How to right-size your company's tech stack

The influx of remote workers is causing more organizations to reevaluate their core applications. Here's how to make sure your team is set up for success.

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Remote work has grown by 400% in the past decade, but with the coronavirus pandemic throwing the enterprise for a loop, telecommuting is becoming the norm sooner than expected. This abrupt shift is causing organizations to reassess daily operations, presenting the perfect opportunity to also look at its tech stacks, said Mike Vance, vice president of IT at KSM Consulting. 

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic)

When transitioning an entire team to telecommuting, many companies find themselves in technological debt attempting to give employees all the necessary tools to operate outside the office. All of this new technology means more data, support, and applications, which can really be cumbersome for organizations already in technological debt, Vance said. 

Many companies fail to update certain processes because that's how it's worked in the past. Or if they have updated them, they haven't necessarily gotten rid of old applications, making tech stacks cluttered, said Chris Bedi, CIO of ServiceNow. 

"Change is in the air," Bedi said. "The overall theme I'm hearing is 'How do we optimize operations and take risk out of it?' Optimizing the tech stack, in terms of getting rid of redundant software licenses which aren't being used or taking hardware assets which are depreciating and moving into the Cloud."

"Right sizing your tech stack means getting to those core applications in those core environments, working to streamline the dashboards that you need to manage your business," Vance said. 

"It means evaluating what systems you have and how you can potentially migrate to the cloud, even in this [remote] environment," Vance said. "Your IT professionals still have the access that they need to do that work. Streamlining their tech stack is also aligned with what your core business function is, the systems that support that, and ensuring they are resilient and ready to function as they need it to." 

How to right-size a tech stack 

The first step to right-sizing a tech stack is assessing what is needed, Vance said. 

"Employee surveys are great," Vance noted. "Doing those on the front end, I'd be doing them probably the first couple of weeks. I would do them weekly, analyze the results, figure out what you need to dive into deeper to make sure they're fully productive.

"Then move that to biweekly for a month and then monthly until we get out of this window," Vance added. "You could uncover a lot of things in regards to preparedness in organizations that they didn't know before."

Vance also suggested collecting qualitative data from the IT staff and then creating a feasibility matrix to prioritize steps. 

A feasibility matrix involves looking at employee and IT staff responses to what technology, software, and applications are critical. Once those are determined, the company needs to see if it is feasible to continue that technology remotely. 

"Some things you would be able to transition, but if I've got an old AS/400 [computer], that's going to be low on the feasibility. It's really feasibility/what's the ROI?" Vance said. "What's the return I get out of making this investment during this time? How hard is it to get it? Is it even feasible to have this while being remote?" 

Overall, Vance said that the most critical tools for a tech stack involve collaboration and security. 

"Collaboration comes to the forefront [with remote work]--your ability to connect and your ability to communicate and build relationships," Vance said. "When you just go back and forth in email you can retone people. Priorities have to stay in front; you have to stay on the phone; you have to stay on video. Keep that connection."

Connectivity as a whole is important, but security and bandwidth reign supreme, according to Vance. 

With everyone working remotely, the IT team needs to make sure its employees' infrastructures can hold up the connections necessary for remote work, he said. 

"Knowing your bandwidth limitations is important—you might want to disable bandwidth-hungry applications," said Joseph Carson, chief security scientist and advisory CISO at Thycotic. "An issue that many are currently experiencing is that during normal situations their internet is usually fast, but when everyone else is also working remotely too, there is stress on the ISP's capabilities."

As for security, the risks become even greater when telecommuting, when they are on home networks or other outside networks. 

"A lot of companies end up putting software on each of the laptops so that they can monitor the health of that machine, that end device. If they're using VPN, you're in good shape," Vance said. 

"The number of phishing attacks is way up. Employees spend a lot of time accessing websites, looking for information, and clicking on things," Vance said. "Keeping in touch with them and keeping them up to date on what the policies and procedures are is critical."

Privileged access management (PAM) systems can also be extremely helpful for securing data and accounts for remote workers, Carson added. 

"As more companies adopt PAM solutions, they become an important enabler of a holistic security approach that propels the evolution of PAM," Carson said, "This includes integrations across and among security solutions, such as connections to identity management solutions, systems management tools, multi-factor authentication, SIEMs, remote management solutions and DevOps."

For more, check out Data-layer security is a new imperative as employees telecommute due to coronavirus on TechRepublic.

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