Many CIOs and IT professionals are feeling between a rock and hard place right now, battling the disruption caused by the global pandemic while facing immense pressure to accelerate their digital journeys.
Yet out of the crucible of these opposing forces, remarkable opportunities have emerged, along with new learnings and new innovations.
I recently had the pleasure of moderating a roundtable discussion with the CIOs of three large customers. I also spoke with two of my colleagues — Jeetu Patel, SVP and GM of Cisco’s Security and Applications business, and Todd Nightingale, SVP and GM of Cisco’s Enterprise Networking and Cloud business.
The disruption our CIOs faced was unprecedented. In the early days of the pandemic, one of them — a large health care system in northeastern United States — sent 1,000 back-office employees home within the space of a week. Many had never worked remotely before. Even today, only about 25 staff members are allowed back on site at any given time. And with 75 percent of workers set to remain remote, there appears to be no going back to the old ways.
Another, from a federal government department in Australia with responsibilities including immigration and customs border policy kicked off 2020 with the triple-whammy of massive wildfires, freak hailstorms, and the pandemic. With travel plummeting, the agency faced steep declines in revenue, even as the number of people accessing its network remotely soared from 500 to 20,000. This CIO’s team was asked to do more with less — and quicker.
Our third CIO — from a multinational technology company — said business continuity shot to the No.1 priority as markets went into lockdown. In India, that meant 200,000 people going remote almost overnight. This meant beefing up the network and VPN to keep mission-critical processes up and running.
Todd Nightingale said much of his focus is on ensuring our customers’ infrastructure is ready for these types of massive transitions. That means pushing critical resources, systems and functions to the cloud — such as Cisco’s Webex collaboration platform — and making them available everywhere, whether people are working from home, at critical sites or walking down the street.
“There’s this real need for everything we could have done from an office to now be doable from anywhere,” Todd said. “It’s an amazing transformation and it’s driving a ton of what we do.”
Jeetu Patel, who oversees our Webex collaboration platform, said that a major focus is providing digital experiences that are 10 times better than in-person interactions. For example, the new noise reduction feature in Webex, courtesy of Cisco’s BabbleLabs acquisition, eliminates the need for phrases like “Can you put yourself on mute?” or “Can you stop typing, please?”
Advice for becoming future-ready
Our CIOs stressed the importance of thinking outside the box, as well as upgrading talent to be ready for the huge opportunities they see emerging post-pandemic. For example, contact tracing is an opportunity to bring IoT (Internet of Things) to life. Given the vast amounts of data that will be collected, it’s also a time to think about security differently — not just as a function, but as a mindset.
They also cited four success factors for achieving greater resilience: agility, scalability, speed, and innovation. Among their recommendations: embracing the concept of the MVP (minimum viable product), rapid innovation, flattening organizational structures, and creating task forces.
Cisco’s Todd Nightingale said that the pandemic showed organizations how fast they can move if they need to, calling agility “the ultimate superpower for IT.” Agility is the core value driving Cisco’s focus on providing a “cloud onramp” through our platforms strategy.
Equally vital to agility, said Todd, is Cisco’s cloud automation strategy, which helps organizations transform their infrastructure “with a few clicks.” He also stressed the importance of monitoring network and application performance in order to ensure the best user experience. Cisco’s recent acquisition of ThousandEyes is critical to this, as it extends our end-to-end visibility capability into networks our users don’t necessarily own.
My closing message for the roundtable was this: Disruption is here to stay. Acceleration of digitalization is inevitable — we have to do it. And in many ways, the technology is the easy part. The hard part is breaking down the barriers to be able to respond with the required speed and agility. In that sense, the pandemic has actually helped organizations move faster, innovate more quickly and face into disruptions. The opportunities are here — it’s up to us to seize them.