CIO Q&A: Michael Gabriel on COVID-19 Reopen Plans

Michael Gabriel is a former EVP & CIO at HBO—you can thank him for creating and executing HBO GO—and  a partner at Fortium Partners LP, a provider of technology leadership services.

Gabriel is also on the Society for Information Management (SIM) National management team and is a Board member for SIM Metro New York. In recent weeks, Gabriel has been on calls with senior business professionals as well as with SIM members across the nation who are discussing how and when to reopen businesses. In large companies, Gabriel expects health monitoring and change management to be top priorities.

Gabriel spoke recently with Armored Things about CIOs, COVID-19 and reopen strategies. The CIO & Executive series is being showcased by Armored Things as we explore our role in helping campuses and venues reopen.

On CIO Pressures: “They’re getting more inundated with all the virtual meetings and emails they normally wouldn’t need—because people would be around them. They’re getting clobbered with a lot of virtual meetings and they’re extending the work day. And we all know that most companies and most people are not good at having effective meetings, where people keep to an agenda point without going off on tangents. So, time is actually a bigger problem now. I haven’t heard of one person yet say ‘My job is easier now.’ They actually have more to do than they did when they went to the office.

It’s tough. If I were a CIO now, one of the two biggest issues I would be facing is the impact on major projects, ones that you know you need to do—they’re stacking up, and the need for those projects isn’t going away. But what’s happening now is they’re getting pushed out. So, when we do reopen, you’re going to have intense pressure to get these delayed projects done as fast as possible. The other pressure I would be concerned about is my vendor relationships, where the account executives would often come [to my office.] My assistant would be curating all that; they might come in for a 15-minute or 30-minute update, and it was one after the other.  While I could do that virtually, it’s not the same.  When someone’s in the room, you could sense a certain energy. You could just sense things differently. If you have a project that is sliding, you can feel it.  You can’t necessarily see it. You can just feel it.  For now, that extra sense is gone.”

On Workplace Health: “Do you have it [COVID-19] or did you have it—and do you have the antibodies? Those things are crucial.  My personal feeling is that in large companies, the human resources department, which almost always has some medical assistance-will be bulked up.

Whether that is taking the temperature of people before they come in, whether it’s to assess [prior to reopening] who in their companies had it, or is showing symptoms. I think there’s going to be a lot of that surveillance, whether it’s with cameras, or whether it’s with people just reporting.

Are we going to have to wear masks? Probably advisable. Should the company provide those masks? Absolutely. They should have those available so that everyone coming in [to the building] has one.But social distancing with mass transit and office buildings is a definite concern. How are you going to distance anyone working in a large multi-floor building?  Is one person allowed on the staircase or an elevator at once? It doesn’t work. There’s no reasonable way I could think of social distancing working at any scale in those scenarios.

I would probably start by staggering it—some people work at home, and some people work at the office – in some rotation that makes sense based on the work they do. Everyone’s going to try some things and see what works and share some best practices. And if you end up with a breakout in your company, you’re probably going to retreat very quickly to everyone again working from home.”

On Trust: “It’s really tough. We know almost everywhere we go, some technology company or the government knows where we are— and what we’re doing. But for some reason, we feel less comfortable with our own company doing that. I think it would probably need to have some level of communication with the staff and possibly some polling of them to say that if we were going to use a particular application, we won’t know who you are. What we know is 10 people got on the elevator and that’s a bad thing. And if we use it purely for that purpose and had some vetting, maybe our external audit firm would be able to validate that privacy—and verify there’s no way we can see who it is or use that information for another purpose.”

On the New Normal: “I think anyone who’s saying this is the new company scenario—where there are no main physical locations, and everyone can be more productive at homes—is somewhat delusional. I really do. I know someone at [unnamed company] who needed to do network segmentation to improve security. Now they can’t continue with that because they can’t physically be in the building to address physical equipment. That can’t be done remotely.  Some projects are stopping, and people have things they need to do. I think we’re going to see more flexibility with work at home, but we already have seen a lot of it before COVID-19. I think we may just see more of this flexibility going forward–unless COVID-19 has strong medical mitigation, and even then we have to be prepared for the next outbreak.

People do want to go back, though. They miss the socializing. They miss  going out to lunches and dinners, breaking bread, and talking to people and sharing experiences. They miss the physical contact. Even if it’s a pat on the back, they miss that. You don’t get that through video. Most people I’ve spoken to are saying ‘I like some of the home time, but I really miss being in the office.’ I think if this continues it will also affect retention, because when you’re just working from home you don’t have the same level of attachment that you do in an office environment.”

On Implementing Change: “The success rate of any major change initiative, or any major project, unfortunately, has been about one-third successful—fully successful—for four decades.  Major change initiatives and projects, more likely than not, do not succeed. That’s with everyone being available, being able to go down to their office, being able to pull people into a meeting quickly, knowing where they are. We don’t know what that’s going to be like in this virtual world. We know that some people, like software engineers, actually can become more productive if they’re not bothered by everyone around them.  Some workers could be more productive working remotely, but if you’re part of a team, very few large teams could perform as well if they’re separated remotely. Communication usually starts to break down at some point, and I don’t think we’ve been doing it long enough to see the impact of that yet.”

Armored Things is helping campuses and venues reopen with confidence by relying on AI-driven data to help company executives and employees make informed decisions about space utilization and workplace social distancing.

Expert Advice on Planning a Reopen Strategy

Morgan Mosher is senior principal at T3 Advisors, the global real estate and workplace solutions company focused on technology and life sciences tenants. Recently Mosher published a list of Critical Questions to Ask Your Landlord to help prepare clients for reopening offices and workspaces against the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis.

Mosher spoke recently with Armored Things about reopen strategies as part of our continuing CIO & Executive series focused on helping campuses and venues reopen.

On First Steps: My step one is really building a robust task force—and part of that task force is having somebody representing legal implications, as well as health care. Everybody is thinking, of course, that you need someone from IT, you need someone from facilities, you need someone from people ops. But there’s a lot of other things we need to be focusing on—like legal and health care.

[For example] The dental startup Floss Bar has a consulting arm that is offering education on how to take temperatures. So, you can be looking out for health care resources out there. That way, you’ll have an opinion that is a little more educated on the topic. I think those healthcare voices are absolutely important to have at the table.

On Welcoming Back: I don’t think there’s going to be  a single one of my clients that reenter and don’t do some level of physical distancing.  One of the things I’ve been talking about to my clients is the plan to use labels like red Xs and other visual cues—and thinking about how you can do that in a softer way. For me, personally, it would be a little jarring to be sitting next to someone and return to see  a giant, red X. We’re already going to be a little uncomfortable. and we need to build that comfort and that safety level back. I think removing chairs, putting in planters, thinking about softer ways to showcase that physical distancing is going to help.

On Questions for Landlords: We broke it down into a few different categories, like medical communication is a category. So how are they handling common areas, like elevators and lobbies, and is there a coffee shop in the lobby?  Are there going to be visitor restrictions? You can make sure that your landlord is thinking about those things.

Oftentimes, everything you do for your building is only going to be as effective as the building you’re in. You could have perfect procedures and if you are in a multi-tenant building, and your landlord hasn’t properly addressed something like increasing outdoor air circulation, or didn’t change their elevator protocols, it makes everything you did null and void. Those conversations with your landlord are critical.

“Oftentimes, everything you do for your building is only going to be as effective as the building you’re in.”

On Reopen Priorities: Now the conversation is very heavily focused on re-entry—and how do we go about that. Last month a big theme was taking temperatures and a lot of trying to understand the legal implications of that. And now a lot of people are talking about physical distancing requirements. What does that look like? Those are the two primary things that most people are asking about. The other stuff, like ordering face masks and ordering hand sanitizer, people know how to do that on their own. But as far as tiered scheduling, and who is on their task force, and physical distancing layouts, no one wants to go too far down that road alone. They want to stay with the pack on this.

On Phased Reentry – I think it’s the only way a lot of the physical distancing layouts are going to be work. Because people aren’t going to magically have a ton more square footage. Phased reentry is way more important than tiered scheduling—really figuring out which job functions are critical and need to be performed within the confinements of an office.

[If you are using tiers,] I would stay away from using Team A or Team No. 1 and Team No. 2. If I were on Team B, I’d be thinking ‘What? I’m on the junior varsity team. I’m not as important as the A team.’  The same goes for the phrase ‘essential.’ Because everyone wants to think of their job function as essential, especially in these tumultuous times.

“If I were on Team B, I’d be thinking ‘What?  I’m on the junior varsity team. I’m not as important as the A team.’

On Information Overload: People are going to be bombarded with products – ‘Use this product and it will clean everything like magic!’ and then there’s the whole spectrum of politics and emotions that will be involved. There could be somebody who thinks this [COVID-19] is a hoax sitting next to someone who is scared out of their mind. We really need to take a lot of the emotion and politics out of it, and bring in professionals to give you the best guidance, so you aren’t making decisions based on those two things.

Higher Ed Reopen Strategies: Flexing Space on Campus

Flexible, hybrid (online and in-person) learning environments. Early start dates, no holiday travel, and at-home exams. With summer starting and fall semester just weeks away, the national conversation surrounding COVID-19 and colleges is heating up.

Inside Higher Ed reports that a May survey of college presidents by the American Council of Education showed 53% of the 230 respondents predicted their institutions would reopen in the fall.  Designating residential space on campus to quarantine students and requiring masks to be worn on campus are among the risk mitigation measures cited by survey respondents.

Plans to reopen vary by college and county, and differ among institutions in the same state. That’s because so many variables—student population, building occupancy and residential units—are all part of the equation.

College campuses present obvious, unique challenges: a mix of young adult students with older (and more at risk) faculty plus shared living and dining spaces. And just about everything students and parents expect from a college experience –from sports to sororities to concerts and ceremonies—are shoulder-to-shoulder gatherings.  So, in the week following Memorial Day, what should you know about the current plans for college campuses?


For starters, some schools have leaned way in—and have publicly expressed confidence they will be ready to go. At Notre Dame, the plan is for an adjusted academic calendar, with classes resuming Aug. 10. “We recognize the challenge, but we believe it is one we can meet,” wrote university president Rev. John I. Jenkins C.S.C.  Officials in the Texas A&M University System have said students will be welcomed back in the fall—and yes, Texas A&M reportedly is planning on a football season. Officials in that system offered up creative spacing solutions—including Saturday and evening classes, and removing furniture in common areas to discourage gathering.

Across the country, some campus leaders are striving to deliver a message of confidence, one balanced with caution. But many schools are still in the research phase. Amherst College President Biddy Martin told students in her Memorial Day weekend update; “Between now and next Friday’s (or Saturday’s) letter, we will continue to make progress toward a plan for how we might safely re-open the campus.” The Washington Post reports that some schools, like Montgomery College, with more than 21,000 commuter students, have already decided they won’t reopen in September. To move on with distance learning, a decision had to made sooner rather than later.

Boston College is among those schools that had a chance to do sort of a dry run when it comes to reopening—because  400 students have remained on campus. In a statement released last week, BC said the last two months “provided valuable lessons about how to implement physical distancing and food distribution protocols in dining facilities, increase sanitizing for buildings (particularly residence halls), and use technology for meetings and events.”


For schools that do choose to provide in-person learning in the fall, the focus is on sanitation, testing and understanding campus spaces—from dormitories to cafeterias and libraries.

The American College Health Association published a 20-page report in May outlining several areas for schools to focus on, including Facilities:

  • Maintain at least 6 feet between workstations/workers.
  • Place plexiglass or other barriers in workspaces where people must face each other or unable to be 6 feet apart.
  • Consider installing plexiglass barriers at high-visited areas such as reception desks and check-in points.
  • Place appropriate signage at entrances indicating how to proceed.
  • Remove chairs and desks to ensure proper physical distancing in conference and waiting rooms.
  • Identify allowable occupancy in order to control workflow and/or establish maximum attendance

For administrators trying to plan in-person classes, the ACHA report suggested limiting all in-person courses/sections to “fewer than 30 participants. Consider creating multiple sections/shifts to reduce numbers.”   The report also noted that a “careful risk assessment and staged approach is needed to balance the benefits and potential harms of adjusting these measures, so as not to trigger a resurgence of COVID-19 cases and jeopardize the health and safety of the campus community.”

CIO Q&A: JLL Technologies’ Eddy Wagoner on Reopen Strategies

JLL Technologies Executive Director and Chief Digital Information Officer Edward Wagoner has a unique view of  COVID-19 reopen strategies through his work at  JLL, the global real estate company with 4.6 billion square feet managed in property and facilities.

A veteran real estate CIO and frequent peer advisor, Wagoner has spent recent weeks consulting with customers ranging from small tech startups to global companies with multi-national locations about how and when they will return to workspaces. Wagoner spoke with Armored Things as part of our CIO & Executive series focused on reopen strategies.

On Buildings & Tenants: “There was a day where if you wanted to inquire about another tenant in your building, anybody would probably tell you to go read the name of the tenants listed in the lobby. That’s all you needed to know, right? Well, COVID doesn’t pay attention to security access. You and your company are going to want to understand what other tenants are in your building are doing, what industry are they in? Does it jeopardize your people or your operations? I had one CIO say ‘We’re going to start looking at the other tenants in the building in a way we never have before because of the risks that they could have to our operations.’ That’s new.”

Contact Tracing: “I think we could use some of the existing real estate technologies to do this. Wouldn’t you like your company to be able to say that you were with someone yesterday who tested positive? Then your company could say ‘Let’s get you home. Let’s get you to your doctor, and we’ll let other people know they don’t have to worry. And by the way, we’ve taken immediate cleaning steps.’’ It’s fast, it’s automated. Or would you rather wait until your company does the manual tracing? That takes a longer time. It exposes you to more people. But I’ve heard people say ‘I’m never doing that [automated tracing]’. In everyday life, we let Uber track us. Why? Because we understand the benefit. If we perceive that we are getting a benefit, we will willingly give up some of our information. Now, on the other hand, I do get people’s hesitations. I think, especially in the U.S., there needs to be stronger laws and regulations around how you’re going to use that information, so people clearly understand it. And if you violate that, there should be significant enough penalties.”

“COVID doesn’t happen on the internet. It happens in the real world. In our office buildings, our industrial warehouses, our shopping malls, our restaurants. That  is the real world.”

Fear and Doubt: ‘We’re either fearful that we’re going to get it [COVID-19], or fearful that we’re going to bring it home to loved ones. Or we are fearful, wondering ‘Am I going to have my job?’ And even for those die-hard people that say they are not afraid of this—well, they actually are. They’re afraid our economy won’t rebound quickly. Afraid of social disorder. This has created a lot of fear in a lot of people, in ways that we’ve not seen in our lifetimes. A big part of what we’ve got to do is ask ‘How do we help transform that fear into trust?’  And to do that, we tell people, ‘Look, here’s how we’re going to use technology. Here’s how we’re going to use capabilities to keep you safe.’ And in the event someone is exposed or someone else’s exposed, we would understand all the actions needed to mitigate that situation.”

On Technology : “There’s going to be a technology role to play in redesigning whatever the future workplace will be. I heard a CIO make the statement that they were thinking about completely redoing the badge access to buildings so that if you weren’t scheduled to be in the office that day, you couldn’t get in. There absolutely is a role to play for the workplace utilization technologies. Another CIO said he has teams that are saying when they come to the office, they want to work together, but that means they want to be six feet apart from other team members. Whereas before they were two feet apart. What does that do to the departments that are laid out in continuous spacing?

In many cases, companies have big IWMS (Integrated Workplace Management Systems) already in place for their real estate. They don’t even realize they have some existing functionality in those systems, that works perfectly to enable our post-COVID world. There are a lot of potential opportunities and I think the companies that figure out how to use technology to create these healthier workplaces will get their employees from fear to trust faster. That means that their top talent will be focused on the business of the company—and that puts them at a competitive advantage.

COVID doesn’t happen on the internet. It happens in the real world. In our office buildings, our industrial warehouses, our shopping malls, our restaurants. That is the real world. Some companies are going to get competitive advantage; they’re going to survive and then they’re going to thrive—depending on what they do now. Our real-world situation is that we need to crate these healthier, safer, more trustworthy workplaces.”

“You’ve got to come up with that strategy before rushing out and buying something, in my opinion. The CEOs I talk to, especially the big, global CEOs, they’re trying to avoid snap decisions like that.”

On Thermal Cameras: “Before you buy a thermal camera—what’s your strategy? We’ve got an example of a company that was using thermal temperature screeners, and they used the security guards to do it. Well, first of all, they aren’t trained healthcare professionals. So, they are standing near the doors, and every time the doors would open from the parking lot, a blast of cold air would come in, causing misreads. The process hadn’t been thought out completely. If you’ve got it [thermal technology] how will you operate it? What will you do with the information? Are you going to put that on every possible entrance and exit? What do you do about visitors that come in? What happens in the middle of the day? If someone gets a temperature, are you going to take readings throughout the entire workplace?

You’ve got to come up with that strategy before rushing out and buying something, in my opinion. The CEOs I talk to, especially the big, global CEOs, they’re trying to avoid snap decisions like that.  They have come together, and they may have one leader from the executive committee who is driving things, but there’s a collaboration across all of the various disciplines about how it would work. Who should take the lead on it? What will we do with the data? How will that change our operations? There’s also change involved in the process. And that’s where things break down. So often you can have the best technology in the world and if you don’t have the right people, the right processes, and the right change management, it’s not going to work.”

On Trust: “I think it’s beyond the CIO. It’s the company and everybody in the company that makes the decisions. It’s going to be right down to some of the line managers. Do you understand the precautions that you need to take? If someone reports to you that they don’t feel well, do you need to report to facilities? If the company says we want to enforce social distancing in the office, but we’ve still got the pre-workspace floor plan—are you going to cordon off every other desk to do that social distancing? What are you going to do if you walk up and see two coworkers two feet of each other talking? I think that trust not only extends within the corporations, but between individuals. It’s cultural, it’s personal, it’s corporate, it’s all of those. And I struggle to think of another situation where we’ve had all of those come together before.”

Armored Things Partners With LAFC, Raises Additional $7M in Round Led by Will Ventures

Armored Things today made dual announcements as part of their campaign to help campuses and venues reopen with confidence.

A new partnership with the Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC), part of Major League Soccer (MLS), will help ensure the safe return of fans to LAFC games. The MLS club will implement Armored Things’ crowd intelligence solution at its stadium to enable a real-time understanding of fan flow and enable smarter decisions related to crowd density, space utilization, security and sanitation.  The joint Armored Things-LAFC press release can be read here.

Armored Things also announced it has raised $7 million in additional seed funding led by Will Ventures with participation from Splunk, provider of the Data-to-Everything Platform, and existing investors Glasswing Ventures, iNovia and MassVentures.

“The application of Armored Things’ technology extends well beyond sports.”


Former NFL linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski co-founded the venture capital firm Will Ventures to invest in technologies that could be pressure-tested by sport.  “The application of Armored Things’ technology extends well beyond sports,” said Kacyvenski. “We believe it will not only change how large sports stadiums operate, but also how university campuses, corporate campuses and smart cities are managed and experienced.”

The new funding brings Armored Things total capital investment to $14.8m.  

“Armored Things’ crowd intelligence software provides us the ability to anticipate how our fans will move throughout the venue, so we can continue to enhance the quest experience.”


In their coverage of the announcements, The Stadium Business highlighted LAFC’s earlier announcement to expand its partnership with Patriot One Technologies to launch The Stadium & Event Safety Strategic Alliance.

“When fans return to Banc of California Stadium, the ability to measure crowd size and movement will be critical as we prepare to safely manage concourse traffic, operate concessions, and utilize club spaces,” said Christian Lau, Chief Technology Officer at LAFC. “Armored Things’ crowd intelligence software provides us the ability to anticipate how our fans will move throughout the venue, so we can continue to enhance the guest experience.”

Armored Things Co-founder & CEO and Julie Johnson Roberts told BostInno that Armored Things is focused on helping campuses and venues reopen safely. “It wasn’t without some fear, in March, when you call yourself a crowd intelligence company and ‘crowd’ suddenly becomes the worst word to say,” Johnson told BostInno. “It became clear several weeks later that we could be helpful. Now, we have a whole pipeline of universities and teams and companies considering working with us.”

Armored Things provides real-time understanding of people and flow in large venues.  Our AI software is deployed in command centers and on mobile devices to enable smarter decisions related to crowd density, space utilization, security for stadiums, college and corporate campuses, and conference sites.

To learn more about how our SaaS solution can help you reopen with confidence, download our comprehensive e-book today.