Business disruption was a theme sectors could unite under when the pandemic first hit last year.
But IT departments faced very different problems to contend with in response to the change. Remote work, business continuity, shifting demand, supply chain reactions and other developments influenced how CIOs prioritized resources.
Four CIOs from sectors ranging from dairy to pharmaceuticals detailed the early pandemic ventures enabling business continuity and how their teams are preparing for future turmoil at BMC in Conversation on Tuesday.
Adapting to changing demand as an essential business
Borden Dairy, recovering from filing for bankruptcy in January, struggled to adapt the scale of milk production while demand was in flux, according to Satyaki Lodh, CIO at Borden Dairy. "The demand variability on a day-to-day basis was — for lack of a better technical term — was crazy," said Lodh.
Because Borden Dairy is considered essential, the company didn't face as large of a shift to remote work as other businesses in 2020, according to Lodh. But schools stopped needing milk to feed students as class went online and consumers panic bought dairy products in bulk to prepare for stay-at-home orders.
Business units collaborated to react and IT stepped in with the data management to help, according to Lodh. "It was about quick turnaround of information to the business so that they could make quick decisions" on labor, variable costs, management and other aspects, Lodh said.
Looking ahead, the pandemic proved the merit of IT investments for years to come. Members of leadership across units have realized "the value that IT can bring," said Lodh. "There has been a significant increase in the IT investments and I think that's something that's here to stay."
Automation replaces outsourcing in locked-down New Zealand
New Zealand's geographic isolation allowed it to completely shut down to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The country is faring well now, but the closure came with some business consequences.
On remote work, James Dickinson, vCIO at Treescape, said his company was well-prepared. "The operating model is incredibly mature, so COVID[-19] had almost no impact on the IT team," said Dickinson.
But with the country's borders closed, Treescape couldn't rely on outsourcing labor for certain tasks. Past digital transformation set them up for success, but resources were still scarce, according to Dickinson.
The company automated to "remove a whole bunch of micro tasks from a whole bunch of people, so that we could lift the productivity by taking away all of those repetitive items," Dickinson said.
Now, business leaders are using the pandemic as an opportunity to think "like a startup" to see what other investments could help the organization be more successful, according to Dickinson.
A classic tale of remote work success
More offices went virtual in 2020 — and many plan to retain work-from-anywhere in some capacity — but those best suited for success digitally transformed well before the pandemic hit.
"Because we are all, or mostly, software as a service … as far as our business applications, it was pretty easy for us to switch over," said Scott Crowder, SVP and CIO at BMC Software. The company bought a few more VPN licenses and upped bandwidth, but the tech transition was relatively seamless.
BMC investments largely focused on cybersecurity in the remote environment to prevent malicious actors from accessing the network or collaboration tools such as a migration from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams, according to Crowder.
With the remote work foundation in place, BMC is now focusing on innovating the processes.
"We're putting a lot of capital and research dollars into really bringing all of our different tools together as a platform and really enabling automation anywhere," Crowder said.
Cloud and collaboration come with hiccups
Since 2018, Aspen Pharma had been building a cloud strategy that made it easier to adapt to the remote work environment, according to CIO Marcos Gomes, but demand for pharmaceuticals rose.
"Because of that, business areas pressured us to accelerate our digital initiatives" during the pandemic, Gomes said. The IT department has since automated some processes to reduce lead time and mitigate risk.
But the internal preparedness didn't always translate to customer-facing services. While internally, Aspen Pharma knew how to navigate virtual collaboration tools, it took time to help hospitals, doctors and other clients adjust to virtual interactions with sales representatives, according to Gomes.
Today, the Aspen Pharma IT team is working closely with other business areas to continue optimizing processes and experiment, according to Gomes.