COVID-19 won’t be our last crisis: How IT leaders can prepare for the next big one

By Chris Bedi, CIO, ServiceNow

Johannesburg, 03 Feb 2021
Read time 4min 50sec
Chris Bedi, CIO at ServiceNow.
Chris Bedi, CIO at ServiceNow.

The pandemic has forced IT leaders to find creative solutions that keep the enterprise running. But many of the systems put in place during COVID-19 were cobbled together fast. They may work for now, but how will they hold up when the next crisis hits?

ServiceNow’s Work Survey asked 900 C-suite leaders and 8 100 employees how COVID-19 is impacting business. We found that the pandemic has fundamentally altered the employee experience in organisations worldwide. Executives and workers across industries agree: These changes, many of them powered by IT, will permanently reshape the future of work.

Now that we’ve had a few months to adjust to the new normal, it’s time to put your systems to the test, so you’ll be fully prepared for the next business disruption. To see if you’re ready for the uncertainties of tomorrow, ask yourself these questions:

1. Are you future-proofing your company?

Nearly all executives (91%) and most rank-and-file employees (76%) in our survey report that many routine business processes are still managed offline. From document approvals (51%) to IT tasks like security incident reports (45%) and technical support (42%), a lot of the work involves manual tasks.

That’s not surprising, as many companies still struggle with laborious, manual processes that should be automated through workflows. However, I was surprised that 47% of executives in our survey said they want to return to how they worked before COVID-19.

Reality check: That’s not happening. Now is your chance to drop outdated technologies and make meaningful progress on digitising your core business workflows. Focus on reducing your offline work, rather than regressing to the cluttered, disorganised past.

2. How easy is it for your employees to get stuff done?

Your enterprise must retain top talent in order to thrive. Now is a great time to rate how easy it is for your employees to navigate the enterprise. Because of the pandemic, employees can’t walk down the hall to ask for help in person. They shouldn’t have to ever again.

As a case in point, at ServiceNow we use tools like predictive intelligence, improved enterprise search, and virtual agent chatbots to make it easy for employees to get the help they need so they can concentrate on their real work. By creating a personalised, one-stop hub for workplace solutions, we’ve made it super simple for our employees to submit and fulfil their requests. As a result, 60% of all employee requests are now resolved via self-service. Departments that serve employees – including IT, HR and legal – achieved a 40% productivity improvement at the same time.

The takeaway: Experience and productivity are two sides of the same coin.

3. Are you erasing silos to prepare for the hybrid work environment?

Many enterprise processes touch multiple departments. Onboarding is a good example. When you join a new company, you get your laptop from IT, your payroll signup from finance, your benefits information from HR, and so on. Yet new hires don’t care which department is fulfilling each service request. They just want everything ready so they can start working.

What are you doing to digitally erase silos?

4. Are you improving velocity?

When asked about their ability to pivot and adopt new workflows within a month of another major business disruption, surveyed employees and executives were equally pessimistic. From human resources to finance, most departments reported less than 50% confidence. Even IT barely cleared 60%.

Yet the survey also shows that organisations all over the world were able to overcome corporate inertia and adapt quickly in the face of COVID-19. About nine in 10 executives and employees agreed that their organisations changed faster than anyone had ever thought possible before the pandemic. And 87% of employees say their companies have enabled new and better ways of working.

CIOs I’ve spoken with told me initiatives that would have taken over a year are now getting done in six weeks. Decisions that took four months now only take a couple of hours. That’s because organisations know the only way to thrive is through digital transformation.

5. Are you reinvesting your savings?

One unexpected side-effect of the pandemic has been a reduction in operational costs. As lockdowns and social distancing restrictions spread around the world, business travel came to a halt. Many physical workspaces remain closed. In addition, everyone’s saving time. Fifty-four percent of employees in our survey said they value the extra time saved from not commuting or travelling for work.

Meanwhile, 88% of companies expect a decrease in operating expenses going forward. Across the board, executives and employees want to redirect these cost savings into digital transformation. In fact, employees picked digital transformation as the most crucial area for investment – even before benefits and compensation. This finding suggests workers understand the potential of digital workflows to improve their daily lives.

The Work Survey shows that the work innovations sparked by COVID-19 have mostly been beneficial for companies and employees. I think the changes we’re seeing are likely permanent. Even if your organisation returns to physical workplaces, there’s no point going back to the old ways.

Here’s my recommendation: Embrace innovations that help your company work better. That way, you’ll be ready for the next business disruption.