CIO Perspective on Moving Toward the Next Normal with Eric Johnson, CIO, SurveyMonkey

By Pat Calhoun • June 9, 2020

In April I wrote a blog summarizing an interview I had with Declan Morris, former CIO of Splunk. At that time, I was seeking to understand the CIO perspective on the initial impact of COVID-19. A lot has changed since then. This blog captures an interview I recently had with Eric Johnson, CIO of SurveyMonkey, to gain his perspective on how the impact of the pandemic is changing as we move toward the next normal. Eric has also held CIO roles at Informatica, DocuSign, and Talend.

Pat: It’s been a few months since the work from home mandates struck. Just reflecting back for a minute, did they have a big impact on your IT service management team?

Eric: The work from home mandate didn’t have the same immediate impact on us as it did for legacy organizations. For us, the change was going from two days a week of working from home to doing it every day. So, employees already knew how to be productive from home, mostly had the right at home set up, and IT had the right infrastructure in place to support them. In legacy organizations that aren’t cloud oriented, work from home was a completely foreign idea that was very hard to respond to and implement without notice. Don’t get me wrong, we had our issues. But technology was not the issue.

Pat: It makes sense that legacy organizations had a very different experience from cloud-oriented organizations. As part of the latter group, what were your biggest challenges?

Eric: As a CIO there were really three things that were top of mind for me: (1) data collection, (2) automation/efficiency, and (3) mental health. All of these will carry over into the next normal.

  1. Data collection: With data, my first challenge, the issue was both the volume and the critical nature of ensuring that we were collecting the right data to make informed decisions in key areas. I had to rapidly put together the right infrastructure, people, and processes to ensure that we could gather and analyze that data successfully. It was important to understand what our employees were going through and where they needed help. As I’ve talked to peers, it’s obvious that there was a huge surge around people feeling isolated and anxious about the pandemic. We also looked at how employees were engaging with technology and what kind of IT questions and requests were coming in. Happy, healthy, productive employees are how any business survives. And on the customer side, we needed to gather data to understand whether we should pivot our product and pricing to address existing and new customers. Employee data, productivity data, and customer data were all critical then and continue to be.
  2. Automation: The second challenge was around automation and efficiency. Even for a cloud-based organization, how you deliver support has completely changed. While our workforce knew how to work remote, they were used to coming into the office several days a week and would use that time to get a new laptop or get the technical assistance that they required. They couldn’t do that any longer. Everything became virtual. And, instead of normal working hours, everything became 24/7. Among all of my peers there is velocity around the need for call deflection through virtual agents. The workload in most IT shops has increased because the work from home population tends to be a lot more dependent on the IT team then when they work in the office. This isn’t going to go away. CIOs are looking at ways to automate self-help to reduce costs and keep employees happy and productive, while freeing up the service desk to focus on critical issues.
  3. Mental health: The last area that was and is a real focus for me due to the pandemic is the well-being of my staff. One issue is the number of meetings that we all go to. The number of hours sitting in front of my laptop has gone up 50% because everything is a Zoom meeting. There’s no such thing as going to a conference room or walking by someone in the hallway and sitting down to meet over a cup of coffee. We run a survey every two weeks to find out how our employees are doing. We want to keep track of what’s happening and identify any hot spots. We have a program that employees can participate in related to managing stress. We are finding that some employees just aren’t wired to work from home remotely all of the time. Both data collection and automation are directly tied to employee mental health.

Pat: Coming back to today, has your role as a CIO changed because of the pandemic?

Eric: At the highest level, no. However, there is more of a sense of urgency around my role as CIO. The key areas of focus right now include operationally running an organization that is best in class, highly efficient, highly automated, and ready to scale. Employee productivity is extremely important. We are focused on providing a high value service that will result in a high degree of satisfaction. I want employees to walk away from every experience with IT saying things like, “Wow, that was innovation. They solved my problem immediately. They helped me get up and running faster than anywhere that I have ever worked.”

One thing about my role that has changed, though, is that there is a much higher bar for any tech project. The justification is higher, especially if it is net new. Now is the time to revisit business processes to ensure efficiency and identify and replace tech stacks that are underutilized. Intelligent automation has become an imperative. It’s not acceptable any longer for a service desk team to answer the same question a million times or to fix the same problem over and over. I’m excited that we are starting to see into the future of artificial intelligence and machine learning with products like Espressive Barista showing how they have the power to automate and transform the service desk.

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