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CxO Corner: Shifting Priorities for Enterprise Leaders During COVID-19

This is a two part edition of CxO Corner, our Q&A series with our Fortune 500 executive network. In this post, our executive network shares feedback on priorities and initiatives that are the most top of mind in the world of COVID-19. While there are still uncertainties surrounding the pandemic’s full impact, their perspectives highlight the many opportunities and challenges in the enterprise.

Productivity & Morale Come First

With the pandemic requiring many to work from home, enterprises had to quickly mobilize their global workforce while supporting employees and their wellbeing. As Brian Poppe, SVP at Mutual of Omaha, shared, “We’ve done a lot of work to go cloud-based and we were able to go from about 5% remote workers to fully remote over a single weekend.”

Now weeks into this evolved worklife, the initial friction has subsided, but new challenges have sprung up, laying bare the cracks in the employee experience. Communication and collaboration solutions, like Zoom, have seen incredible demand, but as the Head of Technology at a global investment manager told us, “Calls still suffer from audio and video quality, difficult workflow to join calls and poor integration with Outlook, and of course security.” Additionally, it’s a challenge to maintain the casual gatherings and water-cooler conversations of typical office culture.

The work experience has changed. Working from home may be established, but many still struggle with work life balance. The same Head of Technology said, “Email and meeting volume has grown, which makes task management more difficult. Tools to assist in this — ideally that work with existing Outlook tooling rather than requiring a whole new approach — would be welcome.” Even more, users are looking to redefine how they work, seeking to move collaboration from synchronous to asynchronous and being flexible with meeting types and when they occur.

Serving Customers & Partners Digitally

Accelerating digital transformation has come to the forefront of a lot of discussions. As Brian Poppe puts it, “There are still some manual, paper-based processes that haven’t gone away. To that point, we’ve been trying to find better ways to integrate with our partners that are not yet digital and the pandemic has highlighted these as even greater pain points than we recognized a month ago.” While trends like conversational AI, RPA, optical character recognition, and low-code automation have been in play for the past few years, the need for such efficiency gains during a recession are predicted to at least double enterprise adoption over the next 2 years, according to Bain.

Some mission critical parts of the enterprise are seeing accelerated adoption of new tech. As an example, the call centers for many firms have been receiving overwhelming call volumes, but are lacking enough staff in the current crisis. In response, companies are fast tracking the approval process for solutions that can maximize their efficiency and help provide a better digital experience for clients, such as chatbots and automation.

Enterprises rely on an ecosystem of third parties, from applications to cloud infrastructure to data APIs. But, service downtime leads to lost revenue, drives away prospective and loyal customers, and provides an opportunity for competitors to steal market share with a better digital experience. According to a Head of Technology at a global financial firm, “Supplier resilience has impacted our firm’s ability to deliver at times. Tools that approach security and scalability from a B2B performance perspective are useful.”

Supporting & Securing the Network

If there was any time to rethink the corporate network, it’s now. As Partha Chakraborty, Former Director at BMO Financial Group, put it “Improvements in areas such as alternate access, business continuity strategy, software defined perimeter, and securing access to SaaS are essential. Because our workforce is working from home, we need capacity and security to ensure they can be freed from backhauling corporate networks.”

“We’re watching the network edge very closely,” said the Head of Infrastructure at a global financial data company. Since transitioning to a remote workforce, their network peak is vastly different and his team has to ensure sufficient network and security capacity. As the network perimeter continues to dissolve and more services are pushed to the edge, issues such as latency will not be as easy to answer and firms will need technology that provides telemetry and visibility across this edge stack.

Defending against threats outside of the office is also top of mind. The Head of Infrastructure Architecture and Security at a major global bank shared with us that, “We now have a workforce connected to home networks, not to corporate networks, and not under direct visual supervision of their managers (especially for traders). This, along with an increase in cybersecurity attacks (mainly phishing) makes it difficult to patch our systems remotely and update the AV remotely (which also controls our firewall). If you mess up, people are locked out. If a Microsoft patch messes up the machine, there is no user support on site to help them recover.”

Opportunity Exists For Startups

My colleague Jon Lehr points out in a previous blog post that it’s easy to assume large enterprises will stick with current legacy vendors and ignore the startup community during a downturn. However, this is not the case and there are plenty of areas that require innovative solutions. As the CTO at a large US-based investment management firm, told us “Entrepreneurs are well placed to help the investment management market right now in that they can respond quickly to dynamic, changing requirements unlike larger technology partners.”

But, this won’t be the same sales and go-to-market playbook that startups are accustomed to. Tune into Part 2 of this CxO Corner, which will dig into specific tactics that these executives have seen effective in working with companies.

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Work-Bench is an enterprise technology VC fund in NYC. We support early go-to-market enterprise startups with community, workspace, and corporate engagement. Sign up to get our digest of top content & industry news weekly: work-bench.com/enterprise-weekly

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