Coronavirus deep impact: every company is a digital company. 10 tips for (digital) leaders from the future

10 tips for (digital) leaders from the future….

I have been in touch, during the last days, with many colleagues in Italy and abroad working in healthcare and universities. With the Italian colleagues I shared similar experiences, our pains and gains: as someone said, “we did in 3 weeks what it would normally take 3 years” or “I am invited to every emergency and non-emergency meeting. Now everybody is hungry for digital services. Two weeks ago we were for the most part a fairly analogue company, now we are a digital one!”. Then I saw a post on linked-in explaining that what we are experiencing now Italy in not so different from what happened a few week ago in China and, most probably, what will happen in a few  days or weeks in the rest of Europe. When a colleague from UK (thank you Krish, I like your wise “risk-based approach”!) asked for a video-conference to understand what he should expect to happen in the near future, I realized it: it’s a time machine! We are 2-4 behind China and 2-3 weeks in the future compared to the rest of Europe. So I thought it could be interesting to share some tips from the future with other IT and non-IT leaders. My experience is rooted in the university and healthcare context, but you can probably generalize most of the tips. Anyway, you can consider my testimony from the future or not… it’s up to you. I have done my part and I don’t know where I’ll be when you will reach my timeline!

  1. Plan NOW for the worst case scenario. The context will evolve faster than you can imagine. We changed the landing scenario every 2 to 3 days in the past 3 weeks. We started planning to stop the lessons for 1 week with the university open, we ended up with a horizon of more than one month of closed university with faculties providing remotely eLearning for all the students. So I strongly suggest you plan upfront (better now, before the wave will hit you) for the worst case scenario. Identify the risks of a near future where your company/university/hospital is totally or partially closed AND fully functional. So you must rely heavily on digital services. Than split the scenario in intermediate steps and execute methodically on the current scenario. If you are lucky you will stop before the worst case. If not… call me back, I’ll probably be able to share some more tips by then.
  2. Digital Transformation is not converting analogue processes to digital. For example, digital learning is not streaming (or recording) your analogue lessons. True, you will be in an emergency setting, so you cannot be choosy, but you can try to get the best from this violent transition. The best faculties are not simply recording video-lessons; they are embracing new learning methodologies such as flipped classroom. The same is true for other contexts. Quick and dirty is not the only option. Quick and clean is possible, if you take your time now to prepare. However, you can be sure: quick it must be!
  3. Smart (or better remote) working at scale: get ready, the traditional approach based on a standard VPN (Virtual Private Network) + Laptop configuration is not applicable at scale unless you are working in a tech or consulting company. Get ready to have not 20% but 99% (somebody always gets lost) of the company employees working remotely. In a few days. Start thinking about it…
  4. Integration is the key: a cross-organization crisis committee will emerge, in a way or another. Be sure the committee is working as a team, as integrated as possible. A daily stand-up meeting will help to have everybody on the same page. Bur be sure everybody is represented. For example, you can get the worst from your heroics if marketing is communicating your strategy without been strictly connected to the execution team… And please, stop now in person meetings in small rooms!
  5. Strengthen security: you are granting access to company resources remotely to hundreds or thousands of employees and everybody is working franticly. The ideal scenario for phishing, social engineering, DDOS. Jackals will try to take advantage of the situation. We are seeing in these days targeted phishing using coronavirus as a bait. Prevent as much as you can, strengthening your Security Operation Center and your security procedures. And hope for the best.
  6. Create and scale fast an (integrated) emergency service desk: during the emergency your users will be confused, under pressure and sometimes scared. They will need more than a traditional help desk, they need “hyper-care” and sometimes baby-sitting. And they do not need to be flipped from one organizational subunit to another to get an answer. Set-up and scale fast an integrated emergency service desk. Operators from IT and from other business units should work together. Goals: telephone waiting time at the minimum and “first touch resolution” as often as possible. Your emergency service desk is a key tool to be sure you do not leave anybody behind.
  7. Watch out for supply chain problems: you are probably able to find laptops and headphones quite easily now, but in a few weeks… the situation can change dramatically. Do not overbuy anything, it makes as little sense as people grabbing food in the stores. But to have a reasonable supply of laptops and other goods it does make sense.
  8. Always have a PLAN B. Let’s be honest: you will be improvising a lot. And when you improvise… many things can go wrong. So always have a plan B. For the universities: if you are relying on live streaming for your lessons, prepare to record your lessons off-line and upload later. Everything is under stress, from network to people. And if your company/university is closed, you have no idea of the level of connectivity of your end users. In the big cities you’ll probably have no problem, but many students and faculties could be blocked in the red zones, maybe in remote areas with low-bandwidth connectivity.
  9. Internal and external communication is paramount: that’s probably an obviousness, it’s written in every crisis management manual, but do not overlook it. Again the impact will be on tools, processes and organization. Your CRM and your call centre will be under stress, your processes should be reviewed do adapt to the emergency, your team (again) should work as an integrated unit. Everyone on the same page. So you will be able to communicate honestly and promptly.
  10. Even in emergency, a few KPIs will help you to navigate among rocks and vortexes. It will not be your first thought when the crisis will begin, so better to prepare it in advance. You will have little time to monitor your processes and lots of variables. To have a simple and meaningful set of KPIs will help you a lot. If you prepare them in advance, everything will work smoother. For universities for example feedback from the users, participation to training sessions, lessons uploaded on your eLearning platform, emergency service desk statistics are useful KPIs.

I close my letter from the future with an immense thank you to the wonderful team which is leading the response to the emergency in my university. People from IT, other business units and partners working together as a truly integrated team. And thank you to all the professors who are performing miracles to provide eLearning materials to their students, all the people working remotely to limit the damages of the virus on our beautiful country and to all the health workers, the real heroes of this difficult future.