The Wartime CIO: How To Think About Digital Transformation During a Crisis

Dattatri Radhakrishna Digital Transformation, Uncategorized
The Wartime CIO: How To Think About Digital Transformation During a Crisis

When Silicon Valley investor Ben Horowitz wrote about the difference between a “wartime” CEO and a “peacetime” CEO in 2011, he redefined the way we think about business leadership in times of crisis. But it’s not just CEOs who have to adjust their strategy in uncertain times. CIOs also have to react to the unexpected, from unanticipated competitors entering the market to a global pandemic.

The wartime CIO often has limited resources, and they have to narrow their priorities based on the problem at hand. Though digital transformation is a byword for every CIO, it takes on a new meaning in a crisis. Digital transformation plays a major role in helping companies adapt to a wartime mentality and in helping leaders reach their new, crisis-related goals.

Digital Transformation and the Wartime CIO

Wartime CIOs cannot focus on the same business goals as peacetime CIOs. They have to shift their priorities based on the crisis at hand. They need to deal with detail-oriented crisis management goals rather than look at the big picture or set long-term goals.

The Wartime CIO: crisis management goals

For example, a peacetime CIO might be looking at how to grow the company or expand their product line. The same leader in wartime is dealing with narrower goals, like how to cut the research and development budget by 20% or how to rapidly transition large numbers of employees to remote work.

With this shift in priorities comes a change in how CIOs approach digital transformation. In peacetime, digital transformation is a means of growth. During a crisis, it is a means of survival. It offers solutions to the day-to-day problems CIOs now face. New technology can help cut costs and streamline processes, helping the wartime CIO meet their goals.

How Digital Transformation Can Help Your Company Adapt

As a CIO, once you start to view digital transformation as a way to address a crisis, you can see all the different ways technology can help your company tackle those ongoing challenges.

Improve Communication

Communication is always important, but it’s especially crucial for crisis management. Open communication is the best way to ensure that your team stays up to date as you shift company priorities. Implement new technology or adjust the way you use your current tech stack to increase communication speed and efficiency.

Wartime CIOs need to react quickly to changes, and they should inform managers about said changes as soon as possible. That’s why it makes sense to focus on real-time communication technology. Slack is a good option for text-based updates, or you can use video conferencing tools like Zoom for face-to-face status meetings. These types of tools are especially useful for remote managers and employees because you can’t drop by someone’s desk to update them in person.

Schedule regular one-to-ones and team meetings with your managers, and make sure they do the same with their teams. Constant communication will help you see if any managers or employees are struggling and will help prevent bottlenecks in your crisis management plan.

Define and Share New Priorities

Another way to minimize confusion is to clearly define new priorities and share them with your managers. Make sure all teams are on the same page and know where they need to focus. If you don’t clearly outline new goals, employees will likely keep working on the projects they started before the crisis, which may no longer be the best use of limited company resources.

Send out frequent updates regarding new priorities and progress the company is making toward crisis-related goals. Use document-sharing technology, such as Google Docs, rather than mass emails.

Wartime CIO: Communication strategy

Shared documents allow team members to view and comment in real time. If anyone has questions, they can ask in the doc so that the whole team benefits from the answer. This will save you and your managers time because you won’t have to repeatedly answer the same questions.

As a wartime CIO, part of your job is making sure your team can keep up with rapid goal adjustments. You can help your team by choosing three to five priorities each week that they need to focus on first. At the end of the week, check in to see what progress has been made, and plan out priorities for the next week. This will prevent overwhelmed managers and ensure that your team is working toward the most important company goals at any given moment.

Accelerate Onboarding

During a crisis, you need all of your employees to work at peak efficiency, but you may have limited resources to spend on training and onboarding. Digital transformation in the form of training technology can accelerate the employee onboarding process and get employees to productivity faster. This is true both for new employees and for employees who are taking on new assignments during this period of change.

Digital adoption platforms (DAPs) are a great way to speed up onboarding and maximize training resources. With Whatfix, for example, you can set up automated walk-throughs and videos to train employees on your software. Because the training occurs while employees use the software, there is less need for manager input.

wartime cio: accelerate onboarding with whatfix dap

Once a DAP is implemented, it is available for current and future employees. This saves time and lowers training costs because you don’t need to continually host new in-person training sessions. DAPs are ideal for remote employees because the training is done wherever they are, as they use the tool, and on their own schedule. This is especially critical while managing a remote workforce, since they cannot simply stop into a colleague’s office for help.

Training can start right away with no in-person scheduling needed. Implementing training technology such as DAPs helps stretch limited training resources, frees up managers to focus on other tasks, and speeds up training so employees more quickly reach high levels of productivity.

Enable Self-Serve Support

Save your managers and employees even more time by implementing self-serve support technology. That means setting up easily accessible resources so employees can find answers to questions without having to seek out managers or other team members. If employees can help themselves, they don’t need to waste time waiting for feedback, and manager and support staff spend less time answering employee support questions.

The simplest solution is to establish a knowledge base. Collect and organize all of your training and self-help materials in one place so that employees can easily access them.

Self-serve support is another use case for DAPs. They are equipped with self-help menus that can be populated with existing self-help material and can be added to as needed. The self-help menu is available at any time and automatically shows the most relevant articles, walk-throughs, and videos, based on where the user is in the platform.

Wartime CIO: Self Help by Whatfix

Another option, which can be used in conjunction with a DAP, is a learning management system (LMS), such as 360learning. With an LMS, you can create and store training materials, and employees can access them from anywhere on their own time.

These solutions can be implemented individually or in combination, depending on the amount of support and organization you need. No matter which option you choose, self-serve support technology will save time and energy and allow you and your managers to focus more of your resources on the crisis at hand.

Identify Customer Concerns

When your company is operating in crisis mode, assessing customer health and preventing churn is more important than ever. Digital transformation offers a solution here as well. Use technology to organize and track customer data so you can spot and address any concerns as soon as possible.

If you are the CIO for a SaaS company, track customer usage patterns, and watch to see whether there are specific areas of your software where customers are getting stuck or whether there are features they’re not using. By addressing problems right away, you can prevent further frustration, reducing the likelihood of churn, and reassure the customer of your excellent customer service.

If you use a DAP, the analytics section will show you what features customers are engaging with and what support materials they are accessing most often. You can also see what terms they are regularly searching for that do not have videos or walk-throughs. This allows you to add self-help materials for those terms without waiting for official customer support requests.

Wartime CIO: user or customer concerns

Another option is a customer data platform, such as Segment. This technology shows you how customers are using your technology and where they are getting stuck.

Watching for problems and addressing them immediately can also reduce support ticket time and increase customer retention, both of which are vital during a crisis.

Digital Transformation: The Key to Your Crisis Management Tool Chest

Digital transformation is a key part of a CIO’s job, but wartime CIOs have to look beyond technology’s role in company growth and diversification. When times are hard, technology offers solutions to little problems as well as big ones, from improving communication to speeding up onboarding to tracking customer data. Digital transformation is the key to implementing these solutions, and it is a crucial part of crisis management.

Dattatri Radhakrishna

Dattatri Radhakrishna

VP of Engineering at Whatfix
Seasoned and inspiring tech leader with more than 23+ years in the IT industry who has built great engineering organizations from the ground up, through a long term strategic vision and hiring, backed by intuitive people management and sound organization planning. Datta is highly skilled in delivering complex and scalable Enterprise Software solutions for fortune 500 companies. He currently leads and manages the innovations that go behind the Whatfix platform.
Dattatri Radhakrishna
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