What COVID-19 Demands of Us

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Last week, I shared my perspective on a way to chart a course forward in a post-COVID world: Respond. Recover. Reinforce. Reimagine. Let me expand, and continue our call to step up, during an important leadership moment for us technology professionals.


The events of the past three months have challenged even the most seasoned managers. There were several times when I felt all my experience, both personal and professional, still left me ill-prepared for the conversations and decisions that confronted our organization. What does it mean to move the entire workforce to work from home – every function? How does one pivot on a dime and move all teaching instruction to remote/virtual? Can it even to scale to that level with an undergraduate population of 30,000? What do you when your healthcare facilities are closed to thousands of appointments and procedures, except those that are life-saving?

Answer: You do what you always have done – Respond. Like we have always done, we responded with professionalism while balancing service orientation and enterprise scale. We passed through the first gauntlet.


But you can’t stop at respond; this was not a simple “system down” scenario. We needed to get back to what would be a new-normal operation. So we Recover. For years technology professionals have been trying to explain and justify the importance of investing in reliable and resilient infrastructures. It has always been an uphill battle to describe to the end user what comes across as technobabble, and doesn’t seem much different than hitting the light switch. But then, all at once, those infrastructures were critical to recovery. The moment of crisis was the ultimate litmus test. For those technologies that were ready to scale, it was amazing how quickly the budget was approved. 


Now, here we are. “It started as a sprint and is turning into a marathon,” my colleague Dr. Atul Butte at the University of California Health System likes to say. We can debate what shape the recovery curve will be, but it really doesn’t matter. The truth is it will be a long time before things CAN go back to normal, and if you are a leader and even remotely paying attention to what’s happening, you know that things should never go back to the way they were.

Reinforce is about helping the organization freeze-in-place the changes you made during Respond and Recover. Many of us are doing this now for operations – in our case, patient virtual visits and hybrid models for teaching. But don’t stop at new technology enabled. There are a whole host of leadership conversations to be informed – new remote workforce models that will drive different real estate strategies; new performance management competencies that need to be expanded now that everyone has remote employees. New policies for the organization and metrics and dashboards are needed, whether they be for compliance or efficiencies.

Reinforce should be far broader a topic for you than the resiliency of your infrastructure. If this is outside your comfort zone…good, get used to it.


“… that the pandemic is accelerating shifts that eventually would have happened anyway, has become obvious. The ramifications of digital transformation are massive and terrifying. Every worker, every leader, and every organization will be affected by it, and many will be left behind.” — Adam Lashinsky, Fortune Magazine

If you were uncomfortable with Reinforce, I hope you really hate Reimagine.

At this moment, the recognition of technology’s crucial importance to operational success has become undeniable. In my own world, without our technology infrastructure, we would have stopped instruction altogether; we would have not seen sick patients; research would have ceased. Teleconferencing platforms, access to devices remotely via private networks, and cloud storage and file-sharing were critical to continuing the business of the university. As someone said to me, CIOs became the darlings of the organization overnight.

But the debate of technology’s crucial importance for strategic success is (and will always be) an open debate. In a game of cards, you just drew the Ace of Spades…post-COVID, the world will never be the same, and hopefully your role won’t be either. 

Now is the time to lay down a big bet and take on the house. You will never have a stronger hand.  Reimagine is not an efficiency play; Reimagine is about engaging your organization in a creative process.  Don’t just try to maintain the virtual connection you created with your customer because of COVID-19 – make it a better and more satisfying experience. Don’t settle for eliminating friction points – go for a journey map that connects our customers into our culture.

Reimagining technology’s impact on the future might be outside of your comfort zone. But here’s my question to you – do you want to return to the “IT is a commodity” budget conversations or do you want to lead the conversations about technology’s transformative effect on our business?

I know which one would get me out of bed in the morning.


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