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CEOs at the Crossroads

The pandemic sped up digital transformation. Now is no time to slow down.


As technology director at Boston College, one of the largest private schools in Massachusetts, Scott Cann is taking the lessons he gleaned during the pandemic and paying them forward. 

“The pandemic taught all IT organizations about what is truly important,” says Cann, whose own team scrambled to ship hundreds of laptops to faculty so they could teach remotely, cover WiFi and equipment costs for students in need, and adapt support teams to help them all.

“I’ll be spending this summer encouraging my leadership to identify opportunities to carry these valuable lessons into the post-pandemic environment,” says Cann. He noted those opportunities include not just enabling and securing remote workforces but also contributing to core-business outcomes: “IT organizations need to practice some introspection to understand the enthusiasm and dedication it took to respond to the pandemic and find ways to make this effort repeatable and scalable.”

There’s no doubt that the pandemic, as difficult as it’s been, has brought on lasting change. 

At some enterprises, it has accelerated already planned digital transformation efforts by months and even years. In a recent KPMG report about the impact of the pandemic on these efforts, a majority of U.S. CEOs surveyed say progress had accelerated in the following ways:

  • 74%: The digitization of operations and the creation of a next-generation operating model
  • 70%: The creation of new digital business models and revenue streams
  • 75%: The creation of seamless digital customer experiences
  • 66%: The creation of a new workforce model, with human workers augmented by automation and artificial intelligence

Business and IT leaders like Cann are now asking: How can I continue to be a digital transformer for my enterprise? These leaders are looking for ways to improve employee and customer experience, cut costs, and create new revenue streams.

Improving the worker experience

After outfitting workers with laptops last year, enterprises naturally turned to the needs of their customers, who were suddenly nearly all online. While the KPMG survey noted that 75% of CEOs reported an acceleration in digital customer experience, the folks behind those digital efforts are workers themselves, who are often an afterthought in digital transformation.

I’ll be spending this summer identifying opportunities to carry these lessons into the post-pandemic environment.

Scott Cann, technology director at Boston College

“The success of these initiatives often ties back to employees putting in longer hours and stepping outside normal job responsibilities,” says Matthew Feeley, director of modern applications and data intelligence at Netrix, a systems integrator. Feeley says the next wave of innovation and technology will be around keeping employees happy, retained, and productive.

“Many organizations are beginning to report higher levels of employee attrition, or are recognizing that their company’s culture has suffered due to new work habits,” says Feeley. As a result, “we are now seeing a surge in projects focused on employee experience and retention.”

Investments in this area go far beyond workforce collaboration tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams and embrace AI-enabled workplace chatbots, automated IT service management (ITSM) platforms, predictive analytics software for routine manufacturing and maintenance tasks, the adoption of online platforms for career training, and the sharing of fitness and mental health wellness tips.

Performance analytics will also play a role in worker experience, satisfaction, and productivity. All of it can be put in an employee’s hands to help them achieve their own goals, reduce repetitive tasks, and free them to pursue higher-level creative thinking around their roles. 

For example, says Feeley, you might develop software where you can ask: How many meetings was I part of this week? How many emails did I answer after-hours? When was the last time I had PTO? “Providing this data to employees can allow them to more proactively manage their work-life balance and provide real data on how they are spending their day.”

A security-first mindset

Strengthening cybersecurity is a top business concern for many. In fact, 60% of senior IT and business leaders surveyed in North America, Western Europe, and Australia plan to increase IT spending, with security as their highest priority, according to Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG). 

We are now seeing a surge in projects focused on employee experience and retention.

Matthew Feeley, director of modern applications and data intelligence at Netrix

“Ensuring business continuity while maintaining a secure and remote workforce will be key for all enterprises,” says Brent Johnson, chief information security officer at Bluefin, a payment and data security provider. “Traditional office architecture—where access controls, group policy, security solutions, and shared storage are centralized on systems within the back-office environment—doesn’t always translate well to a remote workforce.” 

A plethora of distributed endpoints, like PCs, laptops, and tablets used by remote workers, now poses significant new management and security challenges because there is simply much more to maintain and secure and the attack surface has expanded so quickly. But it may also present an opportunity to innovate, cut costs, and create revenue streams.

“Distributed endpoints provide flexibility to do business wherever and whenever,” says Feeley. “But endpoints are only as good as the underlying management and security technology.”

Distributed endpoints provide flexibility to do business wherever and whenever.

Matthew Feeley

But with more endpoints than ever in play now, business leaders should look for ways to take advantage of a distributed business model—not only to extend the footprint from a device perspective, but also for enhanced accessibility to information, says Terry Simpson, senior solutions engineer at Nintex, a process management and workflow automation software company. 

“These efficiencies will lead to increased revenue, but also cost savings in many cases, with personal devices running cloud software in a secure environment,” says Simpson.

Automate wherever possible

The pandemic supercharged enterprise automation. Only 2% of respondents in the ESG survey cited automating routine business tasks as an important technology trend heading into 2020, placing it last. After the pandemic hit, respondents ranked it sixth out of 10 key concerns.

“Process automation is the new normal,” says Simpson. “With so many businesses experiencing process automation success, business analysts and IT teams are now finding themselves with a large pipeline of processes that are ready to be automated.”

Process automation is the new normal.

Terry Simpson, senior solutions engineer at Nintex

Some areas that are ripe for improvement with automation include employee-onboarding paperwork and employee HR reviews. Sales might automate quote generation, discount approvals, and deal phase monitoring. Help-desk support, equipment requests, and compliance agreements are natural automation-use cases for IT.  

“Just about any process can have one, many, or all steps automated,” says Simpson. 

That doesn’t mean that everything should be automated. IT and business leaders must weigh the costs against the benefits. During the height of the pandemic, moving quickly was necessary. But money was not always available. Some 31% of CEOs in the KPMG survey say the top challenge to accelerating digital transformation is difficulty making quick technology related decisions. 

Nevertheless, innovative IT and business leaders should continue their digital transformation journeys by first creating a road map. It must include the needs and goals of the organization for technology investment that will serve it today and after the pandemic.

Ultimately, that transformation should be undertaken with people as the primary focus. “Out of people, process, and technology, people are the most important,” says Feeley. “At the end of the day, digital business transformation should make life better for both customers and workers.”

Kevin Gray

Kevin Gray is the Editor-in-Chief of Endpoint. He is an award-winning journalist who has traveled the world covering business and technology. His work has appeared in Wired UK, The New York Times Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. He is a former business news producer at CNN and the former executive editor of Popular Science.

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