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From now to the future A nine-step plan

Moving from immediate crisis response to long-term business success means dealing with the here and now and, in parallel, planning for the future. Here's a nine-step guide.

[Editor's note: This podcast was originally published on May 07, 2020.]

Several months into the ongoing pandemic crisis, many companies have managed to move from triage measures to sustainable operations. But now what?

"Next comes a transformation to that new end state and then optimizing that end state," says Rohit Dixit, senior vice president and general manager of worldwide advisory and professional services at HPE Pointnext Services.

To help companies make that transition, HPE Pointnext Services has developed a nine-step plan, as Dixit and colleague Craig Partridge, senior director of HPE's worldwide advisory and transformation practice, explain in this Voice of the Innovator podcast with host Dana Gardner of Interarbor Solutions.

Key to the model is the idea of operating in two modes: bridging from crisis management and stabilization to longer term planning and, ultimately, a new vision for the future. "In many ways," says Dixit, "that means preparing for whatever the next shock is going to be."

Listen to this discussion to learn how your organization can successfully navigate the current disruption and prepare for—and thrive in—the next one.

 

Here are excerpts from the podcast:

Gardner: Rohit, as you were crafting your nine-step model, what was the inspiration? How did this come about?

Dixit: We had been working, obviously, on engaging with our customers as the new situation was evolving, with conversations about how they should react. We saw a lot of different customers and clients engaging in very different ways. Some showed some best practices, but not others.

We heard these conversations and observed how people were reacting. We compared that to our experiences managing large IT organizations and with working with many customers in the past. We then put all of those learnings together and collated them into this nine-step model.

It comes a bit out of our past experience, but with a lot of input and conversations with customers now, and then structuring all of that into a set of best practices.

Gardner: Of course, at Pointnext Services you are used to managing risk, thinking a lot about security incident management, for example. How is reacting to the pandemic different? Is this a different type of risk?

A disruption with multidimensional risk

Dixit: Oh, it's a very different kind of risk, for sure, Dana. It's hitting businesses from so many different directions. Usually the risk is either a cyber threat, for example, or a discontinuity, or some kind of disruption you are dealing with. This one is coming at us from many, many different directions at the same time.

Then, on top of that, customers are seeing cybersecurity issues pop up. Cyberattacks have actually increased. So, yeah, it's affecting everybody―from end users all the way to the core of the business and to the supply chain. It's definitely multidimensional.

Gardner: You are in a unique position, working with so many different clients. You can observe what's working and what's not working and then apply that back rather quickly. How is that going? Are you able to turn around rapidly from what you are learning in the field and apply that to these steps?

Dixit: Dana, by using the nine steps as a guide, we have focused immediately to what we call the triage step. We can understand what is the most important thing that we should be doing right now for the safety of employees, and how we can contribute that back to the community and keep the most essential business operations running.

That's been the primary area of focus. But now, as that triage step stabilizes a little bit, what we are seeing is the customers trying to think, if not long term, at least medium term. What does this lead to? What are the next steps? Those are the two conversations we are having with our customers―and within ourselves as well, because obviously we are as impacted as everybody else is. Working through that in a step-by-step manner is the basis of the nine steps for the new normal model.

 

Gardner: Craig, I imagine that as these enterprises and IT departments are grappling with the momentary crisis, they might tend to lose that long-term view. How do you help them look at both the big picture in the long term as well as focus on today's issues?

Partridge: I want to pick up on something that Rohit alluded to. We have never seen this kind of disruption before. And you asked why this is different. Although a lot of the responses learned by HPE from helping customers manage things like their security posture and cyber threats, you have to understand that for most customers, that's an issue for their organization alone. It's about their ability to maintain a security posture, what's vulnerable in that conversation, and the risks they are mitigating for the impact that is directly associated with their organization.

What we have never seen before is the global economy being put on pause. So it's not just the effect on how an individual organization continues to be able to transact and protect revenue, protect core services, and continue to be able to be viable. It's all of their ecosystem, it's their entire supply chain, and it's the global economy that's being put on hold here.

When Rohit talks to these different dimensions, this is absolutely different. So we might have learned methods, have pragmatic ways to get through the forest fire now, and have ways to think about the future. But this is on a completely different scale. That's the challenge customers are having right now, and that's why we are trying to help them out.

Gardner: Rohit, you have taken your nine steps and you have put them into two buckets, a two-mode approach. Why was that required and the right way to go?

One step at a time, now to the future

Dixit: The model consists of the nine steps, and it has two modes—the first one being immediate crisis management, and then the second one is bridging to the new normal.

In the first step, the immediate crisis management, you do the triage that we were talking about. You adjust your operations to the most critical, life-sustaining kinds of activities. When you are in that mode, you stabilize and then finally you sustain on an ongoing basis.

And then the second mode is the bridge to the new normal, and here we are adjusting in parallel to what you are observing in the world around you. But you also start to align to a point of view with the business. Within IT, it means using that observation and that alignment to design a new point of view about the future, about the business, and where it's going. You ask, how should IT be supporting the production of the new businesses?

Next comes a transformation to that new end state and then optimizing that end state. Honestly, in many ways, that means preparing for whatever the next shock is going to be because at some point, there will be another disruption on the horizon.

So that's how we divided up the model. The two modes are critical for a couple of reasons. First, you can't take a long-term approach while a crisis unfolds. You need to keep your employees safe, keep the most critical functions going, and that's priority number one.

The governance you put around the crisis management processes, and the teams you put there, have to be very different. They are focused on the here and the now.

In parallel, though, you can't live in crisis mode forever. You have to start thinking about getting to the new normal. If you wait for the crisis to completely pass before you do that, you will miss the learnings that come out of all of this, and the speed and expediency you need to get to the new normal―and to adapt to a world that has changed.

That's why we talk about the two-mode approach, which deals with the here and the now but, at the same time, prepares you for the mid- to long term as well.

Gardner: Craig, when you are in the heat of firefighting, you can lose track of governance, management, planning architecture, and the methodologies. How are your clients dealing with keeping this managed even though you are in an intense moment? How does that relate to what we refer to as minimum viable operations? How do we keep at minimum-viable and govern at the same time?

Security and speed needed

Partridge: That's a really key point, isn't it? We are trained for a technology-driven operating model, to be very secure, safe, and predictable. And we manage change very carefully―even when we are doing things at an extreme pace, we are doing it in a very predictable way.

What this nine-step model introduces is that when you start running to the fire of immediate crisis management, you want to go in and roll with the governance model because you need extreme speed in your response. So you need small teams that can act autonomously—with a light governance model―to go to those particular fires and make very quick decisions.

And so you are going to make some wrong decisions―and that's OK because speed trumps perfection in this mode. But it doesn't take away from that second team coming onstream and looking at the longer term. That's the more traditional cadence of what we do as technologists and strategists. It's just that now, looking forward, it's a future landscape that is a radically different one.

And so ideas that might have been on hold or may not have been core to the value proposition before suddenly spring up as ideas that you can start to imagine your future being based around.

Those things are key in the model, the idea of two modes and two speeds. Don't think about getting it right; it's more about protecting critical systems and being able to continue to transact. But in the future, start looking at the opportunities that may not have been available to you in the past.

Gardner: How about being able to maintain a culture of innovation and creativity? We have seen in past crises some of the great inventions of technology and science. People, when placed in a moment of need, actually dig down deep in their minds and come up with some very creative and new thinking. How do we foster that level of innovation while also maintaining governance and the capability to react quickly?

Creativity on the rise

Partridge: I couldn't agree more. As an industry and as individuals, we are typically very creative. Certainly technologists are very creative people in the application of technologies, of different use cases, and business outcomes. That creativity doesn't go away. I love the phrase, "Necessity is the mother of invention," the idea that in a crisis, those are the moments when you are most innovative, you are most creative, and people are coming to the fore.

For many of our customers, the ideas on how to respond―not just tactically but strategically to these big disruptive moments―might already be on the table. People are already in the organization with the notion of how to create value in the new normal.

These moments bring those people to the surface, don't they? They make champions out of innovators. Maybe they didn't have the right moment in time or the right space to be that creative in the past.

Or maybe it's a permission thing for many customers. They just didn't have the permission. What's key to these big, disruptive events is to create an environment where innovation is fostered, where those people that may have had ideas in the past but said, "Well, that will never work; it's not core to the business model, it's not core to driving innovation and productivity," to create the environment where there are no sacred cows. Give them the space to come to the fore with those ideas. Create those kinds of new governance models.

Dixit: I would actually say that this is a great opportunity, right? Discontinuities in how we work create great cracks through which big innovations can be driven.

The phrase that I like to use is, "Never waste a crisis," because a crisis creates discontinuities and opportunities. It's a mindset thing. If we go through this crisis playing defense—and just trying to maintain what we already have, tweak it a little bit—that will be very unfortunate.

This goes back to Craig's point about a sacred cow. We had a conversation with a customer who was talking about their hybrid IT mix, what apps and what workloads should run where. They had reached an uneasy alliance between risk and innovation. Their mix settled at a certain point of public, private, on-premises, and consumption-based sources.

But now they are finding that, because the environment has changed so much, they can revisit that mix from scratch. They have learned new things, and they want to bring more things on premises. Or, they have learned something new and they decided to place some data in the cloud or use new Internet of things (IoT) and new artificial intelligence (AI) models.

The point is, we shouldn't approach this in just a defensive mode. We should approach it in an innovative mode, in a "great opportunity being presented to us" mode, because that's exactly what it is.

Nine steps, two modes, one plan

Gardner: And getting back to how this came about, the nine-steps plan, Rohit, were you thinking of a specific industry or segment? Were you thinking public sector, private sector? Do these nine steps apply equally to everyone?

Dixit: That's a good question, Dana. When we drew up the nine-step model, we drew from multiple industries. I think the model is applicable across all industries and across all segments―large enterprise and small to medium-sized businesses as well.

The way it gets applied might be slightly different because, for an enterprise, their focus is more on the transaction, the monetary, and keeping revenue streams going in addition to, of course, the safety of their employees and communities.

But the public sector, they approach it very differently. They have national priorities, and citizen welfare is much more important. By the way, availability of cash, for example, might be different based on an SMB vs. enterprise vs. public sector.

But the applicability is across all—it's just the way you apply the steps and how you bridge to the new normal. For example, what you would prioritize in the triage mode might be different for an industry or segment, but the applicability is very broad.

Partridge: I completely agree about the universal applicability of the nine-steps model. For many industries, cash is going to be a big constraint right now. Just surviving through the next few months―to continue to transact and exchange value―is going to be the hard yards.

There are some industries where, at the moment, they are probably going to get some significant investment. Think about areas like the public sector―education, healthcare, and areas where critical national infrastructure is being stressed, like the telephones providing communication services because everybody is relying on that much more.

There are some industries where not just the nine-steps model is universally applicable. Some industries are absolutely going to have the capability to invest because suddenly what they do is priority number one, not just the same citizen, welfare, and health services but to allow us to communicate and collaborate across the great distances we now work with.

So I think it's universally applicable, and I think there is a story in each of the sectors which is probably a little bit different than others that we should consider.

Stay on track, prioritize safety

Gardner: Craig, you mentioned earlier that mistakes will be made and that it's OK. It's part of the process when you are dealing in a crisis management environment. But are there key priorities that should influence and drive the decision-making―what keeps people on track?

Partridge: That's a really good question, Dana. How do we prioritize some of the triage and adjust steps during the early phases of that crisis management phase of the model? A number of things have emerged that are universally applicable in those moments. And it starts, of course, with the safety of your people. And by your people, not just your employees and, of course, your customers, but also the people you interact with. In the government sector, it's the citizens that you look after, and their welfare.

From inside of HPE, everything has been geared around the safety and welfare of the people and how we must protect that. That has to be number one in how you prioritize.

The second area you talked about before, the minimum viable operating model. So it's about aligning the decisions you make in order to sustain the capability to continue to be productive in whichever way you can.

You're focusing on things that create immediate revenue or immediate revenue-generating operations, anything that goes into continuing to get cash into the organization. Continuing to drive revenue is going to be really key. Keep that high on the priority list.

A third area would be around contractual commitments. Despite the global pandemic pausing movement in many economies around the world, there are still contractual commitments in play. So you want to make sure that your minimum viable operating model allows you to make good on the commitments you have with your customers.

Also, in the triage stage, think about your organization's security posture. That's clearly going to feature heavily in how you make priority decisions a key. You have a distributed workforce now. You have a completely different remote connectivity model and that's going to open you up to all sorts of vulnerabilities that you need to consider.

Anything around critical customer support is key. So anything that enables you to continue to support your customers in a way that you would like to be supported yourself. Reach out to that customer, make sure they are well, safe, and are coping. What can you do to step in to help them through that process? I think that's the key.

I will just conclude on prioritization with preserving the core transactional services that enable organizations to breathe—what we might describe as the oxygen apps, such as the enterprise resource planning systems of the world, the finance systems, and the things that allow cash to flow in and out of the transactions and orders that need to be fulfilled. Those kinds of core systems need protection in these moments. So that would be on my list of priorities.

Gardner: Rohit, critical customer support services is near the top of requirements for many. I know from my personal experience that it's frustrating when I go to a supplier and find that they are no longer taking phone calls or that there is a long waiting line. How are you helping your organizations factor in customer support? And I imagine, you have to do it yourself, for your own organization, at HPE Pointnext Services.

Communicate clearly, remotely

Dixit: Yes, absolutely. The first one is the one that you alluded to, the communications channels. How do we make sure that people can communicate and collaborate even though they are remote? How can we help in those kinds of things? Remote desktops. This has, for example, became extremely critical, as well as things like shared secure storage, which is critical so that people can exchange information and share data. And then wrapping around all of that for safe remote connectivity, collaboration, and storage, is a security angle to make sure that you do all of that in a protected, secure manner.

Those are the kinds of things we are very much focused on―not just for ourselves, but also for our customers. We're finding different levels of maturity in terms of their current adoption of any of these services across different industries and segments. So we are intersecting the customers at different points of their maturity and then moving them up that maturity stack for fully remote communication, collaboration, and then becoming much more secure in that.

Gardner: Rohit, how should teams organize themselves around these nine steps? We've talked about process and technology, but there is also the people side of the equation. What are you advising around team organization in order to follow these nine steps and preparing for the new normal?

Dixit: This is for me one of the most fascinating aspects of the model. In our triage step, we borrowed a lot of our thinking from the way hospitals do triage. And we learned in that triage model that quick, immediate reaction means you need small teams that can work with autonomous decision-making. And you don't want to overlay on that initially a restrictive governance model. The quick reaction through the "fog of war," or whatever you want to call it, is extremely critical in that stage.

By setting up small, autonomous teams that function independently, that make decisions independently, and you keep a light-touch governance model, then that feeds in broader directions, shares information, and captures learnings so that you remain very flexible.

Now, the fascinating aspect of this is that―as you bridge to the new normal, as you start to think about the mid- to the long term―the mode of operation becomes very different. You need somebody to collect all the information. You need somebody who is able to coordinate across the business, across IT, and the different functions, partners, and the customers. Then you can create a point of view about what the future holds.

What do we think the future mode of operations is going to look like from a business perspective? Translate that into IT needs and create a transformation plan, start to execute on that plan, which is not the skirmished approach that you're taking in the immediate crisis management. You're taking a much more evolved transformation approach that you're going toward.

And what we find is, these modes of operations are very different. In fact, we advocate that you put two different teams on them. You can't have the crisis management also involved in long-term planning and vice versa. It's too much to handle, and it's very conflicting in the way it's approached. So we suggest that you have two different approaches, two different governance models, two different teams that at some point in the future will come together.

Gardner: Craig, while you're putting these small teams to work, are you able to see leadership qualities in people that maybe you didn't have an opportunity to see before? Is this an opportunity for individuals to step up and for managers to start looking for the type of leadership qualities in this cauldron of crisis that will be of great value later?

Tech leaders emerge

Partridge: I think that's a fantastic observation because never more do you see leadership qualities on display than when people are in such pressurized systems. These are the moments of decision-making that need to be made rapidly, and where they have to have the confidence to acknowledge that sometimes those decisions may be wrong. The kind of leadership qualities that you're going to see exhibited through this nine-step model are exactly the kind of leadership qualities that are going to give you that short list to potentially stand out for the next leaders of the organization.

With any of these moments of crisis management and long-term planning, those that step forward and take on that burden and start to lead the organization through the thinking, process, strategy, and the vision are going to be that pool of the next talent. So nurture them through this process because they could lead you well into the future.

Gardner: And I suppose this is also a time when we can look for technologies that are innovative and work in a pinch to be elevated in priority. I think we're accelerating adoption patterns in this crisis mode.

So what about the information technology, Craig? Are we starting to see more use of cloud-first, software as a service (SaaS) models, multicloud, and hybrid IT? How are the various models of IT now available manifesting themselves in terms of being applicable now in the crisis?

Partridge: This global pandemic is maybe the first one that's going to showcase why technology has become such an integral part of how customers build, deliver, and create their value propositions. First, the most immediate area where technology has come into play is that massively distributed workforce now working from home. How was that possible even 10 years ago? How is it possible for an organization of 50,000 employees to suddenly have 70 percent to 80 percent of that workforce now communicating and collaborating online using virtual sessions?

The technology that underpins all of that remote experience has absolutely come to the fore. Then there are some technologies, which you may not see, but which are absolutely critical to how, as a society, we will respond to this.

Think about all of the data modeling and the number crunching that's going on in these high-performance compute platforms out there actively searching for the cure and the remedy to the novel coronavirus crisis. And the scientific field and HPC have become absolutely key to that.

You mentioned as-a-Service models and absolutely the capability to instantly consume and to match that with what you pay has two benefits. Not only does it keep the costs aligned, which is a threat that people are really going to focus on, but it might ease some of that economic pressure, because, as we know in those kinds of models, technology is consumed not as an upfront capital asset. It's deferred over the use of its life, easing the economic stresses that customers are going to have.

If we hadn't been through the cloud era, through pivoting technology to it being consumed as a service, then I don't think we'd be in a position where we could respond as well in this particular time.

Dixit: What's also very important is the mode of consumption of the technology. More and more customers are going to look for flexible models, especially in how they think about their hybrid IT model. What is the right mix of that hybrid IT? I think in these as-a-Service models, or consumption-based models―where you pay for what you consume, no more, no less, and it allows you to flex up or down―that flexibility is going to drive a lot of the technology choices.

Gardner: As we transition to the new normal and we recognize we have to be thinking strategically as well as tactically at all times, do you have any reassurance that you can provide, Rohit, to people as they endeavor to get to that new normal?

Crisis management and strategic planning going hand-in-hand sounds like a great challenge. Are you seeing success? Are you seeing early signs that people are getting this and that it will be something that will put them in a stronger position having gone through this crisis?

In difficulty lies opportunity

Dixit: Dana, for me, one of the best things I have seen in my interactions with customers, even internally at HPE, is the level of care and support that the companies are giving to their employees. I think it's amazing. As a society and as a community, I'm really heartened by how positive the reactions have been and how well the companies are supporting them. That's just one point, and I think technology does play a part in that, in enabling that.

The point I go back to is to never waste a crisis. The discontinuities we talked about, the great opportunities that this creates, if we approach this with the right mindset―and I see a lot of companies actually doing that, approaching this from an opportunity perspective instead of just playing defense—I think that's really good to see.

If somebody is looking to design for the future, there is now more technology, consumption methods, and different means of approaching a problem than ever existed before. You have private cloud, public cloud, and you have consumption models on premises, off premises, and via colocation options. You have IoT, AI, and containerization. There is so much innovation out there and so many ways of doing things differently. Take that opportunity-based approach; it is going to be very disruptive and could be the making of a lot of great innovation.

Gardner: Craig, what light at the end of the tunnel do you see based on the work you're doing with clients right now? What's encouraging you that this is going to be a path to new levels of innovation and creativity?

Partridge: Over the last few years, I've been spending most of my time working with customers through their digital transformation agendas. A big focus has been the pivot toward better experiences: better customer engagement, better citizen engagement. And a lot of that is enabled through digital engagement models underpinned by technology and driven by software.

What we are seeing now is the proof-positive that those investments made over the last few years were exactly the right investments to make. Those companies now have the capability to reach out very quickly, very rapidly. They can enable new features, new functions, new services, and new capabilities through those software-delivered experiences.

For me, what's heartwarming is to see how we have embraced technology in our daily lives. It's those customers who went in early with a customer experience-focused, technology-enabled, and edge-to-cloud outcome. Those are the ones now able to dance very quickly around this axis that we described in the HPE Pointnext Services nine-step model. So it's a great proof-point.

Gardner: A lot of the detail to the nine-step program, and some great visual graphics, are available at Enterprise.nxt. An article is there about the nine-step process and dealing with the current crisis as well as setting yourself up for a new future.

Where else can people go to learn more about how to approach this as a partnership? Where else can people learn about how to deal with the current situation and try to come out in the best shape they can?

Dixit: There are a lot of great resources that customers and partners can reach out to with HPE, specifically of course, hpe.com, and a specific page around COVID-19 responses and great resources available to our customers and partners.

A lot of the capabilities that underpin some of the technology conversations we have been having are enabled through our Pointnext Services organization. So again, visit hpe.com/services to be able to get access to some of the resources.

And just pick up the phone and speak to HPE counterparts because they are there to help you. Nothing is more important to HPE at the moment than being there for our partners and customers.

Gardner: We are going to be doing more podcast discussions on dealing with the nine-step program as well as crisis management and long-term digital transformation here at BriefingsDirect, so look for more content there.

I'm afraid we are going to have to leave it there. We have been examining nine steps IT organizations can take amid the COVID-19 pandemic to attain a new normal. And we have learned about the many benefits of simultaneously steadying business amid unprecedented disruption and readying companies to succeed in a changed world.

So please join me in thanking our guests, Rohit Dixit, senior vice president and general manager, worldwide advisory and professional services, HPE Pointnext Services. Thank you so much, Rohit.

Dixit: Thank you very much, Dana. Please be safe and stay healthy.

Gardner: Thank you. We have also been joined by Craig Partridge, senior director, worldwide advisory and transformation practice, HPE Pointnext Services. Thank you, Craig.

Partridge: Dana, it's been an absolute pleasure, and I look forward to talking to you again in the near future.

Gardner: And thanks as well to our audience for joining this sponsored BriefingsDirect Voice of Innovation discussion. I'm Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host for this ongoing series of HPE-supported discussions.

Thanks again for listening. Please pass this along to your IT community, and do come back next time.

A nine-step plan: Lessons for leaders

  • The model is based on the idea of bridging―in parallel―from crisis management and stabilization to a new way of doing business in the future.
  • It requires both prioritization and a long-term view.
  • Those organizations that make the transition successfully will be the ones that don't waste the opportunity to capitalize on the innovation and creativity a crisis often unleashes.

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.