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Deloitte: “never has technology been more important”

7 April 2020: the Big Four firm’s global tech leader has urged businesses to take the long view while maximising the effectiveness of their response to the current coronavirus crisis.

“We need to stay positive. This will come to an end. Science, ingenuity and graft will find solutions and new business opportunities will emerge.” That was the view of Mark Lillie, Deloitte’s global lead in its technology, strategy and transformation practice, speaking in the firm’s fourth weekly COVID-19 webinar.

Lillie said we are living in “unprecedented times”, which are “clearly a humanitarian and economic crisis of a still-unknown duration and proportion. Technology undoubtedly will be among the most powerful weapons in every organisation’s arsenal for responding decisively and effectively to this challenge”. 

Technological infrastructure was now under real pressure due to the dramatic shifts in system and service usage, he went on, citing Netflix, which has reduced its picture quality by 25% in Europe to preserve bandwidth, and video conferencing platform Zoom – one of the most downloaded apps in scores of countries – which is now facing serious questions over its security credentials.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Lillie told attendees, there has been a huge spike in cyber-attacks and fraud, with one estimate stating that phishing attacks were up by 600%. Even the organisation at the frontline of the fightback, the World Health Organisation, was recently targeted by a cyber hit.

“This is a deeply unsettling, challenging and in many cases traumatic, time for us as individuals, let alone as leaders of functions of businesses,” said Lillie. Despite this, he advised webinar attendees to “embrace the long view”. 

Marked shift

His colleague John Clegg said there had been a marked “shift away from traditional service enterprise management activity to a focus on rapid outcomes for organisations responding to the COVID-19 pandemic”.

This was “a compelling use case for customers to recognise the flexibility and breadth of service now outside its traditional IT domains”. 
Clegg mentioned a central government agency that is using US cloud computing outfit ServiceNow as a mobile application to be used by front line staff testing patients for COVID-19.

“Their goal is to use the mobile app to give daily prompted snapshots of the employees’ health, wellbeing and evaluate their COVID-19 symptoms, if any, and then aggregate all this great data across regions to present a centralised dashboard and infographic of the holistic wellbeing of testing resources.”

This information, he said, helped “the business and leaders to forecast, mitigate and plan the need to protect the continuity of their core operation, which in this case, is patient testing”.

Crisis management

Key to an organisation’s’ fightback was to “respond, recover and thrive”, Lillie said, urging companies to implement a robust crisis management plan with a fundamental review of business continuity, establish a crisis management office and develop a communications plan.

This would mean “being pulled into technical, tactical, operational and logistical challenges such as enhanced remote working capabilities and securing critical assets”.

Lillie urged the creation of a tech crisis management office as part of a broader cross-functional crisis team command centre, that might be run by the CIO, given they may have the most organisational crisis management experience, having dealt with cyber-attacks in the past.  

The key to success was “all about communicating quickly and effectively - if in doubt, over-communicate both good news and bad”.

CIO’s should also provide guidance to their leaders and “ask whether they are equipped and prepared” to have conversations with stakeholders.
Not all actions need to be defensive, and there was “opportunity to break traditional orthodoxies”. 

Inflexion point

The best leaders are planning for the recovery now, said Lillie. “We are at an inflexion point where technological capabilities are ready to transform every facet of work as we know it through automation, robotics, cloud and cognitive computing. The work done by humans will fundamentally shift”.

And he believes that the pandemic will help bring these changes about.

He cited a global HR director who just last week had told Deloitte that it was their belief that the current pandemic had accelerated the digital workplace in their organisation by between five and seven years. 

“Good things are going to come out of this,” believes Lillie.