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Harnath Babu
Chief Information Officer
KPMG India

How CIOs can lead the way and navigate the disruption caused by COVID-19

A few months ago, the thought of work from home as a viable long-term option would have seemed absurd, and so was the idea of education sector moving to remote learning, healthcare providers adopting telehealth, brick-and-mortar businesses transitioning to digital presence, and so on. In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, we can see how the future world looks like – where digital is most likely to form the foundation for interactions that take place for enterprises as well as individuals.

This is where the role of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) comes into play to strike a balance between what worked before and what changes need to be embraced to succeed in this new world and be future-ready. CIOs have their backs against the walls to meet the digital demands of business users while maintaining business continuity. As we focus on getting past the first wave of crisis management, our focus must lie on taking actions along the two major dimensions, viz., digital transformation and security, to survive and thrive in the post COVID-19 era.

Boldly accelerate digital transformation
Life in office is well defined: There is a mix of cubicles to sit with the respective team and work together. Then there are co-working spaces and conference rooms for meetings and collaboration.

Fast forwarding to today, we are working from home, communicating through virtual spaces, implementing a digital mechanism for business transactions, migrating to cloud from on-premise systems, and much more.

Ironic, as it may seem, this is the moment of crisis wherein we are required to advance our digital agenda. And we can start by asking: What are the steps that we need to take to drive digital transformation –especially those that we did not take in the recent past even though we saw them taking centerstage eventually?

Cloud
We can see how the demand for remote work, access to critical applications, and scalability of the infrastructure has increased. In this scenario, the cloud has brought stability and flexibility for online platforms and services so they can continue functioning without being overwhelmed by the sudden increase in the number of users going online to do business, work, or play.

Therefore, businesses must adapt cloud and edge computing – helping them decrease latency and enabling faster responses for critical services.

Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT is another front runner of technology and innovation as it helps not only eliminate the need to touch objects to operate them in different scenarios, be it at home, office, or anywhere else, but also drive transparency, maintain real-time tracking mechanism, as well as improve security.

Businesses must, hence, deploy IoT devices that help them with remote condition monitoring and management of assets while supporting contactless transactions.

Robotics process automation (RPA)
Automating business processes through RPA is another dire need of the hour to streamline operations and reduce costs. With capability to enable remote operations and handle the surge in volumes for critical processes, it can help enterprises in expediting crisis response management, mitigating productivity losses by automating business-critical tasks, as well as supporting business continuity planning.

Strengthening security
While focusing on digital transformation, enterprises also need to safeguard themselves against cyber-threats, especially as attackers are exploiting the fear and doubts around COVID-19 through social engineering and phishing attacks. The need is to create a single, integrated framework along with a plan, based on people, processes, and technology, to create a layered security environment.

People
Your staff may pose some of the greatest cyber-security threats. However, when they are kept well informed with the industry best practices, they can prove to be an asset and the first line of defense. So, enterprises must release a few mandatory training sessions, so employees are aware of the potential scams like social engineering, phishing, and more. The training programs must also highlight the ways to avoid falling into the trap of any scams that make enterprises vulnerable.

Processes
This layer would help ensure that there are processes to proactively respond in case of a cybersecurity incident and help prevent any breach. This includes having a well-crafted cyber incident response plan in place, protocols to effectively detect and respond to threats, and a mechanism to monitor each area of the network.

Technology
Enterprises must focus on creating a security fabric that can help them quickly detect and mitigate any cyberthreat. This would include leveraging deception technology, deploying data leakage prevention tools, and implementing technologies, such as multifactor authentication and control mechanisms that help access internal applications remotely and monitor them.

Final thoughts
While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we expected the future to look like, enterprises are forced to accelerate their digital adoption curve, along with cybersecurity posture, almost overnight. This digital world is where digital collaboration has become the key enabler of remote working, cloud is the force multiplier, automation has become a key driver of productivity, and faster time-to-market, and an agile working environment is a prerequisite to meet client expectations.

The challenges that CIOs are facing today are possibly more grave and intricate than ever before, as it is up to us to not only help businesses continue their operations as-is, but also help them adapt to the changing demands and restart while promising to deliver agility, scalability, flexibility, proficiency, as well as cost savings. 

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