Paul T. Cottey: US CIOs prepare for the return from the home-office – A number of questions need to be answered

by Julia Hübsch

Recently, in our factsheet “Work Anywhere” in cooperation with DELL Technologies, we were able to show how CIOs from top companies have successfully mastered the challenges of lockdowns and home office. (Here you can download it for free). In a recent article, Paul T. Cottey, CIO of Water Street Healthcare Partners, summed up his thoughts on how to reverse the bill. Read “Return to the Office Raises Big Questions for CIOs” here:

Paul is enthusiastic about the idea of the transcontinental exchange of experiences and has answered some questions for our blog about the role of CIOs in coping with the Covid19 crisis, how the task of the CIO is changing and what to consider as a CIO when the crisis is over at some point.

How is your company and your industry affected by the Covid19 pandemic?

We are a private equity firm with a number of holdings, so the impact of the pandemic has differed, depending on what the individual company does.  For our companies who make or distribute items, the key challenge was how to continue to operate on-site with the overlapping governmental and health requirements.  Our employees needed to be comfortable and safe while getting our customers the products they rely on.  For our companies who deal more with information, the key challenge was how to transition to working remotely while maintaining customer service and information security.

What role have CIOs played in overcoming these challenges?

Paul Cottey about Covid19 and the return to the officeThe CIO is often the senior executive with the broadest view of the overall company’s operations as his/her role spans the customer-facing as well as the internal-facing systems and processes.  The CIOs in our investments have generally worked closely with the Operations team to continue to serve their customers and with the CFOs to continue to operate the internals of the business.  The CIOs brought technology innovations to extend the company’s reach to remote sites and, in many cases, found ways to convert the employees very quickly from a desktop-based, location-based, environment to a laptop-based, truly-mobile world.  The CIOs have also worked closely with the Compliance and Security teams to make sure that this was done in a way that protects the customers’ and the company’s information.

To what extent has the role of internal IT changed in the wake of the corona crisis?

The role of internal IT has expanded to include new or different devices, new applications, and new locations.  For example, internal IT now generally supports one or more video conferencing platforms for all employees whereas IT used to only need to support a limited number of platforms for a small number of users, usually Sales and Marketing people.  IT has had to extend its support outside the four walls of the company’s locations.  The IT support teams are helping to identify issues with people’s home networks, with their home printers and monitors, and are no longer able to say, “Bring your computer to the Support team, and they’ll look at it.”  The IT teams have extended their support hours as people have extended their work hours, and this all occurred while budgets were under pressure and the IT staff were working on the transition to remote work!

Confare Factsheet Work Anywhere

What does it mean to return to the office now? Where do you see the most important challenges for the CIO?

The return to the office does not put the IT teams back on a pre-COVID basis.  The IT teams are going to need to support people working in the offices as they did pre-pandemic AND they are going to have to continue to support people working remotely.  This means the IT team is going to need to define new policies and procedures to support this new hybrid world.  Some of the questions they will need to address are:  Is IT going to continue to issue laptops to people who used to work in the office five days a week because now they may work remotely a day a week?  Is IT going to continue to help troubleshoot home networks and printers, or is IT going to say that there is a working network and a printer in the office and that is the end of their responsibility?

The CIO is going to need to work with the Operations, HR, and executive team to determine what is going to be supported in the future and then will need to work with his/her IT team to determine how to support that at a high level of service and at a reasonable cost.

The biggest challenge that our CIOs have is how to form strong ties with their peers and with their internal customers in the overall context of the company’s culture.  Without the shared time in the break room or by the coffee machine, it is more difficult to feel like one team with a common set of goals and so IT is being required to communicate more often and to take extra measures to build relationships.

What are the prerequisites for successful cooperation between the CIO, HR and the departments concerned?

The most successful CIOs already had good relationships with HR and other departments before the pandemic and so they have leveraged those relationships along the way.  That meant that they spent time together, had a set of shared goals and measures, and had genuine respect for each other.  If they did not have that relationship going into the pandemic, it is not likely that they have built it along the way!

Going forward, successful cooperation means listening to the other departments and being willing to change.  The easiest path for a CIO, or for any executive, will be to say, “No, we can’t change.”  The CIO will need to remain flexible and will need to take the time to explain the trade-offs to changing how a company operates.

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