolation.

Global research and advisory firm Gartner has set out three pieces of advice for chief information officers in order for businesses to “provide support to customers and employees and ensure continuity of operations” and prepare for disruptions.

It recommends that CIOs put large-scale business plans and preparations in place in the event that business operations are suspended or have to run at limited capacity.

“With such a dynamic situation like COVID-19, it has the potential to be as disruptive, or more, to an organisation’s continuity of operations as a cyber intrusion or natural disaster,” said Sandy Shen, senior research director at Gartner.

“When traditional channels and operations are impacted by the outbreak, the value of digital channels, products and operations becomes immediately obvious. This is a wake-up call to organisations that focus on daily operational needs at the expense of investing in digital business and long-term resilience.”

Coronavirus strategies for CIOs

The first place to start is ensuring that a remote working strategy is in place, ensuring that instant messaging, file sharing, remote meetings, applications used within the business and data are all accessible while also ensuring that all arrangements are secure.

In the event of staff shortages, it recommends that CIOs work with business leaders to identify “mission critical service areas” and also explore whether digital technologies such as AI or RPA could be used to automate some tasks.

In terms of customer engagement, organisations should deploy “workplace collaboration, video conferencing and livestreaming solutions” when face-to-face engagement is not an option.

“The value of digital channels becomes obvious as market demand shrinks and as people rely more on online platforms for daily supplies. Organisations can leverage digital channels, such as online marketplaces and social platforms, to compensate for some of the demand loss,” said Shen. “They can set up official pages/accounts and integrate commerce capabilities to enable online selling. They should also quickly adapt products to make them suited for selling through digital channels.”

Gartner recommends businesses maintain clear communication with employees regarding the ongoing situation and avoid information from unverified sources in order to avoid “ill-informed decisions being made and escalating employee anxiety”.

“Organisations can offer curated content, drawn from internal and external sources, to provide actionable guidance to employees. These sources include local governments, healthcare authorities and international organisations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO). HR and corporate communications leaders may be involved to vet the content and interpret the company’s policies,” said Shen.

“Organisations should set up a site, app or hotline to share this information on a regular basis. Employees can also use these platforms to notify the company about their health conditions and seek emergency support and care services.”

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