Of all the disruptive events that CIOs had planned for, it’s unlikely a pandemic was top of the list. Earthquakes, fires and even volcanic eruptions. But not a virus that sent the entire workforce home for weeks, followed by a hybrid environment with staff moving between home and the office.
At a recent IDG roundtable in partnership with Lenovo and Intel, New Zealand CIOs discussed how they plan to manage continuous change and what’s on their technology agenda. As Lenovo representative Cameron Rangeley put it – having proven their teams’ capability during the COVID-19 lockdowns this year, IT leaders are now in a position to capitalise on their achievements.
“The CIO’s have earnt respect through this period, both in how they reacted at the time and because of their preparedness, which enabled their business to keep operating through the COVID period,” he says.
Managing the hybrid working environment
Nikko Asset Management head of information technology Marcus Rameke says that due to the pandemic there was a high uptake of remote desktops, and much higher expectations on remote solutions, as working from home moved from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must have’.
“One of the observations is that most companies had planned a disaster scenario where they wouldn’t have access to their office IT equipment (server, network and computers), while with Covid-19 companies still had access to the office IT equipment and the old school remote desktop solution became one of the preferred options for many,” Rameke says.
“With remote desktop, users working remotely got the same experience as they would in the office (same desktop, access, shortcuts), and with the rapid transition to work from home it was easier to use remote desktop for users than using, for example, VDI where you need to setup your own profile. In some cases Remote Desktop was a requirement due to hardware requirements and configurations to be able to run certain applications.”
The challenge for IT now is to manage the new hybrid workforce, although in many ways people working either all at the office, or all at home, was easier to enable.
Rameke’s view is that most New Zealand companies will opt for a hybrid solution. This is because none of the large public cloud vendors have data regions in New Zealand presently (although this is changing) and there are data governance issues that need to be resolved.
“Using a hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) model is more cost effective than migration to the Cloud and using IaaS. You have to be careful and look into what are the most flexible and cost effective ways to run your applications and system. Depending on the application stack, there might be advantages to using cloud platforms such as PaaS, SaaS, and serverless options, over running the application stack on your HCI environment. However, if you have legacy applications it might worth staying on-premise with a HCI solution,” he says.
Dealing with an increase in cyber attacks
Rangeley notes that during the Roundtable discussion, security was raised as a major concern, brought into sharp relief by the recent spate of DDoS attacks. “Several attendees mentioned industrial control systems that they had to invest a lot in protecting, typically because those systems ran old operating systems and the impact of downtime was high,” he says.
Ports of Auckland head or architecture Craig Beetlestone says that as no business of any reasonable scale can operate without their ICT systems in 2020, digital resilience is a critical — if complex — undertaking.
“For the most part, the technical solutions for remote working exist and are mature — whether that be connectivity, multi-factor authentication or infrastructure. I think the question for most enterprises is not ‘how do I enable remote working?’ but rather ‘how do I enable remote working securely’. There’s no silver bullet in that respect and comes down to the investment in architecting and deploying secure systems, regardless of location,” he says.
Making the most of new expectations
Roundtable participants all agreed that having shepherded their organisations through the pandemic by enabling remote working they now, more than ever, have the ear of the CEO.
While this means that expectations are now higher, so too is the likelihood they will get the go-ahead to either return to, or embark upon, ambitious technology roadmaps.
Vodafone NZ CIO Andrew Haddad, who is relatively new to the role, had spent his first few months prior to COVID-19, getting his department in order.
“I’ve always been of the belief that if IT doesn’t have the basics in order, then we will always struggle to do the more interesting, innovative or strategic work. When I joined Vodafone and took over the IT team, our operational performance was very poor, with an average of 47 critical incidents every month, impacting our staff, customers and of course revenue and reputation,” he says.
“I focused heavily on getting the discipline back into our processes, tools and people to drive this number down to single digits and in September we had the best performance we’ve had in the last three years with only five major incidents. This focus helped us quickly react to the lockdown and enable our staff and partners — onshore and offshore — to work remotely and safely, and also repurpose some of our retail staff to support customers over chat and phone from the homes, given all our stores were also closed.”
Haddad and his team are now being actively consulted by the CEO and CTO on new technology projects, although his focus also remains on improving IT operational performance.
“Today we run a hybrid model, part waterfall and part agile, which requires a high degree of handholding to stitch together end-to-end business outcomes, and often results in quality gaps, rework and cost overrun. With the review of our capital plan at the start of the first COVID lockdown, we agreed that this piece of work is low priority and should not be kicked off. We have now returned to a more typical program of work and are working towards a case to roll out consistent ways to working across all of our technology delivery.”
Data and analytics programs under consideration
At the top of the list for many CIOs is exploring new data and analytic programs, with a number of Roundtable attendees now actively pursuing IoT deployments.
Beetlestone notes that modern machine learning and AI capabilities are in their infancy for many organisations, but hold plenty of promise.
“Most enterprises have large quantities of data sitting in various systems of record. The real challenge is extracting that data, being able to derive insights and make timely decisions. I think we’re all looking for how machine learning and AI can derive insights and ultimately make decisions much quicker than we do today,” he says.
“It’s top of mind and there’s a lot of potential, but this whole space is very early in its evolution. A lot of legacy data warehousing architectures aren’t designed with real-time analytics and large fine-grained data sets in mind,” he says.
Restaurant Brands CIO Kenny Thein says that on his technology roadmap are data analytics platforms that will unlock insights for the organisation to grow new and existing customer channels.
“The growth opportunities to be derived from data insights and the courage to experiment in this competitive market will be the make or break for most organisations. We are wanting to forge ahead in the next year, driving amazing customer experiences — some novel and some permanent — to drive channel growth, and of course have fun on the way!” he says.