Rising to the Challenge: The role of the CIO during the Covid-19 epidemic

By Jing Ertl-Yang

As Governments and organisations request employees work from home, CIOs must act quickly to overcome the challenges of remote work to ensure business continuity during this global pandemic.

CIOs need to evaluate the core business, assess operations, identify and prioritize critical functions and applications for both short-term and long-term.

Some key considerations required to keep systems running and minimise disruption include:


Companies need enough remote technology such as VPNs and firewalls. One of the top issues is the increasing demand of VPNs and limited capacity, which have a big impact on employee productivity. As employees connect to corporate VPNs at the same time, VPNs could get overloaded and crashed, causing slowdown and poor-quality service. Companies will rethink whether to invest more in the licensed VPNs, or other alternatives like cloud computing, and enhance infrastructures to meet employee and clients’ needs.


CIOs must keep a closer eye on cybersecurity issues. VPNs can protect data in transit from employees to business but cannot ensure the data in personal devices.

Employees use their own devices to access company networks and information due to the lack of company-issued devices which meet minimum security benchmark. Will their own devices have enough security applications to avoid data breach or lose company confidential information? Meanwhile, employees might bypass the security to do their jobs.

As the fear of coronavirus accumulated, cybercriminals are exploiting the fear through phishing emails disguised as health organizations. Reviewing these emails will enable hackers to access personal networks and thus enter corporate networks, putting corporate data in danger.

Communication and Collaboration

Being transparent and providing clear guidance will help reduce employee anxiety. It is important for leaders to be proactive and keep all staff up to date on accurate information. CIOs should coordinate with the HR department to give demonstrations on how to use technologies and tools in remote work and lead the IT team to build a trustworthy community among employees.

The shift to remote work has forced CIOs to seek various collaboration tools to ensure employees effectively communicate with each other and be engaged as much as possible in a remote environment. Video conferencing, chats, file sharing, project management and other communication platforms should be taken into account to support employees.

Customers and Partners

CIOs should accelerate investments that create competitive distance for their companies. CIOs need to support business leaders to design new business models with the help of technology and make it happen quickly; for instance, grocery stores will need to enable online orders and home delivery to support affected populations. As shops are closed and employees need to work at home, it is imperative for CIOs from various industries to ensure the companies have systems and devices to maintain and support customer services and assist the call center and help desk. CIOs also need to communicate with existing partners and vendors to monitor work.


In the wake of the unprecedented crisis, CIOs are facing some critical choices on whether to cut the IT budget in 2020 due to economic slowdown and cancel some tech projects. As well as evaluating what investment should be made on technologies and infrastructures for remote work. Moreover, CIOs must prioritize which projects are essential to drive innovation and increase competitive advantages in the long-term.

During this crisis, undoubtedly some CIOs will rise to the challenge and grasp this opportunity to become leaders of innovation. In times of uncertainty, the best and brightest leaders shine, drawing on their experience and expertise to confront the test head-on and to lead their team successfully through this transformation.