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CIOs share advice on leading through disruption

Discover how a focus on three areas -- cybersecurity, employee experience and proactive management -- can help CIOs plan for and better manage disruptions.

Few CIOs today can escape disruption completely but focusing on critical issues can help them better manage it.

That was one of the takeaways shared during the "Planning for the Unknown Unknowns" panel at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Mass., on May 23. The panelists saw opportunities for innovation at almost every level in their organizations. Their reflections may provide insight other IT leaders can use to build a resilient framework and support rapid and unexpected changes.

Here are three ideas CIOs can use for better disruption planning.

1. Focus on creating stronger cybersecurity

The pandemic highlighted the necessity of reinforcing enterprise security. CIOs are tackling issues they've long had to think about as well as new ones arising from the use of the latest technologies.

"When you raise the water level around innovative technologies to help disrupt your business, ensure security, controls and wherewithal around that technology," said Adriana Karaboutis, group chief information and digital officer at National Grid, a British multinational utility company.

To that end, an aspect of the CIO's role in better disruption planning means strengthening cybersecurity. Newer technologies requires that IT leaders tackle new security challenges.

Cybersecurity is an enduring priority because of the industries we serve and we're proactive about focusing on it, said Mona Bates, CIO of Collins Aerospace, suppliers of aerospace and defense products. Compliance with the myriad regulations is paramount.

Addressing supply chain weaknesses is also key.

Part of the way McDermott International Ltd, a provider of engineering and construction services to the energy industry, is tackling these issues is by encouraging suppliers and vendors to modernize with cloud and other technologies that enable faster information sharing and more agility, said Vagesh Dave, global vice president and CIO of the company.

2. Put more attention on employee experience

An organization's leadership team should think about supporting their staff's career progress. An employee's perception of their well-being at work can affect their loyalty to an employer.

On the heels of two-plus years of disruption, employees are making different decisions than they were before the pandemic, Bates said. Companies are now fighting for talent.

"As employers, we must think about the whole picture for the employee," Bates said.

Employers can't afford to ignore any aspect of the employee experience. An organization may want to consider laying the foundation for stronger employee engagement. One technique is working with the leadership team to build diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

"[Employees] want a full 360 [degrees] -- that engagement in well-being, growth, learning, diversity and equity," Dave said.

Investing in opportunities such as DEI initiatives and upskilling talent to match the pace of technology shows acknowledgment of employees' concerns, he said.

Creating an overall positive employee experience also requires figuring out the ideal balance of in-office versus hybrid versus remote. Finding common ground between employer and employee needs and having the flexibility to address it is key.

It's a challenge we face trying to understand what exactly employee expectations are, said moderator Shamim Mohammad, executive vice president and chief information and technology officer at used vehicle retailer CarMax. Everybody has a different set of expectations.

3. Proactively planning for disruption

Organizations have had to reassess their business continuity and disaster recovery plans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and other disruptions. CIOs pursuing better disruption planning should examine their plans for weaknesses and address them.

An organization should investigate where to add capacity and layer defenses, Bates said.

CIOs tasked with fixing information technology issues may not have a quick solution. So, leadership must work with in-house resources to help the company pivot, which may require asking some hard questions.

"How flexible am I in pivoting from a position that I think is the right position?" Karaboutis said. "What that entails is building strong capabilities, knowing all your assets ... and understanding your application[s]."

Planning for disruption is never easy. CIOs who focus on creating stronger security, boosting employee experience efforts and looking for ways to create agility can strengthen their organizations to better manage the surprises that come their way.

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