Insight

A Chief Architect’s View: Reacting to Covid-19

 

by Ben Clark
(Konvergent Chief Operating Officer)

and Sam Colyer

In just under half a year, Covid-19 has altered many businesses irrevocably.

But how prepared were they? All projects and programmes do their due diligence when it comes to risk, but how many would have foreseen a global pandemic being a game-changer this year? Not only did it drive entire workforces to work from home with immediate effect, but it entailed unexpected childcare duties, furloughed staff and an instant dependency on technology support. Businesses will try and prepare for any eventuality, but when faced with a considerable disruptor, it all comes down to how quickly they can react and adapt.

We can speculate about how businesses have risen to these challenges in this period of uncertainty and change, but we wanted to gather some real-life experiences. So we caught up with a number of Chief Architects who are part of Konvergent’s Roundtable community to see how Covid-19 has impacted their organisations over these past few months.

Reduced Capacity

Do more with less.

It’s not exactly a new concept. It’s a difficulty that many businesses have been struggling with for a long time, but as the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic became apparent, the need to increase productivity at a reduced capacity became immediately more pronounced. Staff were furloughed, and non-permanent employees were let go. Businesses are now having to obtain fast-tracked approvals from the executive level to give them guidance on where funds should be directed. The businesses we spoke to where having to make difficult decisions around what reductions to make. Burberry’s Chief Architect said their portfolio is governed by their COO and CFO and that their choices:

“ require(s) agreement on where spend is focused from those senior execs and business owners resulting in a reduced programme of work, tied to the need to align with a reduced IT budget. ”

Den Donovan
Chief Architect, Burberry

Of course, while this is working in the short term due to current market conditions, this is not sustainable in the long run. A reduced IT budget, combined with the need for better technology, does not align. There’s also the risk that overworked staff will soon start to harm wellbeing and productivity.

“ Architecture is instrumental in providing agility in these times. ”

Alexey Palagin
Allicia Bank

Supporting the executive community in an unpredictable world

Chief Architects typically spend a lot of time guiding executive level and senior stakeholders along the journey of change. It’s often a lengthy process with many hurdles to overcome. But at the start of March, this all changed, there was a need for quick decisions made with confidence.

Great architecture allows businesses to pivot quickly and efficiently. We spoke to a Head of Architecture who had engaged promptly with the executive level’s priorities and found themselves taking on an “enabler” role, where their main focus has been on how they can support the business in delivering its services remotely. The importance of communicating the necessity of good architecture with senior executives during these times was also mentioned.

Non urgent initiatives

So what have businesses been doing with anything considered non-urgent? As you might expect, the architects we spoke to said work on these initiatives had stalled. Reduced capacity was mainly to blame, and businesses seemed fully aware of the risks associated with having to put specific projects aside from both a business development and financial perspective. The decision as to when and how these programmes and projects should be reinstated could be difficult too: priorities have changed, and the landscape is now looking very different, which could affect the overall scope of existing initiatives.

“ I’ve noticed the rise of the shorttermism in the architecture space. Because the planning and strategy horizons are very short with investments in short supply, it’s becoming more and more difficult to convince CxOs in the importance of good architecture. ”

Alexey Palagin,
Allicia Bank

A shift in the architecture space

Short term planning is likely to be more common when a business is in crisis mode, but at some point, thinking will need to shift back to the long term. How and when this shift happens will have an impact on how the organisation moves forward.

The contrast between limited finances and the need for good architecture is stark. Chief Architects have found themselves at the forefront of businesses, working in close partnership with the senior executive level.

“ During this time...it’s even more important that we have trained enterprise architects who can join up the strategy to execution to allow the business to focus on the change activities and in what order that ensures highest business value.

Chief IT Architect,
Major Telco

Of course, while this is working in the short term due to current market conditions, this is not sustainable in the long run. A reduced IT budget, combined with the need for better technology, does not align. There’s also the risk that overworked staff will soon start to harm wellbeing and productivity.

“ I see that architecture will continue to be relevant. The pace to which we are working has accelerated, and the changes have highlighted weaknesses around digital capabilities. There will be an appetite to increase investment in digital capabilities over the next few years. ”

Anonymous
Head of Architecture,
Leading Health Organisation

The risk is that this shift may be short-lived, and so maintaining this momentum over the next few months will be important. How this is done is still up for debate, but stakeholders will be looking for tangible evidence around the increasing use of digital technology, productivity and home working.

The continued rise of the digital workplace

There’s a lot being said about the sudden shift to working at home already. What’s clear is that the reliance on having a fit for purpose digtal workplace has put IT leaders on the frontline. From a technology perspective, the businesses we spoke with were all fairly positive; their existing infrastructure allowed them to move quickly and adapt as necessary.

“ We have seen an increase in productivity and agility. Anecdotally this is being attributed to clear prioritisation and greater focus, as well as fewer handoffs and streamlined decision making as a result of crisis response. ”

Anonymous
Head of Architecture,
Leading Health Organisation

Those that were able to execute decisions without tripping over lengthy sign-off chains were always going to fare well in this environment. But home working must also be considered from the personal perspective. Others spoke about missing the connections that face to face meetings bring, and the difficulty of interacting via a screen.

“ The tendency to do very long days – working longer hours doesn’t necessarily mean increased output. ”

Lead Architect
Major Telco

Many businesses aren’t really planning on heading back to the office until 2021. But when the time comes, it will be interesting to see how many organisations will go back to a pre-pandemic environment. This time of forced change has brought about new ways of working, so it will be interesting to see how permanent some of these adjustments will be.

" One of my first tasks was to measure the productivity of staff working from home.The initial consensus was that the company was at the very least as productive in working from home as they were in the office. "

Chief Architect
International Law Firm

It’s been insightful to engage with several different Architects about their experiences and reactions to Covid-19, but it’s likely that this is only the beginning of changes to come. As short-term thinking shifts back to long term visions, stalled projects are reinstated, and decisions are made about whether home working could become permanent, organisations will need to continue to be agile and deal with the unfamiliar. The role of the Architect has been challenged, and in many instances aligned to become an integral part of the organisation – it will be interesting to see whether this is a lasting change.

Lessons learned will need to be ongoing, and it would be worth businesses considering how differently they might react should a similar situation take place in future.

If you have any new experiences or thoughts on the above, then please do get in touch.