Friday Fry Up: Lockdown IT, CIOs' COVID cred, Data on the doorstep

Friday Fry Up is Computerworld New Zealand’s weekly look at the world of IT.

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IT in Lockdown

Within 10 minutes of the Prime Minister announcing that Auckland was going into Level 3 Lockdown, queues formed at Countdown supermarkets — both online and outside stores. Not just in Auckland, but around the country.

Watching it unfold was Countdown head of technology and customer care Steve James, whose experience in the first lockdown was covered by CIO New Zealand. As photos were shared of people standing in the wet cold dark night, he watched the web traffic stats climb and climb, while he made the calls to his team. "From one perspective it was, 'Here we go again, we know what to do, we've done our prep now let's make it happen'."

In a way, taking care of the business side of IT — monitoring Olive the chatbot for customer sentiment to determine what communications were required, making sure that vulnerable people could be prioritised for online delivery, ensuring systems were running smoothly so staff could work from home — was straightforward. That's because they were geared up and ready to go, having taken in the lessons from last time.

It's another aspect that's more complex: Taking care of staff on the frontline so they can take care of customers. That's when IT leaders need to be thoughtful as they provide technology to support essential service workers.

"It's making that conscious decision that we're in this together with our customers," James says. "We were reminded very strongly by our executive team to remember our colleagues in stores who are touching things, having to wash their hands a hundred times a day, dealing with stressed-out people – we need to think about them in everything we"re doing."

Meanwhile, Fonterra National Logistics Manager Brent Fiecken, whose first COVID-19 experience was covered in Computerworld here, provided the following update.

"Fonterra Brands has seen the change back to Level 3 in Auckland trigger a larger upswing in volume that has occurred quicker than the initial Level 4 lockdown," he says.

"Our teams have rapidly complied to full level 4 lockdown measures in our sites and operations and been able to respond through robust plans drawn from our initial Level 4 post-mortem reviews, ensuring we are able to support the demand picture across the country keeping the milk flowing to our stores and consumers. Significant agility is being applied across the supply chain to the BCP planning, as it continues to be checked and adjusted to cover the demand requirements leveraging systems, data and operational capability."

Over at the University of Auckland, the IT team has seen much less anxiety and concern than last time. Its 45,000 students and more than 5,000 staff were told on Tuesday night, via various communication channels, not to turn up the next day, and the majority of them stayed away, says Paul Boakes, associate director of customer experience.

IT staff who were on campus on Wednesday reported it was like being in a ghost town. "That was very unlike our last lockdown," he noted. You can find out how the IT team managed during the first lockdown in CIO here.

"Everybody was very calm this time, our service desk probably saw a third of what we saw last time. Everybody had rehearsed, everybody had a plan and they enacted their plan."

By midday on Thursday the student equity service had dispatched 60 laptops to students who lacked the digital tools for online learning, while 30 students have received mobile Wifi hotspots.

Online learning is back in full swing and the university is — like all of us — waiting find out from the Government what the next phase of this current level 3/2 lockdown will look like.

CIOs' COVID cred

"CIOs have the ear of CEOs" — isn't that a great headline, for this time, or any time? Of course, it's the pandemic that has prompted the observation from analyst firm Gartner, which surveyed CIOs on business challenges arising from COVID-19.

"The Gartner survey showed that the COVID-19 crisis has improved CIOs' relationships with business leaders, and the benefits flowed both ways. Almost 75 percent of respondents said they educated CEOs and other senior leaders during the crisis, while two-thirds of CIOs said they gained knowledge of business operations," it notes.

The survey sample was quite small — just 58 CIOs globally — with only 7 percent from APAC and possibly none from New Zealand. Even so, the experiences that respondents had of being in charge of "high-impact" business decisions, is likely to chime with many CIOs here.

But don't get too complacent. Gartner vice president Andy Rowsell-Jones says CIOs face more complex challenges during the recovery -- one of which is probably hurtling back into lockdown (see section above) on short notice.

Data on the doorstep

It may not have been a coincidence that a book on the ethics of digital technology in New Zealand AND a fabric mask, landed on the doorstep on the day that Lockdown Alert 3/2 was declared. Whatever the case, Fry Up felt well prepared to face the latest twist in the pandemic saga.

book image Sarah Putt

 'Shouting Zeros and Ones' is a collection of essays touching on different issues related to digital technology.

Shouting Zeros and Ones, edited by Andrew Chen, is a collection of essays covering a range of social and political issues in Aotearoa New Zealand arising from digital technology. Topics that will be familiar to many Computerworld readers are discussed, including online hate speech and misinformation, the environmental impact of cloud computing, Māori data sovereignty, and digital inclusion.

There is also that old chestnut — is online voting a good idea? The answer to which depends pretty much on whether you are a technologist or not. If you are, then it's "no"; if you are not, then it's  "maybe".

The book is an accessible and informative read and Chen is to be congratulated for assembling a wide variety of voices that provide many interesting insights. We even enjoyed a rueful LOL — the idea that global social media companies would pay an industry levy for a New Zealand oversight body similar to the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

If the publisher hasn't already, we'd recommend sending a copy to everyone who has a chance of being in Parliament following the General Election next month (assuming the pandemic doesn't delay it). We could really do with some informed debate from our lawmakers on how to tackle digital issues in the next three years.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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