The CIO – Leading Through a Crisis

Without doubt, business is facing the biggest crisis of our time, the effects of which will be far reaching and long lasting.  When faced with a crisis, business leaders must adapt and change their behaviour – thinking and acting in unfamiliar ways.

Many businesses will have an emergency response plan in place, but in a situation such as this – a global pandemic – this plan must be altered and adapted as the crisis develops.  The main goal of leadership at this time is to keep your business operating as normally as possible, whilst minimising loss, and keeping a clear head.  The CIO in particular has the additional pressure of much of working life having moved almost entirely online. No mean feat.

Here we look at some tips to assist CIOs leading through a crisis.


Stay Informed

It is the responsibility of the leadership team to stay informed, whilst ensuring that the information sought is credible and trustworthy.  In a situation such as the COVID-19 pandemic, it is best to head for official health and government information such as the World Health Organisation, UK Government, and Scottish Government.  Although tempting, it is best to avoid using social media as a source of credible information at this time.

Be Accessible

During a crisis, leaders should be as visible and available as possible.  Obviously, the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic throws up unique challenges, with social distancing and self-isolation being the buzzwords of the day.  However, it is still possible to maintain a virtual ‘face to face’ relationship with your workforce using platforms such as Zoom, Skype for Business, and Microsoft Teams.   Replacing phone calls with video calls gives a chance to ‘meet’ with your employees and check in with them.  Communicate to your team and the wider workforce that you are available to speak with them and answer their questions and concerns. Encourage your entire leadership team to work in this way, making sure that they make time for employees and encourage them to get in touch with their issues.


Ensure Effective Remote Working

A huge challenge for CIOs and their teams is ensuring businesses can work remotely and flexibly, and that employees are confident in their ability to do so.  In the long term, it is important to ensure that key suppliers, contractors, and vendors are also able to access your systems if necessary, and that your system has been scaled to manage this and thoroughly tested to ensure it has sufficient capacity.

Ensuring that effective information and training materials for employees are available, and increasing your IT help desk capabilities should also be a priority.


Be Attack Ready

There is evidence to suggest that some groups are using the COVID-19 crisis to carry out targeted cyber attacks, setting up fake websites and increasing the risk of a cybersecurity incident.  It is essential that our employees are made aware of this risk, and know where to access definitive information, and how to avoid phishing attacks.  Consider the potential need to change your approach to security operations, and also how you might manage a security incident involving any outsourced/cloud based services that you may utilise.  PwC offer useful information as to how to protect your business from cyber attacks.

Plan for Future Crises

Whatever the situation today, we know that this crisis will not last forever.  Over the coming months we will move from the urgent phase, and into a process of recovery taking us towards the ‘new normal’.

However, it is also true that this crisis offers a unique learning opportunity for any future emergencies.  This is a real time test of the ability of leaders to prepare and carry out their crisis action plans, and a unique chance to experience the successes and failures. Leaders should be asking themselves, what has worked well, and what situations have arisen that haven’t been accounted for?

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