Peter Sondergaard: The role of “digital” in managing the pandemic, the consequences of the Ukraine conflict and shaping a sustainable future

by Agnes Hartl

For many years, Peter Sondergaard was the Executive Vice President Research & Advisory of Gartner. Since leaving Gartner in 2018, he has been supporting global decision-makers as an analyst and consultant in the field of successfully mastering the challenges of digital transformation. Moreover, he is Chairman of the board of DecideAct, a company that offers a cloud-based platform for strategy execution management.

We are very much looking forward to Peter being a keynote speaker at the 15. Confare #CIOSUMMIT VIENNA. His performances inspire top-class auditoriums around the world. He inspires, excites and informs. We are thrilled to welcome him to the Confare stage as well.

In the run-up to the event, he spoke to Confare founder Michael Ghezzo about how Covid has changed the world and what is now needed for the next step in digital transformation.

In the first part of the interview with Confare, we talked about shaping organizations that are fit for the digital future and the role of the CIO in this. This time we turned to the big societal questions. Furthermore, we talked about the pandemic, sustainability, and the post-pandemic world of work.

I think digital and IT are a part of the solution for most of the problems we have from climate change to this pandemic situation. How does this affect the role of the CIO? And how can CIOs contribute to making this world a better place?

Peter Sondergaard: We are starting to recognize external disruptions as a constant. Additionally, sustainability is going to be a challenge for the world for several coming years. And health, whether as a pandemic or some other fact, will also remain a challenge for us. The CIOs are starting to recognize this as is stirring the way they look at technology in terms of how they act and what they do. So, I agree. I think the CIO has a very direct impact on issues of the world right now and how they get addressed in business operations.

You mentioned before that the pandemic has a larger influence on the role of digital in the organization. But how well did digital work in reacting and facing the pandemic?

Peter Sondergaard: I think it varied across the world. If we look at the public sector, I do think that there were some places in the world where it was prepared digitally. There was a higher readiness for the usage of data and digital in managing the crisis. However, let me take where I live now as an example of the other side of the spectrum. In the United States, it was not done well. There is no way that you can do the amount of contact tracing or anything like that on average that can be done in Europe. Also, across Europe, there were differences. Up in Denmark, where I am now, the public sector was ready, and so it was in Sweden and Norway. And so, the system there was ready and reacted across the public sector relatively fast.

What are the important parts of this readiness you mentioned? What should have been done by now? What are the issues we should address to be prepared better?

Peter Sondergaard: I think, and by no means am I saying that things are great where I am now because they’re not, but I think the infrastructure for digitalization existed. And by that, I mean that there was a public mailbox and a public integration of the data that existed. It was all in place and adopted by every citizen. It meant that you had the infrastructure to reach everybody. What was then additionally done was obviously the apps that allowed for things to work relatively smoothly. If I contrast that to then the United States, I mean the public infrastructure, digital infrastructure from the public sector is not there. And so, and, as you know, the United States operates very much with a private business mentality. Well, private business doesn’t reach all citizens. Because the concept of private business is not a monopolistic structure, right?  So, in times of crisis, when you need to react, everybody needs to have the same infrastructure. Otherwise, face challenges. If you look at the private businesses across the world, the ones that really had a well-articulated infrastructure and a data architecture where again the ones that actually did best.

With Russian war on Ukraine, we have a new crisis right now. How can CIOs and CISOs react properly on this?

Peter Sondergaard:  Well, I guess first must be said that obviously, we can all help on a humanitarian level.

I think it elevates the chief security officer to a much more important role if that person he/ she wasn’t already there. I mean, this person needs to be present and presenting at every company board meeting now. I think we can no longer just say that it’s something that happens and just ignore it. From a CIO perspective, I think we need to be much more diligent on the whole design of what we bring in product-wise and security-wise than we probably have been.

If you look at supply chain, I think there’s an opportunity now in terms of testing out more agile, flexible supply chain architectures. In Europe, we depend a lot on certain natural products, you know, minerals, food and more.

You have this situation in the US, called The Great resignation, loss of talent. Lots of people who changed the way they think about work and work-life balance. So, how does this affect the role of the CIO?

We need to go back to the question of what is the purpose of organizations? So, go back to the “why”. I think also the CIO needs to actually do that because attracting and retaining people is related to them feeling good about what they are doing. Why is this business a viable business? And what is it trying to achieve long-term?

We need to recognize that there are different purposes for why people work. We also need to learn to be comfortable with that as a CIO, shaping flexibility and agility into how you work.

COVID made many people aware of one thing: I don’t want to go back to the normal. I want to seek something else. So, that means that this concept of more flexible work doesn’t necessarily mean being stuck in on Zoom for 10 hours a day.

This is a question of flexibility and that is hard to design. I mean, in particular, the flexibility of work in Europe is probably sometimes more complex than it is in the US because in the US you have employment of will. People quit, but they can also be laid-off very quickly. In Europe it is different, so it takes more effort on both sides.

We’re seeing this in the US− that you are now trying to relocate yourself. I mean, you’re being very flexible on locations for accessing developer resources, which is why Silicon Valley isn’t necessarily the only attractive place to be a startup in anymore. And so, you know, where I live, in Phoenix, it is becoming a silicon desert. So, Taiwan semiconductor manufacturing companies are also building here as well. So, you see people are moving around. So, I think that the aspect of the location of things is becoming really important.

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