Skip to Content

In Crisis, These CIOs Are Keeping Teams and Customers Connected

As office workers switch to remote work en masse, CIOs are doing the heavy lifting to improve employee and customer experience. Di Terry,  VP Australia Solution Engineering at Salesforce, shares what we can learn from the CIOs who are proving very good at it.

Six months ago, CIOs said one of their biggest challenges to the improvement of employee experience was ‘IT is treated like a support function instead of a business partner’. 

What a difference six months makes.

It would be very difficult to find an organisation today that does not consider its CIO a core enabler of success. In an entirely new and, by necessity, immensely flexible work environment, all stakeholders require trust in the fact that their data is being encrypted, that they have access to the right information, and that they can access the information needed to do their work from anywhere and at any time.

CIOs and their teams have had to pivot quickly to meet specific and urgent needs. The simple act of onboarding and training a new employee, at their home instead of in a centralised office, takes on an entirely new level of difficulty, for example.

The shape of IT teams has become fluid. Team members have been redistributed to cope with constantly changing demands. 

IT departments have also become at least partly responsible for the emotional wellbeing of staff. Some staff have been separated from their families. Others were forced to return early from their honeymoon. Some have been unable to come back into Australia or New Zealand. Every individual – whether they have faced one of those situations or not – has felt uncomfortable and uncertain at different points in this process. 

The work of a CIO and their team – whether an app, a chat platform, expanded VPN capabilities – enables a sense of belonging and security that helps people cope during difficult times. While everyone is experiencing this current climate ‘storm’, we are all in different boats.  Their purpose has changed dramatically, and we’re hearing some spectacular stories from their endeavours.

The CIOs hitting it out of the park

Some of the case studies of fast and effective change in a difficult environment are inspirational.

In just four days, the COVID-19 Assessment Centre team at the Women’s College Hospital (WCH) in Ontario, Canada built an interactive self-assessment tool and virtual assessment registration process that fully integrated with the hospital information system. 

“Patients who are triaged from our virtual assessment to our in-person assessment centre are fast-tracked through COVID-19 testing in less than three minutes and have their test results available online on our patient portal,” Drew Wesley, CIO and VP Business, Technology at WCH, recently wrote.

Closer to home, Australia’s largest corporate communications provider Telstra Enterprise needed to act quickly to help its customers rapidly transition to remote working at the same time as its own staff were moving out of the office.

The APAC Employee Engagement Report

Insights from more than 3,000 office workers and 75 IT leaders.

Up until this point, the majority of Telstra Enterprise’s customer service was delivered face-to-face, on the phone or via Telstra’s authenticated portal T-Connect. With the first two channels largely shut down, digital alternatives to capture enquiries and issues for those customers not yet registered for T-Connect had to be stood up fast. 

In less than a week the team built and branded, with Salesforce, a customer community and a Lightning Flow to capture enquiry and contact details. They built in the logic to match the customer to an account and contact, and to route the case to the correct queue, triggering notifications to the customer and the account owner at Telstra.

The community also served as a contact path for essential services providers, such as medical practitioners, allowing Telstra to prioritise their support requests.

The team at Telstra was rightly proud of the pace, scale and effectiveness of the solution.

CIOs must set priorities

Every organisation is unique in its operations, meaning every CIO must set priorities before deciding where and how resources must be distributed. 

At Salesforce, we created a COVID-19 Customer Response Hub and quickly addressed three priorities: 

  1. All current information related to COVID-19, so the teams have one place to find everything they need to support our customers and community with help quickly and effectively.

  2. Expanding our employee wellness resources, with different programs each week to help everyone stay focused and feel good – online childcare activities, education and training, and our ‘BeWell’ sessions (featuring speakers including Trevor Noah and Arianna Huffington) that we are now sharing with external audiences to enjoy.

  3. Ensuring all team members are being enabled to help our customers pivot in these uncertain times, with offerings such as Salesforce Care.

All three platforms relied heavily on the IT team and offered unique challenges, as well as exciting new opportunities, to the technology team.

I’d expect the complexity of the tasks, as well as the combination of challenge and opportunity, to be no different in any other organisation. 

CIOs are now central to employee and customer experience

We’re seeing the role of the CIO changing day by day. Those changes are not going to stop any time soon. So what are the essentials? Where must CIOs focus? A helpful framework is the ‘three Rs’.

  1. Reassurance: The CIO must let the organisation know they have everything under control, that everybody can continue working and that they’ll be ready to move no matter what changes.

  2. Redistribution: As demands change and as different skills are needed in various parts of the organisation, the CIO must lead the charge by redistributing their own team to ensure business continuity. Success in this venture will come from deep listening in all parts of the business.

  3. Rebound: What direction can the business take to bring itself out of a dark space and into the light? Where are the exciting new opportunities, particularly those that can be scaled through the use of technology? What are the channels the company hasn’t used in the past? If one thing is for sure, it’s that the CIO will have the attention of the entire leadership team, so they should make the most of it.

Finally, we must lead with empathy and trust. If CIOs lead their businesses to a better place and ensure stakeholders feel safe and protected along the way – if they offer a parachute at a time that many stakeholders feel they are falling – imagine the bond that will be formed. The CIO role has never been more important for building trust and providing security.

Di Terry is VP Australia Solution Engineering at Salesforce.

Which technologies will be shaping enterprise businesses in 2025?

Get the latest articles in your inbox.