The impact of COVID-19 has been inescapable among businesses, complicated by changing demand, travel restrictions, and global uncertainty. With these challenges, businesses have had to learn how to adapt to this new environment while thinking of ways to still fulfill their goals. 

How have IT leaders stepped up to the challenge? 

Mark Settle, author and seven time CIO, spoke to Stephen Franchetti, CIO at Slack, and Sylvie Veilleux, CIO at Dropbox, at this year’s Biz Systems Magic, the largest conference for Business Systems Professionals. In their opening keynote, the CIOs discussed how they’ve adapted to the pandemic, prioritized projects, managed their SaaS applications, and maintained career development. 

Here are some of the key learnings from the session.

Our summary below only captures a fraction of the CIOs’ insights! You can see what else they had to say by downloading the full session.

Unexpected Growth and the Challenges that Brings on

Since Slack and Dropbox are both tools that facilitate work and communication online, it’s perhaps not surprising that they saw an uptick in their usage since the start of the pandemic. 

Franchetti explains how Slack went from 10 million to 12.5 million users within a week—effectively meeting one of their 2020 goals!

“We blew through our growth numbers. We reached the number of users we were projecting by the end of the year within just a few days.” 

This unprecedented growth created tension for customer-facing teams, as customers had more use cases and needed support. In response, Slack has adopted an all hands on deck approach, with teams like Sales and IT coming in to help onboard customers. In addition, Slack is looking to other companies for support. For example, Franchetti created a Slack channel with other CIOs across Silicon Valley, where they can compare notes in real time around how they’re handling the challenges brought on from the pandemic. 

Dropbox also experienced a similar rise in users, with a record amount of trial starts at the beginning of the pandemic and a 60% increase in weekly active users on their new desktop app. Anticipating the needs that COVID-19 would create, Veilleux explained how Dropbox enabled measures to support customers, including adjusting net payment terms, invoice frequency, and instant provisioning of licenses. 

What They Would Do If They Had Extra Budget

Settle engaged both speakers in a thought experiment, asking what they would do if they had a couple million dollars more in their budget. 

Veilleux said she would spend it on building a central tool to manage all of their SaaS solutions. She went on to explain that, “There’s no single tool that does security and privacy and management of licenses and costs. I would like to build one and make it the center of my universe so that we can have people do other things.”

She also said she would hire and train more IT professionals to focus on employee experience. She emphasized that it’s imperative for IT to be close to how people work and to build better experiences for the broader team.

Meanwhile, Franchetti said he would spend it on people who can move a couple of key initiatives forward, like data analytics. He also wants to expand his team’s use of automations because of its impact on employees. He went on to explain how, exactly, automation benefits his team:

“How do we actually free up our people in the organization so that they can focus on higher order work? The key is automation.”

How They Are Managing their SaaS Applications

While SaaS at scale already impacts governance, security, and cost, the pandemic, according to Veilleux, has created a fourth area of concern: user engagement/productivity. 

Veilleux explained that this is a critical point of interest for her and the team: “We’re focused on the user engagement and user value that our SaaS apps deliver.” 

Slack also uses many tools, and due to COVID-19, its employees have been requesting access to even more. Franchetti and his team have gotten ahead of this by creating a Slack channel where employees can submit a request for a tool. Employees in IT, Finance, and Legal are all part of the channel, allowing them to review and make decisions on the requests.

Career Development is Still Critical During the Pandemic 

Settle then ends the session by asking Franchetti and Veilleux for advice on managing their team’s career development. 

Veilleux highlights the framework of individual growth plans within these three pillars: education, experience, and exposure. She notes that given the current climate, experience and exposure should be emphasized. 

Franchetti adds on by emphasizing that the biggest way to make an impact is by investing in people and not shying away from conversations around career development.  

In the end, both CIOs urge companies to prioritize people. They agree that no matter the state of the world, it’s the best way to help organizations meet their objectives. 

Learn more about their perspective on and experiences with navigating the pandemic by watching the recorded session.

Anusha Kuppahally
About Anusha Kuppahally

Anusha is currently studying Business at Georgetown University. She's excited to learn from and write about the Business Systems Community as she earns her degree.