Editor's note: The following is a guest article from Tsuneo Fujiwara, vice president with Gartner's CIO Research team. His research focuses on the areas of IT strategy, digital business transformation, innovation, digital leadership and the evolving role of the CIO.
The COVID-19 outbreak triggered a wide range of planning activities as enterprises faced a dramatic disruption in priorities, resources and operations. It has also rendered most enterprises' strategic direction obsolete.
While many executive leaders are still focused on responding to the pandemic, they will soon be shifting their attention to recovering and renewing the business in the medium- to long-term as the next phases in the reset.
In enterprises that have started the recovery process, the CIO is not often actively contributing insights or helping manage these activities. Yet, many businesses have accelerated their digitalization plans to help with post-pandemic renewal efforts, making active participation of the CIOs in post-COVID-19 planning imperative.
CIOs must use adaptive strategic planning to navigate through the crisis and reset the overall strategic direction of the enterprise.
Applying scenarios, or "plausible futures," can help enterprise leaders make strategic decisions by understanding how best to react to different possible post-pandemic outcomes. CIOs can leverage scenario planning to secure a seat at the post-COVID-19 leadership table and help prepare the enterprise for success in an uncertain future. Here are the four steps that CIOs can take to do so:
Step 1: Learn the basics of scenario planning
Many enterprises are already familiar with scenario planning and perform it with regularity. It is particularly effective to explore the impact of major shifts in the environment, economy, or political landscape — and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.
The five-step scenario planning process include:
Identify a key issue or focal point, such as how the organization should deal with changes in consumer behavior caused by COVID-19.
Select the two most critical and independent forces or drivers that influence the outcome. For example, one uncertainty could be the duration of the pandemic and another the level of global coordination in responding.
Represent each of the two uncertain forces as a continuum (x- and y-axis) and identify each of the four scenarios in the quadrants with an easy-to-recognize name.
Develop initiatives and/or actions for each of the four scenarios and decide which ones to pursue based on enterprise priorities.
Monitor progress of the initiatives and pivot actions as real-time updates occur.
CIOs should study the mechanics of scenario planning to understand how it works and what success looks like. To support a more continual approach, CIOs must establish regular monitoring of the business context to spot changes as soon as they happen and anticipate the likely scenario that will result.
Step 2: Promote disciplined scenario planning to executive leaders
If the enterprise is not familiar with scenario planning, the CIO should be proactive in promoting it to executive leadership.
Develop a business case for conducting scenario planning, focusing on three core benefits:
- It highlights potential blind spots in current thinking
- It identifies and prioritizes impending events by importance
- It establishes triggers that will indicate these events are about to occur.
Next, determine the key stakeholders who should contribute to scenario planning. Engage with each one to discuss their views on critical uncertainties and their ideas for the best way to organize and execute planning efforts.
Summarize the discussions and insights when pitching the value of scenario planning to executive leaders.
Step 3: Secure a seat at the scenario planning table
Once executive leadership is looking to organize for post-COVID-19 recovery, the CIO's focus should be securing an invitation to actually participate in the process. This means developing a personal "value proposition."
Determine what you and other IT leaders contribute to the planning table as sources of information, as discussion facilitators and as sources of external partners and experts.
Set a meeting with the prospective scenario planning leader to explore their approach, demonstrate acumen of the process and set your expectation to participate. Determine the sources of information they intend to use to develop the key drivers and uncertainties and offer sources and talent from the IT organization.
Show your ability to contribute by offering specific perspectives. For example: "I think we need to explore the impact of accelerated digitalization efforts on our markets and customers," or "How do you think we need to frame the uncertainty of greater agility in the business over the coming two years as the pandemic is likely to remain a significant influence?"
Step 4: Contribute to planning initiatives
Once a seat at the scenario planning table has been obtained, maintain that position by meaningfully contributing to the process through learning, synthesizing, communicating and participating.
Continually research business models, metrics and key terminology pertinent to the industry and to emerging technologies that could support post-pandemic realities. Synthesize with key business leaders and brainstorm ideas, analyze their proposals and challenge their thinking. Is there something missing? How can IT help? CIOs need to communicate using business language and business values to deliver a clear, actionable position.
As an example, in the first weeks of the pandemic, one CIO at a large electronics manufacturer observed reduced efficiency among teams that were collaborating remotely to support a system globalization project. He responded by halting the project in its early stages, aiming to revisit the initiative when the key project leaders had the necessary collaboration tools and capability to mimic in-person project meetings.
Scenario planning enabled this CIO to quickly identify and communicate the higher risk and cost associated with keeping the project going under suboptimal working conditions to the other key stakeholders.
Finally, CIOs need to commit their time to actively participate in key meetings, keep themselves organized and follow up with other members outside of these meetings to ensure delivery on commitments.
The journey to the new normal could be long, and the timing and nature of the changes involved will be difficult to predict. By becoming involving in scenario analysis from the beginning, CIOs can earn themselves a seat at the strategic planning table.
Even more importantly, demonstrating leadership during this critical time can ensure the CIO is included in future business strategy discussions, post-COVID-19.