Business IT systems were thrown into a tailspin by the pandemic. IT consultant Kevin Torf shares some advice to help companies get back into their IT groove.
With the COVID-19 pandemic showing no signs of ending soon, businesses around the world are continuing to re-adjust their IT systems to find a new normal. A big part of that task is to efficiently get their long-term IT planning back in shape so they can ready their operations for ongoing changes that will come.
In the four months since the pandemic shut down businesses, communities and nations around the world almost overnight, businesses and other organizations have been working hard just to get by and enable their employees to work from home. But now it's time to start looking again to the future, even while those everyday work-from-home responsibilities continue, says Kevin Torf, managing partner and founder of IT consulting firm, T2 Tech Group in Torrance, California.
"Companies need to re-prioritize what they are doing and re-evaluate what they are going to need in the new future brought about by COVID-19," Torf said. "They're not going to have as much capital in the coming years. Business has suffered, and the first thing that usually suffers is capital."
That means they will have less money for future IT equipment and technology refreshes and upgrades, so they will have to make adjustments, he said.
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"We've seen more clients move to buying services" rather than hardware or software, Torf said. "Instead of having to invest hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in new computer equipment, they are looking at moving to cloud providers instead of making large capital investments. We're seeing a much higher acceleration of this over the last three or four months. Companies that had already intended to do it sometime or even just thought about it now find a reason to do it."
Re-evaluate staffing levels
The needed readjustments also mean re-evaluating long-term IT staffing needs as well, which likely were hit hard due to furloughs or layoffs as a result of the pandemic's effects on business revenues, Torf said.
"If organizations had to let people go, that changes their ability to do things as well in the future," he said. "We're starting to see that whole mantra of 'doing more with less' from customers. That changes what you are capable of and what your business IT capacity is going forward."
Worse, if companies laid IT workers off, replacing them won't be simple because it's hard to find qualified and skilled staffers in good times, let alone during a pandemic when other companies might be seeking them, too, he said. And when new workers come in, they won't have the institutional knowledge to just come in and get to work on your IT systems, since it will take some time to get up to speed.
"Technology teams are not well-prepared for this and things are not documented and detailed to the point they should be," Torf said. "When you lose somebody, you also lose those skills."
If an organization is not prepared for this now, then it can at least prepare for this in the future by creating and updating documentation on how a company's IT systems work and are stitched together, as well as detailed explanations of processes, policies and procedures, he said.
"When you have a pandemic like this and you lose skills in that way, you lose people and you haven't planned accordingly," Torf said. "My best advice is not to get yourself in this position in the first place. Change what you're doing when things are good."
Choose your battles
Most likely right now there are plenty of IT projects on the plates of IT managers due to the complications of the coronavirus and employees working from home, Torf said. So, instead of trying to attack all the issues at once, IT leaders need to wisely choose their battles and make improvements in incremental steps to keep their sanity.
One way to do that is to evaluate which of the projects on current to-do lists are going to immediately help a business bring in revenue or better serve customers and employees, he said.
"There are two types of IT shops--one where IT is part of the business strategy and is driving the business--and the other where IT is a cost center, a necessity that's there just to keep the doors open," Torf said. "Today, the businesses that are going to survive and win are the ones where technology is a strategy."
The changing nature of support for employees now working from home also needs to be addressed directly as remote work may continue for some time, according to Torf.
"These people are using computers at home and they break or don't work the way you want them to work," he said. "Obviously, you can't just have a technician run over to a desk and fix it."
This requires online tools that many organizations didn't have before when workers were in their offices, but which now have to be found and deployed.
Security re-evaluations are also a big issue that needs more attention since workers went home to do their jobs, perhaps without all the tools that are needed to keep a business secure, Torf said.
"We now need to look at security a little differently," he said. "Now, all of a sudden your staff is external. How do you know they are not vulnerable to attacks?"
Organizations must re-evaluate their remote security at least on a monthly basis to keep workers and companies safe, he said. That means carefully monitoring security applications and policies, as well as ensuring that remote workers have the needed security systems on their work machines.
When the pandemic began and companies started sending employees to work from home, many organizations faced problems quickly buying enough laptops and other devices for their newly-remote workforces, Torf said. In response, they may have bought a large variety of brands and models because they couldn't immediately get a large quantity of a single device model. It may have sounded fine at the time, but now they are faced with providing support and updates for a wide range of devices, rather than for just one model and brand.
"A lot of people were panicking and making decisions that weren't necessarily benefitting them long-term," Torf said. "They may have solved a short-term problem, but now they have a support problem."
At this point, those organizations should just stick with what they bought until the next device refresh cycle and learn from this experience, Torf said.
Perhaps the best advice Torf offers is to just take a breath.
"People are reacting right now and doing whatever comes to mind first," he said. "They are not even contemplating what the impact is going to be later."
Instead, slow down and think things through. "You may realize that if you just wait a bit, then you can get one model of machine in the needed quantity only a week or two later. Those conversations aren't happening right away. People are being too reactive."
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