Businesses everywhere are asking tough questions about how they can mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis and plan for future success.

Amid continuing uncertainty, leading enterprises are looking to new revenue streams, bolstered business resilience and ramped-up digital transformations to help them get there.

But exactly what will this futureproofing entail? And, given the huge role technology will play, how can CIOs lead these initiatives?

These were some of the topics discussed by a panel of CIOs from multinational companies talking at the virtual roundtable The C-Suite View: Leading Resilient Growth, hosted by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) in Finland.

Embracing transformation

Around the “table” were CIOs representing banking and finance, the forest industry and manufacturing and logistics. Each of these sectors faced challenges even before the pandemic, from low interest rates and consumer uncertainty to transportation and supply chain issues.

These challenges and many more have been exacerbated by the crisis. But the panel were united in the view that companies can survive the storm and thrive in the future by embracing digital transformation, investing in innovation and pivoting to launch game-changing products.

The CIOs talked about how their organizations had already embarked on programs in these areas before the pandemic hit. This, they said, meant they were able to quickly and successfully navigate challenges such as the move to mass remote working and ensuring business continuity for customers.

One of the speakers equated an earlier shift to an agile operating model with their company’s ability to cut bureaucracy, increase autonomy and deliver new products faster in the transition to a post-COVID-19 economy.

This chimes with one of the main findings of the TCS report Digital Readiness and COVID-19: Assessing the Impact. It found that companies that were further along in their digital evolution have, on average, performed better during the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn. 

The gap between technology and business is closing, one panel member observed, and this is a positive trend.

Companies more technologically evolved have performed better during the pandemic. Source: Shutterstock

Keeping innovation alive

Even so, the CIOs noted, the pandemic had also been a learning experience and the momentum gained in digital transformation and innovation must not be lost.

One panellist pointed out that their company had made a multimillion-euro investment in a digital fund to support and encourage innovation from all of its employees. They described this as a way to keep the innovation agenda alive.

Another agreed, suggesting that organizations create “centres of excellence” to drive the business forward, investigate collaborations with scale-up companies and explore other ecosystems. Flexibility and scalability have an important role too, and the speaker talked of how their company had pursued the “as a service” model and moved to ensure transparency across their supply chain.

In an uncertain economic environment, these are all paths forward, they said.

There are valuable insights to be gleaned from technology too. Everything from following customer data streams to using Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to monitor the health of structures was discussed.

Above all, investment in digital technologies across a business’s entire ecosystem is a must, the panel agreed.

The Internet of Things is a powerful tool in the CIO arsenal. Source: Shutterstock.

Reframing challenges

The Digital Readiness and COVID-19 report expands on this, identifying six essential digital capabilities crucial to companies for responding to the crisis and moving past the pandemic.

These capabilities are: offering an end-to-end digital customer experience; using AI-powered data analytics to continually improve that experience; hosting core enterprise software in the cloud; using automation to handle a high degree of core business processes; using IoT sensors to track how products perform for customers; and capitalizing on digital ecosystem partnerships.

When the pandemic hit, a majority of companies had the technology to enable their employees to work from home. But most organizations (between a fifth and a quarter) lack these critical digital capabilities, and this has harmed them competitively in a world that has “leapfrogged into digital”.

The CIO panel was unanimous in its support of digital technology as a means to overcome the worst effects of the pandemic. But the speakers also cautioned that the greatest success factor for businesses moving forward would be to stay close to their customers and maintain a position of trust.

Technology will be crucial, but it will need to be augmented with the correct attitude. Reframing challenges as opportunities to be overcome is a great mindset for any company to hone, one panellist concluded.

As the virtual roundtable’s host summed up: “Technology is ubiquitous in the modern workplace but more important is the way in which we relate to it.”