Pandemic prizes: COVID’s positive impact on technology — Part 1

The pandemic has been challenging for everyone, and the world of technology has not been exempted. It has elevated IT cybersecurity risks, changed the way we attract IT talent, instigated the return of shadow IT, and has pretty much changed the way that IT and technology will look in a post COVID-19 world. But when we step back and take a long hard look, it turns out that for the technology sector, it hasn’t been all bad. This is the first in a two-part series shining some light on how this bizarre twist of events has not only forced us to look at the world a bit differently, in some cases, it was the catalyst that instigated some long-awaited changes to the way business looks at technology.

Business continuity

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Business continuity is about ensuring that all critical business processes can continue, even in the face of disaster. For every process that is integral to business, leadership needs to ensure that it is understood how long the business can continue, should the existing process for some reason cease to exist. Think about on-premises payroll systems if access to the building is removed and remote access is no longer available. With most business processes somehow linked to technology, in many cases, it is assumed that the reliance on technology is the responsibility of the IT department. However, in IT, we know this is only true if the business has invested in the technology that will make this possible. If mission-critical business processes must be up and running 100% of the time, it may be necessary to invest in a second physical site with failover technology. Historically, organizations relied heavily on backup and restore technology. The assumption was that new equipment could be acquired in the event of a disaster, and backups could be restored. This is not flawed logic. With a detailed plan and the appropriate amount of time, acquiring new equipment and restoring information could work — if this were 1999.

The pandemic has taught leadership what we in IT have been trying to explain for many years — we always need access to information, regardless of our physical location. Cloud technology has been available since 2006, but not everyone has been eager to jump on board. The reasons are many. But COVID has confirmed that the world has changed, and technology is at the forefront of these changes. It is time to put our personal opinions aside and ensure businesses will continue no matter where our servers and our employees sit.

Strategic resilience

Risk management and statistics are similar. It seems one can always find backward-looking statistics to explain any situation. Strategic resilience is basically the opposite. It’s about the practice of forward-thinking even while experiencing turbulence and disruption. This goes against human nature. As a rule, we tend to quickly engage in fire-fighting mode rather than stepping back and looking at the big picture. When COVID hit, many organizations were not prepared to quickly transition to a work-from-home model, mainly because they didn’t have the technology in place. The onus was placed onto employees to instantly be productive under unknown circumstances. Unknown circumstances meaning children underfoot, flakey wireless, undisciplined pets, and uncomfortable seating. Not to mention learning to juggle work and home responsibilities while immersed in a home environment.

During the pandemic, some organizations quickly realized their corporate weaknesses and made appropriate adjustments, ensuring their longevity. Others sat back and waited for things to get back to normal. Something that we now know will not be happening anytime soon, if ever.

At the onset of the pandemic, IT departments quickly adjusted and set up the appropriate technology to allow for a temporary work-from-home strategy. As we have flip-flopped back and forth trying to keep up with the ever-changing politically imposed regulations, those that have reacted and complied on an as-needed basis continue to struggle on life support. Think of the food industry in their never-ending reaction to the daily changes imposed upon them. On the other side, many organizations have been forward-thinking and have canceled expensive lease agreements in favor of a longer-term remote work strategy. This includes investment in a change process and timely communication to all stakeholders. Appropriate processes are put in place to support the longer-term strategy rather than obligating the technology department to be constantly in reactive mode.

Global resourcing

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There used to be a saying among project managers as we anxiously awaited the assignment of our team members: “Availability is a skill.” It was not unusual to be assigned resources solely because they had some spare cycles. In many cases, the reality was that the appropriate skill level was just not available. Or perhaps resources with the appropriate skill level were just not available within an appropriate budget.

COVID-19 has taught us that, thanks to technology, we can indeed be productive while working with a team that is 100% remote. This has opened recruitment to include candidates that do not necessarily reside in the same city. In some cases, employees can even be engaged from different countries. Differences in cost of living and salary expectations can mean getting a higher skill level for the same budget.

One fear that remains to be realized is that now that employees have had a taste of working from home, they may choose not to return to the office. Remote work has opened the globe for potential opportunities. While this means a higher skill level for our projects, it also means more opportunity for technology resources.

Centralized data management

When it comes to budgeting and strategic planning, one thing is for certain. It is necessary to understand the history of the organization in question. It is said that history is the best predictor of future events. That is why, whether we are entering into a budget exercise or updating the strategic plan, the first thing we do is study the past. The IT department often dreads these two events. The reason is that historically most organizations grew several disparate systems. And so, when leadership begins these cycles, the first thing they do is engage IT resources to pull certain data from several systems and produce an amalgamated version that will be used for planning purposes. This is an often frustrating and always time-consuming deliverable that runs the risk of producing questionable results. In most cases, this type of production only returns very basic usable data. Inconsistencies and duplicate data mean unreliable detail.

With the imposed move to remote work, organizations have embraced centralized data management. Not only is there a massive shift to migrate multiple disparate systems into one integrated system, as noted above, but organizations are also embracing Cloud technology to ensure accessibility. Business analytics has now become a coveted career path. No longer is reporting something that every IT professional is required to do off the side of their desk. There are professionals whose sole task is to pull data from centralized systems and produce true and readable data that can be used, even to the minutia detail, for planning purposes.

COVID and technology: From tragedy to opportunity

In March 2020, it was thought that we would all hunker down at home for a few weeks and then quickly return to the office and get back to normal. Human and organizational resilience is to be commended, as we have now changed the way we work and the way we think about work. While there have been some tough lessons to learn, technology has benefitted from the massive changes that have been embraced. And there’s more to look at, so stay tuned for part deux!

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