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Interview

The pandemic has turned CIO dreams into a reality

Mohammed Mahnashi, ICT Consultant at Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saudi Arabia, talks about the pandemic and its impact on the role of the CIO.

Do you agree that the pandemic may have created the opportunity for alternative managerial and leadership styles, with dispersed and remote teams requiring a different set of skills to get work done? What are the changes that we can expect at the top levels in 2021? Will this impact the position of the CIO in the organisation?

Totally agree. The pandemic came with huge challenges to CIOs. The lockdown and distance working from home for more than 95% of the employees in most of sector created an urgent challenge and opened opportunities. CIOs should be agile enough to satisfy the urgent needs and should rapidly adapt new innovative solutions; in KSA during the pandemic, we saw many great examples. In healthcare, for non-emergency conditions, there were website and hotline to receive the cases and you got your medicine through pharmacy using delivery services like Uber or Kareem, or through pharmacy delivery services.

In education, Saudi Arabia’s MoE started a cloud-based education portal for distance education, with support from TV channels to serve the educational process. Also a lot of private schools relied on cloud based solutions like BlackBoard, Classera and other LMS solutions.

In foreign affairs, MOFA’s challenge was to take care of and find an innovative way to solve several cases and problems raised due to lockdown. The list included Saudi citizens who were abroad, special cases for Saudis who needed to travel abroad, non-Saudis who wanted to go back to their countries, and non-Saudis wanted to go to Saudi Arabia.

The collaboration with other government entities like the ministry of interior, ministry of tourism, Absher portal, flight services and others helped register the cases and organise the right solution for each case, without the need to visit the ministry or any embassy.

Do you feel that the pandemic has changed the pattern of decision making inside organisations? Is the approach for strategic planning and operational decision making likely to change in 2021? Will there be more emphasis on analytics and forecasting and business models, to manage the impact of external market volatility? Will the CIO’s office be under more pressure to deliver in 2021?

The pandemic has made most of CIO dreams from yesterday as the reality of today. CIOs should act fast, smart, agile to made effective decisions. I believe that within 2021 the spending will grow for solutions that support working remotely, e-learning and distance education, mobility, and cybersecurity. All CIOs should be prepared with plan A, B, and even plan C, to cover not only the current IT needs, but also the expected scenarios for future pandemics.

We all know that the pandemic has accelerated transformation projects and online business models. Going forward into 2021, what are the changes that we can expect in IT decision making and IT spending? Does the CIO need to start preparing for this?

I believe that will live in a new world after the pandemic, with more collaboration and acceptance for new thoughts and respect to CIOs’ innovative ideas.

The winning technologies will be:

  • Cybersecurity
  • Cloud based solutions
  • AI
  • Mobility

The winning business sectors will be:

  • e-Learning and distance education
  • e-Health and awareness
  • Remote work

I also believe that the relatively lesser known technology winners will be blockchain and e-currency.

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