CIO Perspective On Lessons from Digital-Natives

By Pat Calhoun • June 30, 2020

As part of our CIO Perspective Series, I get the opportunity to interview a variety of CIOs around a number of topics, and more recently to understand the impact of the work from home mandates due to the pandemic. What quickly became clear in my recent discussions was that IT service desks of digital-native enterprises felt minimal impact compared to traditional businesses. And, while they had a spike in call volume, it was easily manageable.

That’s no surprise when you look back at how Mike Rosen, research vice president at IDC, described digital-native enterprises back in 2017: “The digital-native enterprise is able to scale its business and innovate at a pace that is an order of magnitude greater than traditional businesses. Technology and data, built on an advanced digital business platform, fuel more efficient operations, new revenue streams, and customer loyalty.”

In this blog, I’ll share insights from both Julie Cullivan, Chief Technology and People Officer at ForeScout Technologies and John Abel, SVP and CIO at Veritas.

Julie Cullivan, CTO and People Officer, Forescout

Pat: Do you consider Forescout to be a digital-native?

Julie: We were founded in 2000, so we were born in the pre-SaaS world. Thankfully, we’ve done a lot of transformation since then and today it is fair to say that we embody the characteristics of a digital-native enterprise.

Pat: How was your IT service desk impacted when the work from home mandate hit your enterprise?

Julie: As an organization our employees are equipped to work from anywhere, and over 40% of our employees are remote workers all the time. However, we have a large engineering presence in Tel Aviv and the Netherlands, and they are more accustomed to working in the office. Fortunately, we were already in the process of having them practice working from home a few weeks before it became mandatory, therefore the disruption was minimal. For the rest of our office-based employees, the weekend prior to the mandate, we told them to go home and pretend they were not able to get into the office on Monday asking, “Can you do your work?” The timing was a coincidence, but when the mandate came, they were essentially prepared.

Pat: You’re unique in that you’re both the Chief Technology and People Officer at ForeScout. Do you think that your leadership for both organizations had any advantage related to the pandemic?

Julie: Absolutely. We had the foresight to automate employee self-help prior to the pandemic. But unlike many enterprises that automate only the IT service desk, we rolled out our virtual assistant for IT, HR, and Facilities at the same time because employees are going to ask questions across all of those organizations. When the work from home mandate hit, that decision paid off. We received questions around IT topics like VPN, but we also had a lot of HR questions about our pandemic policy and Facilities question about furniture at home. When our employees have questions, they go to Barista, our virtual assistant. And, while our help desk call volume increased, Barista was there and immediately scaled to handle the load.

Pat: Now that we’re moving toward the next normal, what have you identified as a top change that has or is taking place?

Julie: There is no doubt that COVID-19 is further driving our digital transformation. Enterprises have to be able to run virtually, it’s no longer an option. And digital transformation is what enables cost containment, so shifting money away from that doesn’t make sense. We’re also finding we’re missing the human connection and celebration around getting things done, and so we’re working on ways to make that happen in our virtual world.

John Abel, SVP and CIO, Veritas

Pat: When I think of Veritas, I envision an enterprise that helps accelerate digital transformation – so I believe it’s safe to say you’re a digital native. So many traditional businesses that I have spoken to experienced huge spikes in call volume to their IT service desks due to the work from home mandates. Did that occur at Veritas?

John: We experienced a spike – everyone did – but ours was only around 25%, while many of my peers shared stories of spikes of 200% or more. Veritas was well prepared. And, because of that, we were able to put the safety and well-being of our employees as the top priority. Everyone has laptops and our infrastructure to support this kind of event was there. We were easily able to mobilize 6000 people to work from home within a week in our major offices with very little disruption.

Pat: What advice do you have for companies that are not digital natives moving forward?

John: One thing that I have seen is that in addition to not being cloud-enabled, many traditional companies have business continuity or disaster recovery plans focused on enabling them to roll to a backup site. That kind of advanced planning did not help when a pandemic struck. None of us really knew that something of this magnitude would occur. But the lesson is that traditional business continuity plans will not help in today’s world. You need to enable your workforce to work from anywhere, anytime without a reliance on traditional infrastructure. And you have to be able to instantly scale to handle spikes through intelligent automation versus relying only on people.

Pat: What are your key focus areas moving forward?

John: First, there is uncertainty in the economic forecast, so everyone has moved into a cash conservation mode. That means prioritizing and expediting opportunities for an immediate, hard return on investment. Second, with the new norm, we are reprioritizing around collaboration tools, automation, and effectively working from home. Third, we are focused on the plan for coming back to work, but it will look different. One huge surprise is that we have seen an increase in productivity in a work from home setting. And so, the demand to be in the office will be diminished. We even just did our sales leadership kickoff – all virtual. People are missing the social aspect, but the content and core delivery are all in place.

Pat: What new technologies do you think will emerge as we move toward the new normal?

John: Touchless technology will obviously skyrocket in the coming years. Mobile will be huge with more and more uses for your phone.  And chatbots or virtual assistants will take a bigger role. With a work from anywhere, anytime workforce, employee self-help has to be automated in a way that employees will adopt. So virtual assistants will become more consumer-like and will be expected as a standard productivity tool for work.

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