COVID-19 and the Future of Business: Recent IBM Report Reveals Executive Sentiments

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The IBM Institute for Business recently published a comprehensive report on how COVID-19 is impacting executive decision-makers in 2021, starting off by saying, “When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.”

This new research revealed that executives are struggling to understand what the post-COVID world will look like, as competencies including crisis management, cybersecurity protecting work-from-home scenarios, overall agility, cost management, innovation, or cash-flow management were not priorities two years ago.

IBM’s findings show huge shifts in perceptions and prioritization, as 2021 budgets are still under development, and bets are being made.  Executives told researchers they plan to emphasize workforce safety and security, cost management, and enterprise agility.

Leaders are expecting more from their transformation initiatives, which were generally underway when it comes to digital transformation but morphed given the experience driven by the pandemic. Competitiveness in spite of chaos and workforce resilience rated high on the list of the outcomes executives were seeking from investments in digitizing their business.

The IBM Trending Insights report integrates results from surveys of consumers and executives conducted from April through August 2020, along with new data from executives across industries, who collectively oversee USD 3.7 trillion in revenue. The authors write about one overwhelming conclusion: “Post-COVID19, the reality for businesses has radically shifted.”

The report suggests five key “epiphanies” IBM says to create a “playbook for proactive leaders who understand that old ways of working are gone.”

In short, they are:

Epiphany 1: Digital transformation was never just about the technology.

Epiphany 2: The human element is the key to success.

Epiphany 3: Traumatic stress has hijacked corporate strategy.

Epiphany 4: Some will win. Some will lose. But few will do it alone.

Epiphany 5: Health is the key to sustainability.

This must-read report goes into detail on all five of these, including color coming from many of the respondents and connections to specific areas of investment that have bubbled up to the surface in the wake of the pandemic, including cybersecurity, one of the industry verticals forced to respond with incredible speed over the last year.

Michael Fritzlo, seasoned technology executive and Executive Chairman of Ironsphere, a leading provider of cybersecurity solutions, said the IBM report resonated with his and his teams’ experiences over the last twelve months.

“We work with many of the finest IT teams in the world,” Fritzlo said, “and what we witnessed were heroic efforts by these teams and their leaders to respond to the crisis in real-time. Even as many IT analysts, admins, CIOs, CSOs, and others were themselves confined to working at home, they rallied to support the immediate move to remote working for most employees. For many of our clients, this meant tens of thousands of employees around the world, and it was no small feat to get them set up and secured.” 

Faced with uncertainty and unprecedented constraints, Fritzlo said, “The commitment and creativity of IT leaders were inspiring, to say the least. Whether they were moving 50,000 contact center agents to work-from-home environments, tens of thousands of traders, brokers, wealth advisors, and bankers to remote access to very sensitive systems, or doctors, nurses, and health insurance reps to a fully virtual world – it wasn’t easy, but all those we’ve supported were relentless and succeeded in the worst possible conditions. They are the frontline workers that were often invisible.”

Fritzlo mentions the experience of Ironsphere, a Privileged Access Management solution provider, “We had dozens of implementations in the works as part of digital transformation initiatives, and instead of those slowing down, they sped up,” Fritzlo said. “This was all happening while adversaries used the chaotic environment caused by the pandemic to attack organizations through phishing attacks, stolen credentials, and more. Never before were entire workforces moved out of the usual perimeter and into a diversity of devices, WiFi networks, cellular networks, VPNs and more, and cyber criminals immediately found and leveraged new vulnerabilities.”

Fritzlo says the perception of the investment in cybersecurity changed and that the insights shared in the IBM report matched the realities he saw across the board. “We learned so much, and we are still learning,” Fritzlo said. “We are also adapting, including more collaboration within partner ecosystems. None of us will get through this period alone – together, we will certainly improve and advance beyond where we were a year ago. Necessity drove invention, and now it is up to us to be much better prepared for future events.”