Service management and collaboration tools for secure remote work

Coronavirus is having a big impact on everyone, especially those who work or have businesses in the IT field as everybody shifts to working from home for reasons of safety. We’ve already examined some of the effects this pandemic has had on the work of administrators and consultants, but a third category of businesses being affected by the virus are those that provide IT service management solutions to other organizations and businesses shifting to remote work. Steve Stover the VP of products and strategy at SolarWinds knows something about this firsthand. Steve has diverse market experience that includes SaaS, IT operations, IoT and Big Data and Analytics in startups to large enterprise technology companies, and his teams have successfully launched and expanded solutions that take market-leading positions. To understand the impact that COVID-19 is having on different sized businesses and how implementing a cloud-based ITSM solution can help ensure secure remote work and provide continuity for these businesses during chaotic times, I sat down and talked with Steve about these and other important issues.

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MITCH: Steve, let’s start at the beginning. What kinds of effects are you seeing this COVID-19 situation having on enterprises of different sizes?

STEVE: There are all kinds of effects COVID-19 is having on enterprises - no matter the size — but one of the most consistent impacts across the board is a sudden shift to a totally remote workforce. Many businesses weren’t prepared for that rapid transition, whether it was their infrastructure, hardware assets or security capabilities, and now, when an IT challenge arises, it’s that much more difficult to resolve. Having an IT solution that enables teams to resolve IT issues regardless of location is and will continue to be imperative beyond this pandemic - this has shown us we can’t wait until an issue arises to prepare. We have to be prepared long before that.

MITCH: Are the problems smaller businesses facing different from those that large organizations are facing, especially when it comes to secure remote work solutions?

STEVE: Many of the issues facing smaller organizations vs. enterprises are similar. The influx of tickets, for example, is similar across all organizations right now. However, budgetary decisions throughout the year may have led many small businesses to be faced with the fact that they may not have prioritized a strategic update to their technology infrastructure, whether that be purchasing more licenses for an application or enhancing the bandwidth on the company’s VPN. On top of that, ensuring that all employees have equipment that is ready to be utilized outside of the office for secure remote work and ensuring this effort doesn’t lead to security vulnerabilities.

MITCH: How is COVID-19 impacting IT service management in general? I’m referring here not just to the current impact it’s having but also how ITSM may change in the future as a fallout from this crisis.

STEVE: Organization leaders are realizing how imperative a flexible ITSM solution is now, and unfortunately, this won’t be the last time businesses are expected to deal with a crisis. Instead of waiting until zero-hour, IT stakeholders will carefully vet and select an ITSM solution that can carry them through major workforce changes, keeping their IT stable. Considerations will also lean more heavily to cloud-based ITSM solutions to alleviate the need for server management, as well as the ability to ensure teams are operating on the most up-to-date version of the software consistently without worrying about release cycles while they are in the middle of a crisis.

MITCH: What kinds of ITSM and collaboration tools for secure remote work are organizations turning to as they begin closing their corporate workplaces and sending users home to perform their work remotely?

STEVE: Cloud-based ITSM tools with built-in employee engagement capabilities are critical to ensuring IT teams are available when and wherever needed while organizations are working remotely. Collaboration tools like chat, mobile apps, and service portals are imperative for a mobile IT workforce. It’s increasingly common that IT organizations utilize these built-in solutions through a service desk to better enable communication between IT, employees and various other departments. Businesses want a solution that fits their needs and the way they currently work — not trying to force their employees to work in a way that they never have before. There’s too much complexity involved in trying to train and encourage employees, so an ITSM solution with all of these communication capabilities built into it ensures that employees’ days are not disrupted by hunting for resolutions in multiple places.

MITCH: What kinds of challenges does remote work pose for businesses that up until now have avoided implementing remote work solutions for their employees?

STEVE: For organizations that haven’t set up their employees or business for remote work before the pandemic, many challenges are facing them, from policy and cultural hurdles to technical barriers. For starters, preparation for all remote work - especially long-term — requires an audit of all hardware assets. You need to know which employees are working on which laptops or other mobile devices so if an IT issue arises, they can be better serviced. With the rise of COVID-19, the necessity for working remotely hit very suddenly, and a lot of preparation has to go into a remote-enabled company. Aside from just an audit of hardware, how is your IT department going to service employees remotely and on mobile devices? They can’t just walk over to an employee’s desk anymore, so do they have the software and tools accessible to solve problems from anywhere? You also need set policies and procedures in place, whether it’s for expectations — for example, is it acceptable for an employee to take his or her dog for a walk during the day? Are quick breaks for trips to the grocery store acceptable? Does your company have a policy or procedure in place for mobile device use? If not, this could open your organization up to security vulnerabilities. There needs to be clear steps and policies communicated to every individual at the organization before they are working remotely.

MITCH: How can enterprises ensure that moving to a remote work model doesn’t incur additional risk to the business from a security point of view?

STEVE: Having a grasp on the devices people are using and control and insight into tools and solutions employees are using is key for optimal security in managing a remote workforce. Shadow IT — or employees using personal preferences for devices for tools — makes information security especially challenging. Having a single solution for communication, IT service management, project management, and other needs is essential for managing risk.

MITCH: What other priorities should IT have when setting up a remote work solution for their organization?

STEVE: Remote work solutions have to be user-friendly and simple, otherwise employees won’t use them. In dealing with employees working remotely, engagement is critical. To ensure employees engage with the solutions and use them the way your organization intends, they can’t be overly complex.

MITCH: What do you think the future will hold as far as remote work is concerned? Will remote work just be a temporary solution for most businesses until the crisis has passed? Or will it make fundamental changes to the DNA of some industry sectors?

STEVE: This pandemic has shown both employees and employers that the jobs they thought couldn’t be done remotely can, and this new flexibility holds a lot of potential for businesses. More businesses will build and expand on their remote work offerings to employees now that they know it’s possible. We’ll see more businesses implement tools and solutions that will have them better prepared and capable of having a largely remote workforce.

MITCH: Thanks very much Steve for sharing some of your time with us during this ongoing crisis!

STEVE: You’re welcome! Stay safe!

Featured image: Shutterstock

Mitch Tulloch

Mitch Tulloch is Senior Editor of both WServerNews and FitITproNews and is a widely recognized expert on Windows Server and cloud technologies. He has written more than a thousand articles and has authored or been series editor for over 50 books for Microsoft Press and other publishers. Mitch has also been a twelve-time recipient of the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award in the technical category of Cloud and Datacenter Management. He currently runs an IT content development business in Winnipeg, Canada.

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