What if you had two teams that instead of playing against each other, they played on the same side but on different days. The result? You’d win the championship! OK, maybe that’s a bit simplistic, but in these stressful times of global pandemic some companies have been doing just that — setting up dual (but not dueling!) teams within their IT departments to ensure business continuity in the event of a virus incident happening among their IT staff. Martin Urwaleck has done exactly that for the company he works for. Martin is a seasoned veteran in our IT profession and has been working in IT for almost two decades. He was previously head of desktop and shop operations for a company in Hamburg, Germany, and he currently resides in Vienna, Austria, where he manages the IT operations for a public company. I talked with him this week to find out why and how he has set up two IT services teams at the company where he works to ensure he’s fully prepared for anything that the COVID-19 might bring against the smooth operation of services at the company.
Planning for the second wave
I started our conversation by asking Martin to describe in some detail business continuity and the dual team approach he set up for maintaining IT services at the company he works for during this COVID crisis. “Well, I’m already planning for the second wave we expect in Europe for autumn this year. I built two teams that are able to run the IT side of our business: one is in the office for one week, the other works from home. After each week we do a disinfection of the office and then the teams change. Physical contact between the two teams is strictly forbidden, we have to use video conferencing between the teams,” he said.
“I’m also in the lucky situation,” Martin continues, “that almost all skills are available with at least two persons, so the only challenge is to build two teams with all skills available. Every team has one hardware guy with desktop support knowledge and one server guys with security skills or vice versa. IBMi operating is done by three guys, and that helps a lot when building the teams. IBMi support and development has already been done successfully from a home office, so no problem with that. And the same with HCL Notes.”
What about outside technical support, I asked him. “Yes, we also have some external technical support available in case the presence team needs help. In case of on-prem support, the technician is not allowed to return for the next two weeks so we get around incubation time.” That kind of personnel layover sounded like it could cause problems, but Martin clarified by saying: “Keep in mind that during the peak time of coronavirus we had only three to four onsite with 150 users in home offices and we were still running IT at normal performance.”
I asked Martin next what some of the business continuity challenges were that he faced in setting up this kind of arrangement at his workplace. “I think that most IT staff were sufficiently equipped with everything technical necessary,” he replied, “so no particular needs in that area. Management, however, was a different story. I had to sell the concept to my boss since all the other departments only have two employee states: in the office or at home.” I’ll bet you played the risk card, I said, to try and get management buy-in for this dual-team idea. “Yes, and after several discussions, he finally agreed with me that it’s the best solution for us risk-wise. And getting support from the rest of the staff was relatively easy because everyone was used to working from home over the last several weeks anyway, and they understood and supported that idea. Of course, you always have some sensitivities in your team. My goal was to do it good enough, not perfect.”
Dual IT teams and business continuity: Where it works best
Would the dual IT team approach benefit everyone or only certain kinds of companies was my next question. What types of businesses and organizations could benefit from setting up such an approach? Which businesses/organizations might find such an approach unnecessary or impractical? I asked Martin these questions to try and extrapolate his experience to a larger arena. “I think there are two conditions you have to meet: enough staff and meeting your business requirements. Since I’m working for a company in the public health-care sector, we have to keep our systems, departments, and services running especially in hard times like now. From what I hear from fellow IT guys though, the crucial point appears to be staff size. If you don’t have backup skills (and drill duties) in your staff, it’s probably better to send all of them into a home office and only have a bare minimum team on-site to keep operations running.”
What about the future? I asked Martin whether he planned on continuing this approach at his company once the COVID-19 crisis has passed. “Just as a home office is now becoming common at my company — and it wasn’t before — we will keep following this approach and have it waiting in the wings. Because you never know when the next crisis might hit. When it does, we will be prepared from an organizational standpoint, because the remaining challenges will be hard enough. And as my IT staff is now fully aware of this, we can easily start again with this regime whenever we feel it may be necessary.”
Sound advice, as I’m sure many of our readers will agree.
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