As we approach the end of 2020, it’s worth taking a moment to evaluate how our IT operations have changed and consider what 2021 may bring. Many businesses survived, pivoted, and even prospered, over the past months, but the majority have struggled to adapt to new realities. Many of the organizations that did well embraced digital transformation and emerging technologies.
“Companies that had already gone digital [last March] were in a better position. They moved faster, had strategic partners ready, and had resilience built into their model,” said Ted Schadler, a principal analyst at Forrester. “But those companies made up only about one in seven, while the other 85 percent were scrambling, and making things up as they went.”
To get a better perspective on what that 85% needs to do to get ready for 2021, several IT leaders and innovators spoke at BraveIT 2020, TierPoint’s virtual conference, on aspects of the pandemic and the role of future technologies. Ted Schadler was one expert who shared his insights, in How to Survive the Pandemic Recession, along with Bruce Randall, director of product marketing ServiceNow, Michael Morris, vice chairman, Newman Knight Frank, and Lucie Poulicakos senior vice president of IT at TierPoint.
Insights on how business will adapt to a post-pandemic world
Here are the key insights these experts shared how successful companies thrived in 2020 and the changes that all companies can expect in the year ahead.
Hybrid & remote work policies
Home offices are here to stay, even after Covid-19 is no longer a threat. In 2021, Forrester projects that remote workers will begin to return to their offices, but that remote worker policies will still be 300% higher than in pre-COVID-19 times. Forrester predicts the rise of the “anywhere-plus-office” hybrid work model. The hybrid model will accommodate employees differing situations and needs. For instance, city workers might not want to spend every day inside a cramped studio apartment. Noisy families can make it difficult for other employees to concentrate. Newly hired employees may need an on-site environment in order to feel connected to their colleagues.
“A lot of younger folks need to learn the workplace politics and dynamics of their situations, and can truly benefit from working alongside senior employees,” said Morris.
As Schadler explained, the future is neither all remote nor all office based. “Patterns of work and life and trade have been forever changed by this pandemic,” said Schadler, “Every company will need to figure it out for themselves.”
Home-office tech support
As the majority of IT support professionals have found, remote workers aren’t always as easy to support as office-based workers. Instead of dealing with standardized desktop equipment, connected to one network, behind the corporate firewall, remote workers are using an array of laptops, desktops, and tablets with individual Wi-Fi and internet providers, and different types of anti-malware and security software. Corporate tech support will be the first point of contact that frustrated end users talk to when they have problems, regardless of whether the company actually provided the equipment. Poulicakos remembers the flood with calls from end users having trouble with various peripherals, including headsets, in the early days of the pandemic.
“We had to provide a lot of support for headsets, and there are so many different models that all work differently,” she said.
To cope with this new reality, IT tech support must become familiar with its home users IT environments.
To avoid overwhelming the tech support staff, IT can implement more self-service options for employees, especially for the most common problems. ServiceNow’s support team reported that its daily volume of support calls rose between 25% and 50%, many of which were for common issues such as VPN outages or problems with collaboration tools. Many tech support issues can be resolved by the end user, with the help of a self-service portal or web site with tutorials, wizards, and downloadable apps.
“Organizations that can successfully handle this increased volume without killing their IT staff will have robust self-service capabilities,” said Randall.
Automation and AI
A key part of self-service will be automation and artificial intelligence (AI). Forrester’s predictions for 2021 forecasts that by the end of 2021, 25% of all remote workers will be using new types of automation. In addition, Forrester expects investments in machine learning and conversational AI to rise. Some of the ways in which AI and automation will help IT include virtual agents to resolve common issues such as password resets or VPN access, and process automation bots– snippets of code for running automated, repetitive jobs that humans used to do manually.
“A university might get thousands of calls about VPNs when all they had to do was put a virtual agent in place who could resolve that entire complication within minutes,” said Randall.
Focus on resilience
In order to weather future unexpected catastrophes, IT organizations must become more resilient. Achieving resilience starts with a strategy to identify potential weak points in the IT infrastructure and operations and develop ways to prevent or remediate these vulnerabilities. A strategy should include plans for ensuring redundancy and diversification of resources (such as having multiple options for remote access should one fail), and for establishing partnerships with organizations that can provide support, such as disaster recovery services, temporary IT staff, or emergency office space.
Knowledge is power and the more knowledge your IT staff has, the faster they can respond to an emergency. For example, IT staff can document and distribute information about critical issues, such as remote security requirements, details of the company’s DR plan, or what to do if they suspect their laptop is infected. Non-IT power users also have good information to share. Encourage them to offer short video or Zoom presentations on common end-user questions such as how to implement a VPN, how to use a tech support knowledgebase, or how to backup data.
“I see a lot more power users teaching other users,” said Schadler. “In one situation, a power user of a popular collaboration tool offered monthly lunch sessions on how to get the most out of the application. It was powerful.”
IT departments will increasingly partner with outside providers of IT services. The goal is to outsource activities that aren’t core to the business or which the in-house staff lack expertise. Some examples of the services that partners provide are cloud storage and compute services, colocation facilities, IT equipment rentals, business continuity planning, Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS), security monitoring services, and help desk support.
A good partner operates as a branch of your organization and provides key services, advice, and technical support as needed. In the face of a future crisis, a reliable partner can be critical to survival.
The coronavirus epidemic has altered how we work, how we collaborate, and what technologies will be essential in the years ahead. Mobile and remote technologies are no longer nice-to-have capabilities but are now essential in most organizations. The increase in mobile and remote work, and the diversity of home equipment, will put IT support professionals under greater stress. Strategic planning and outsourcing partnerships are increasingly critical to long-term survival.
Learn more about the BraveIT Conference and watch more sessions
Want to hear more advice and insight on surviving and thriving in the face of rapid change and potential disruptions? Watch all of the presentations by IT industry leaders at BraveIT 2020.