25 Mar 2020

Managing Through Crisis: CIO Ron Chandler on HBS IT Readiness


by Shona Simkin

As a result of the coronavirus crisis, the HBS IT department had to equip and prepare faculty, students, and staff to go from a traditional in-person work and learning environment to all-digital—in 10 days. For CIO Ron Chandler, that meant a lot of coordination, a lot of preparation, and a lot of purchasing. As of Friday, March 23, HBS IT had distributed more than 200 laptops and tablets. We sat down with Ron to ask him about what that was like.

What were your first concerns when you learned that HBS was moving to a remote operating model?

I have been calling this “Brute Force Digital Transformation,” acknowledging that everything about HBS, and how we operate, is changing. My intitial thoughts were around our operational readiness. We’re used to connecting remotely to clients’ devices to troubleshoot, so the potential of supporting a remote organization didn’t scare us. It's the scale that presented the real challenge.

In asking ourselves the overall question of what problem we were trying to solve, we had two questions; did everyone have a device, and did everyone have internet access? Assuming the answer to the first question would not be “yes” for everyone, that quickly became figuring out how to get enough devices and to whom. We knew that there might be supply chain issues as most of the schools in the region were also planning to move to an online model. We took quick note of our inventory and went shopping immediately. We anticipated that everyone would be in phone conversations with corporate folks at the likes of Apple, Dell and Microsoft, so we went straight to the big box stores. I went directly to Best Buy, bought their in-stock Surface Tablets and reserved 60 more in their regional warehouse. Heath Racine (Managing Director, IT Support Services) and his team went to the Apple store and walked out with nearly 60 iPads.

What came next?

Beth Clark (Deputy CIO) took the helm to program-manage all IT services and drove the support planning. Knowing that we’d be relying on online platforms, and that everything had to be operational for faculty and students on Monday, March 23, meant that lots of testing had to happen during the week of spring break. My CIO counterparts and I have been in communication with the CEO and CTO of Zoom to gain assurances that their system would hold up to the demands we’d be putting on it. This endeavor would be the ultimate stress test!

How has the team been through this?

Incredible. I am struggling to find the words to describe the combination of my emotions at seeing everyone come together for this. People are working 15-18 hours a day, and no one is complaining. I’m apologetic, I’m confident, I’m anxious, I’m proud, and I’m inspired all at once. Around the institution, staff and faculty have been collaborative and patient. We’re preparing in a way that we never thought we’d have to prepare, and we’re trying to make it as successful and as seamless as possible. We’re all exhausted, but we’re also exhilarated.

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