Some of the world’s most iconic companies — from GE to IBM and Disney to Microsoft — have their foundation in a recession. The critical importance of businesses being agile enough to scale up or down with fluctuations in demand has been reinforced by the widespread disruption caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Cloud, and its enabling technologies, are backstopping the massive shift to remote work, while digital transformation is becoming a leading strategy as companies position for growth following recovery.
As such, CIOs act as companies’ glue during coronavirus disruptions; crafting IT strategies to quickly scale resources to support remote work and incorporate scalable applications to reallocate excess capacity. In times of great uncertainty and challenge, IT leaders can also be the driving force behind tomorrow’s innovation engine.
“The value of digital channels, products and operations is immediately obvious to companies everywhere right now,” says Sandy Shen, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. "This is a wake-up call for organizations that have placed too much focus on daily operational needs at the expense of investing in digital business and long-term resilience. Businesses that can shift technology capacity and investments to digital platforms will mitigate the impact of the outbreak and keep their companies running smoothly now, and over the long term.”
Strategy is Critical
Regardless of how you execute —the key is to remain strategically focused on long-term gains that you can seed now and harvest later. For, in a downturn, many organizations prioritize near-horizon innovation efforts, leaving long-lead opportunities unspoken for. This is a clear opportunity to sprint ahead of the competition, especially in areas where your competitors will need to make that same long-lead investment after the downturn ends.
While the right strategy for your business depends on a wide variety of factors, here are a few places to begin assessing what to address in order to build business resiliency and position for growth.
How to Get Started
Start with a strategic roadmap review. Seek to identify projects with the greatest positive impact and with the least amount of risk. I recommend an apples-to-apples total cost of ownership exercise to analyze each project’s relative cost and benefits, comparatively ranking each. Have the courage to kill zombie projects and re-allocate the resources to new projects. While we have a proprietary framework we use for our analysis, there are many industry models available.
Establish clear KPIs and success metrics for each project. Working in an agile fashion, it’s important to set milestones that are reachable within defined time-box periods to help the team identify any barriers to success as quickly as they emerge. In this way, the team can simultaneously be accountable for project outcomes, flexible to meet challenges as they arise, and actively monitor project TCO to ensure it doesn’t balloon unnecessarily. Moreover, as some projects may be experiments or tests, KPIs can act as go/no-go gates where project viability, sunk costs, and other factors can be actively monitored.
In addition to business-specific projects, strategic upgrades of technology and technology-related processes are common investments in a downturn as added automation can help free human resources while providing teams with the tools to experiment more, fail fast, and measure results quickly and accurately. Thus, allowing teams to develop experimentation processes that are more likely to identify failure, hone successes and create business-impacting outcomes faster — all with greater team productivity. Said another way, automation can fuel iterative improvement that leads teams to greater success.
Whether you adopt DevOps, an Agile mindset or another lean approach, seek to optimize processes. This is a great opportunity to revisit team dynamics and optimize workgroup processes to ensure healthy communication and collaboration so that teams are in sync and working closely to optimize productivity.
Above all, be agile, flexible, and open to change. If you establish a lean foundation and keep it as your true north, you will be able to effectively react to change while maintaining a spirit and culture of innovation.
While you don’t need to start a new business to accelerate out of a downturn, strategically-placed bets on innovation can help your business leapfrog the competition and harvest dividends that pay over the lifetime of the business, creating a virtuous cycle of experimentation and innovation that builds with time.