How Should We Prioritize Our IT Strategy Right Now? IT From the Inside Out
These past couple of months have been quite a ride as we’ve had to respond to the implications of the COVID-19 public health crisis.
First, we had the emergency phase and mass migration of people to remote work situations when states implemented “Shelter in Place” orders. Then, we had a somewhat more settled phase when people were more functional in their remote worker roles. Now, many executives are starting to look to the future and they’re wondering what they’re going to do next.
When you’re talking about business operations, the “what do we do next” conversations must include IT.
Technology is integral to how we run our businesses and the experience that many companies had as they scrambled to get their people set up to work remotely exposed a lot of shortcomings and created vulnerabilities that increased risk. Some organizations, however, had a very different experience – an overall positive experience - and it all had to do with what we call IT maturity.
Transitioning to Remote Work: A Smooth Pivot or an Awkward Jolt
You might not have ever connected the word “maturity” with an IT system but what this refers to is simply what IT can do for a business, its IT capability.
In the crisis situation that we’ve all just encountered, an organization with mature IT already had the systems in place that made moving to remote work a smooth pivot instead of an awkward jolt.
As an IT company that provides high level IT guidance as well as support to our clients, our goal is to develop highly functioning IT systems that provide users with the best possible technology experience. We use IT strategy to create customized roadmaps to guide improvement. Everyone isn’t at the same place on that journey, and executives naturally make decisions that are based on their priorities and budgets.
For many executives, the priorities have now changed.
Two Priorities Have Emerged
How do we optimize our remote workforce?
At this point, we don’t know how long we’ll have to practice social distancing, or if we’ll encounter scenarios of decreasing and then increasing health risks, so remote working may become a more permanent situation for many organizations.
Some companies have seen a lot of benefits from having a remote workforce, such as an opportunity to downsize their physical footprint. Others find that their virtual collaborations don’t have the energy or equal outcomes that they have with in-person interactions.
Nonetheless, even companies whose people thrive best with in-person settings are going to have to find a way to become less black and white in their approach to remote work. They need to look at what roles and duties within roles are best suited for remote work, and what environment is best for individuals.
Many are going to find that they need a hybrid remote work solution and they’re going to have to prepare for that. Optimizing a remote workforce requires taking a step back to see if employees are enabled or hobbled by technology.
How can we be more resilient in a crisis?
Whether we’re talking about cyber risks or the need for a business continuity plan, a lot of executives have inadvertently made decisions in the past based on a false sense of security.
This has changed.
The “it won’t happen to us” mentality has not only been challenged, it’s been kicked out the door because something DID happen - to just about everyone.
Creating resilience and optimizing your remote working experience are, in many ways, two inseparable goals. This is where we get to “Inside Out IT”
On the Inside is a Firm IT Foundation
Your IT infrastructure is the foundation for your whole IT system. This is what’s on the inside and it plays a huge role in determining the functionality of what’s on the outside, which are the users of the technology.
Those companies that best transitioned their workers from in-house to remote locations either had their infrastructure in the cloud, or had already invested in robust remote access solutions to their on-site servers. In other words, they had an IT structure in place that could be easily accessed from anywhere.
Cloud infrastructure was a big reason why some companies were able to take the remote work transition in stride. A major benefit of infrastructure in the cloud is its scalability, which makes it easier for you to handle a hybrid remote work scenario.
If infrastructure is the foundation, or on the inside, what comes next?
Where Companies Are Focusing Their IT Efforts Now
1. Applications That Don’t Tie You Down
Within your IT environment, your applications need to have the same mobility as your workforce.
That’s no problem if you’re using web apps, but if you have a software tool that locks you into using the server at your office, the tool that your business needs for critical operations is suddenly out of reach. What’s more, if you’re no longer getting the benefit of having that program on your physical server because all or part of your workforce is remote, it’s time to put your apps on a server in the cloud.
2. Visible and Manageable Data
When you have people in different locations, your data protection and backup systems can change dramatically. People are prone to finding their own workarounds, and if saving files to your company server isn’t fast, convenient or even an option, they’ll save their files to their laptops where IT potentially can’t see or manage them.
You can avoid this situation altogether if you design your infrastructure and access methods to consider the use and storage of all the data that your workers need.
3. Company Managed Devices
Letting employees use their personal computers for work is a stop-gap solution. Understandably, this was the only option that a lot of companies had because, up until COVID-19, the desktop computers that were provided in the office were wholly sufficient.
Some companies tried to quickly buy laptops for everyone as they moved to home, but demand exceeded supply and there was a shortage.
From a management and security point of view, IT needs to be able to manage the devices that are connected to the network, so it will be essential for companies to invest in laptops and the other equipment that employees might need to work from home.
Security isn’t a line item all by itself on your list of resilience tactics. Security – and managing risk – needs to be considered in every level of your IT system from your infrastructure to the devices employees use to access the system.
Think of your employee working at home and draw an imaginary path from there to your server. That’s what you need to secure, because the alternative – to NOT secure any part of that path – opens your business to a level of risk that is not only unacceptable but may not be survivable.
5. Remote Worker Productivity
We’ve been asked if there is a technology solution to facilitate remote worker productivity. Hopefully, in the preceding paragraphs you recognize a big part of that answer. Enabling your people with the technology that allows them to get their work done efficiently and securely is an essential foundation to productivity.
There is software that can be used to monitor activity on your employees’ computers but in most cases that isn’t a good idea. A technology babysitter probably isn’t going to be great for your culture and might even backfire on productivity.
The best remote work productivity indicators can be the same metrics you use when people are in the office.
Make Resilience Your Priority from the Inside Out
If the experience that you went through to get your workforce up and running from their homes caught you off guard and you don’t want to be upended like that again, think about – and improve – your technology from the inside out. This year it’s a novel coronavirus, but next year it could be a natural disaster, a fire or a power outage. It can happen to you but proactively building resilience with technology can help you survive and thrive.
About Corey Kaufman
Corey is Director of Client Development for Accent Computer Solutions, Inc. He earned his B.S. in Business Management and Political Science from San Diego State University in 2007. In his role as Director of Client Development, Corey leads the Technology Consulting and Client Success teams, and works closely with all other departments to ensure clients can achieve their business goals without technology getting in the way.