Blog Post

Operating in Today’s COVID-19 World – A CTO’s Perspective

Mark Goldin

Chief Technology Officer, Cornerstone

As a CTO, the integrity and security of corporate networks, hardware, software, technologies and employees are always central to my work—regardless of where they operate. Even before the global pandemic hit, remote work was on pace to increase 30% by 2030 globally, according to Gartner. At Cornerstone, we were already seeing and making changes to accommodate that shift, with 100% of our employees working remotely today. For my team, that means 1200+ currently remote engineers, developers and IT support staff who were used to coming into the office every day to collaborate with their teams.

To focus my team’s operations amid this uncertainty, I’ve introduced a three-pronged approach to remote work that’s pivotal to Cornerstone’s immediate-term platform development on the backend and a smooth customer experience on the frontend:

1) Look for Opportunities to Motivate Tech Employees and Boost Engagement

All business leaders faced with the current situation need to build a team culture of collaboration. Communication is key. That means delivering up-to-the-minute information related to shifts in corporate operations, specific team updates and COVID-19-related resources. They should also empower remote employees with access to corporate IT networks, technologies and digital tools that help them navigate disruptions to traditional workflows.

As CTO, it’s my responsibility to ensure Cornerstone’s developers have what they need to overcome innovation challenges from home. For example, we have many scrum teams at Cornerstone who thrive in—and are used to—in-person environments. They’re all used to the ceremonies associated with development sprints, including: daily standups, retrospectives, collaborative design sessions, that drive innovation at the company. Fortunately, we had already deployed great tools, like Slack and Confluence, that enable our developers to remotely conquer the same projects under similarly tight deadlines with energy and enthusiasm. And, of course, we make extensive use of WebEx, Zoom and Google Hangouts.

Friendly competition is another important aspect of in-person dev work. To bring this energy to our remote teams, we’re also planning to host a global virtual Hackathon with the theme: Remote Enablement Tools. This will actually be our seventh Hackathon at Cornerstone with prior events under suggested themes, such as AWS, D&I, etc. Our aim for the event is to serve as a vehicle for increasing connectivity, creativity and camaraderie across teams. Facilitating team-oriented events and activities like these enables us to keep employee engagement levels more normal. They can also inspire out-of-the-box thinking and fresh approaches to hurdles that arise as this situation evolves.

2) Empower IT Teams to Become Data Protection Agents

Beyond the typical provisions that come with all-remote work, the pandemic context raises additional challenges like making sure everyone can connect to the corporate and production networks effectively. The social unrest, misinformation and even conspiracy theories can generate an emotional response that makes people easier to exploit—and cyber schemers know it. In fact, a survey of security executives representing industry, government and nonprofit sectors from the CNBC Technology Executive Council found that there’s been a 40% increase in phishing attacks. A third of survey respondents also said they’ve seen an overall increase in cyberthreats. SaaS systems, in particular, are struggling to respond.

CTOs, CIOs, CISOs and other technical executives need to prioritize elevating the role of IT teams in educating the non-technical workforce about cyberthreats and providing security training (if they haven’t done so already). Remote workers, for their part, should be extra sensitive to the ever-present phishing schemes at this time. IT teams need to help remote employees keep work data and devices safe, offering guidance, including: locking device screens every time they’re not in use, storing work laptops and other company hardware safely and completely avoiding printing sensitive company or client information. IT teams can also advise employees to take tactical steps like securing home Wi-Fi networks with a strong admin password and limiting corporate platform access to trusted colleagues.

During this new reality businesses need to approach IT operations and remote work with extra vigilance focused on protecting corporate information, client data, SaaS platforms and other digital assets as much as possible. As the head of Technology at Cornerstone, it is my job to empower my team with the responsibility to prepare, inform and support every employee with the digital tools and security knowledge to stay safe. Employees logging on from living rooms and couches need to understand IT security best practices like these—and learn to implement them in the course of daily work.

3) Prepare for Tomorrow’s Inevitable Unknown

Now more than ever, CTOs and CIOs are in a strong position to drive their organizations toward digital transformation—with 73% of IT leaders expecting to advance efforts throughout the pandemic. To keep developer teams motivated and prepare for whatever crisis comes next, CTOs and CIOs need to consider accelerating digital transformation efforts like migrating databases to the cloud. The digitization of company workflows, implementation of updated BYOD and remote work security protocols and employment of remote work-friendly platforms or tools will be crucial to tackling immediate-term challenges tied to COVID-19 with future-ready innovation.

As the pandemic peaks and talk of reopening economies continues, now is the time for companies to develop refreshed crisis plans that account for business model pivots, workforce dispersal and unpredictable disruptions to critical operations. In the process, business leaders need to take stock of the benefits of having a dispersed workforce—withstanding a location-based crisis like an extreme weather event, for instance—and invest in technology, tools and training that allow them to thrive remotely regardless of external circumstances.

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