For most of 2020, IT departments were consumed by the challenge of doing business in a global pandemic. They’ve worked to equip employees with the basics: laptops, cybersecurity, VPNs/bandwidth, collaboration tools, and application access. With vaccines on the horizon and some workers beginning to trickle back into their offices, it’s a good time to stop and take a look at the year behind us. What strategies and technologies worked well, what lessons we’ve learned, what do we still need to do, how do we ensure business resilience moving forward? 2021 won’t bring a return to the pre-Covid status quo but will bring a “new normal” of work models, management challenges, and more mobile and flexible IT operations.
How businesses will build business resilience in 2021
TierPoint’s Senior Vice President of Professional Services, Matt Brickey, sat down with Brian Leimbach, the President and CEO of CIO Advise, a technology consulting firm for small and mid-sized businesses, to discuss the ways in which IT departments responded to the pandemic and how they should go about restarting and reimagining their organizations to build business resilience for the future. Watch the full webinar: Respond, Restart, Reimagine: 3 phases to building business resiliency. Read some of the highlights below.
Respond: Adapting to a mix of remote and office workers
Matt Brickey: As we move into 2021, with vaccines on the horizon, it’s likely that many more workers will be returning to their offices. But not everyone will. IT organizations will be supporting both home-based and office-based workers, with many employees doing both. How should companies adapt to this new mobile workforce?
Brian Leimbach: The initial response last spring was reactionary. Companies had to figure out how to equip employees to work at home. Now, however, we need to make sure we have the flexibility to meet all circumstances, so employees can work wherever they are. Accountability will be important. You have to manage people remotely. Companies will need to use more results-driven management to maintain that accountability. The most successful organizations were those that had the Monday morning huddle or scrum meeting, where you ask what people are working on, how they’re doing, what help they need and, second, using collaboration tools like Teams to facility interaction, with chatrooms so people can stay in touch like they would in a normal business environment. I also recommend that companies implement more digital augmentation and automation in their operations, so they can quickly react to change. Change is inevitable, something like this will happen again since last March.
Returning to the office after continued remote work
Matt: What sort of plan do you advise for bringing people back into the office?
Brian: First you have to consider how to get workers back into the facility safely. Then you can bring people back in waves based on their business priority. Bring back the finance team first because they have to collect mail and pay the bills. Then decide who’s next. Monitor how employees feel about it because a lot of employees don’t want to go back to the workplace yet. Business leaders have to ensure the employee feels comfortable coming back. You also need a plan to retreat, because we’ve seen states partially re-open and close down again. So have a plan to send workers back before doing it.
Restart: Evolving technology and approaches to build business resilience
Matt: What are some of the emerging technologies that can help organizations be more digital and more mobile (and more resilient) in the future?
Brian: One is the growth of intelligent robots or chatbots. Bots are programmed to take over tasks you’d normally handle in a phone call. Other innovations are the telehealth and telemedicine apps that let you talk to a doctor instead of going on an office visit. I saw an interesting new Microsoft Power Platform App that combines local coronavirus statistics and regulations with employer content, notifications and alerts, and the ability for employees to report their status and make requests.
Matt: Many companies still practice face-to-face sales. Moving to a remote model has been a real challenge for them because they’re used to building customer relationships face to face. Do you have some advice for them?
Brian: The first thing we all need is more omnichannel technologies and collaborative tools so that salespeople can interact with clients in different ways and get in front of them more often. I also suggest tools that can track the entire sales process and automate it. As an example, a CRM application could send a quote to your manager who approves it, then it’s automatically emailed to the client, who signs it digitally and sends it right back. That’s a disruptive technology because that process could normally take a week or more. Finally, I’d look at using machine learning and AI to study your data and consider different strategies and technologies for omnichannel sales.
Reimagine: Accelerating digital transformation to address a changing landscape
Matt: You mentioned that about 80% of digital transformation projects have been accelerated this past year. Can you explain that?
Brian. I think again speed is what they’re trying to gain. People understand we need to get through this and come through stronger than we were. They’re looking at different markets; look at how the alcoholic beverage industry got into hand sanitizers. That’s a transformational business model right there. We’re living in a different world now, and it’s exciting. It’s pushing technology faster. You’ll see new markets emerging. It’ll be a fun ride so hang on.
Matt: What role should the CIO or CTO play in a company’s digital transformation, especially if it’s on an accelerated course?
Brian: An important part of the CIO/CTO role is being a good change agent. You have to ask, how do I help the change, how do I set the vision of where we need to go, and how are we going to get there? Then I need to get buy-in from people. The CIO has to be an integral part of any decision-making process. If your whole environment is moving to a mobile workforce work-from-anywhere environment, you’ve got to have the CIO and CTO prepare for that. So if you don’t have a seat at the board or executive table, you need to get invited now. The speed of change has really accelerated due to the pandemic, and this is your best opportunity to be part of that.
How is your business building resilience and adapting for 2021?
Business resilience is the name of the game in 2021. Whether it’s adapting your workforce to prolonged operations outside of the office or working towards moving them back into the office (safely), your business will need to accelerate digital transformation projects, adopt the right technology to enable your workforce, and develop a plan to support those employees where they are. At TierPoint, we offer products and solutions to address all of these IT resilience and digital transformation challenges you may face in 2021. Sign up for our free IT Strategy Workshop to see how we can help your business. Contact us to learn more.