The proverbial day that COVID-19 hit, organizations came to a standstill. It was only for a few minutes, of course, and after the initial shock, they quickly realized: (1) they had to go home, (2) they were somewhat to largely unprepared for a global pandemic, and (3) the economy would be impacted. As an IT solutions and managed services provider, we immediately focused on our customers to make sure that they had what they needed to be productive—at scale and in a secure way.
We developed a rapid response plan to help customers deploy remote workers, maintain security and infrastructure readiness, and provide supplemental IT staff support. In this time of stress, we aimed to be the calm in the storm for
Now that the initial wave has subsided, what can we learn from this experience going forward?
Going Forward: The Impact of COVID-19 on Vertical Markets
While all industries have been affected, some have been impacted more than others. Other industries were jolted into reality.
Though state and local governments fared better, the behemoth that is our federal government was probably one of the least prepared for remote workers. Certainly, federal agencies have made considerable progress in developing and utilizing telework programs as a result of the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010.
But there’s an intricate patchwork of policies across agencies and, in 2017, just 21 percent of the federal workforce participated in telework even though 43 percent of all federal employees were eligible (1). In fact, it took weeks just to get laptops into employees’ hands.
Going forward, governments (and, in particular, the federal government) will want to figure out how to be more effective with remote work programs. Incorporating bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiatives into their business continuity planning to both cut costs and ensure emergency preparedness is key.
Schools, particularly K-12 schools, were somewhat underprepared for COVID-19. While schools quickly sent students home with devices, they weren’t immediately ready for online or distance learning.
In addition, K-12 (and some higher ed) IT systems are often patched together based on budget cycles rather than strategic priority. Educational software, too, is often a collection of standalone point products used to meet a specific need.
Going forward, we’re hoping to see an end-to-end learning experience that extends from the classroom to students’ homes. Curriculum will be redesigned, and education products will be consolidated and standardized on a single digital, cloud-based platform that will enable education to be delivered in one contiguous motion. With this kind of system in place, learning will continue uninterrupted, whether there’s a pandemic or a snow day.
Retailers facing reduced traffic or shuttered businesses are now realizing that their e-commerce strategy is more important than ever. In states where restaurants have had to close, restauranteurs are quickly developing more of a consistent presence from brick-and-mortar stores to online and using digital channels to reach out to and attract customers. Though this transformation has been occurring for a while, services will become much more of an imperative for the retail experience going forward.
Supply chain management and order fulfillment and delivery will also become critical. Grocery stores with pickup and delivery services have faltered a bit because of their inability to scale to meet demand. Even Amazon, with its industry-bending two-day delivery, has stumbled. Going forward, retailers will respond with pickup and delivery services that ably meet demand.
Manufacturers and industrial organizations will re-think their supply chain strategy. Who really knew that there were two toilet paper markets with normally relatively stable consumption until a global pandemic caused an over-supply in one market and a short supply in the other? Paper companies, like other manufacturers, will have to better respond to consumer demand in a way that doesn’t result in hoarding and price gouging.
They’ll also re-evaluate their supply chains and consider a more balanced global portfolio of suppliers instead of relying on a single nation-state whose goals are not always aligned with the nation’s goals.
Over the last decade, healthcare providers have ridden the technology express lane, aided mostly by regulatory mandates. Still, legacy apps languish in some clinical areas which keeps clinicians from providing truly connected care.
Going forward, healthcare organizations, as a critical infrastructure, will re-evaluate moving their operations to the public cloud so that they can quickly respond to the nation’s healthcare needs. We recently worked with a major healthcare facility that asked us to help them set up a temporary field hospital to handle the surge in COVID-19 patients. We mobilized a small team of engineers to their site and worked closely with their team to get a network up and running in just 10 days.
Going Forward: What COVID-19 Means for IT Teams
For IT teams, the initial COVID-19 wave was quick. IT leaders struggling to decamp employees asked: How do we quickly adopt the public cloud? How do we extend security to the edge? How do we implement collaboration tools, like Cisco Webex or Microsoft Teams?
Now that work from home is becoming the norm, priorities are changing. IT teams now need to focus on developing scalable cloud and security strategies and optimizing collaboration systems to accommodate this new normal.
For example, most healthcare providers use telehealth today. But most telehealth solutions were not designed to operate at scale. Many healthcare providers are now seeking to optimize their telehealth solution to run at scale—or they’re considering a new and scalable solution. In addition, some telehealth solutions are limited in their ability to provide doctors with immediate clinical information or process routine paperwork and deliver a seamless patient experience. IT leaders will move to optimize the available technologies to enable a superior customer experience.
5 Trends to Watch Coming out of COVID-19
1. Physical real estate – Clearly, organizations will re-evaluate the need for physical office space and investments in brick-and-mortar and will embrace the cost savings that can result from reducing their real estate. This is not to say that the office is going away. Instead, it will become more of a collaboration and information hub that workers can access rather than a place they must report to.
2. Increased cloud usage – Companies and IT leaders will also re-evaluate their public cloud usage. They’ll ask themselves why they’re in the physical data center business instead of outsourcing services, especially infrastructure services, that can provide them with much more business fluidity.
3. Accelerated IT transformation – IT teams will not only continue to transform from hands-on hardware operators to business and data analysts, this transformation will accelerate. IT is more about how to quickly respond to change, no matter what the change is.
4. Supply chain changes – Organizations, and particularly manufacturers, will re-evaluate their supply chains and consider a more balanced global portfolio of suppliers instead of relying on a single country like China.
5. Business structure – Most organizations will reevaluate their business structure and revisit their continuity plans. They’ll implement changes to ensure that people have access to their data and applications, when needed.
Tips for Getting Through COVID-19 Using Technology
As we see it, security, cloud and collaboration are the primary technologies needed to quickly enable a remote workforce and keep organizations moving during a business disruption.
A holistic security strategy from the core to the edge is critical. Look honestly at your security posture and refresh it, if needed. Many organizations will find that trying to manage their own security in a crisis may not be the best use of time and resources. This may be a welcome opportunity to seek out a third-party security partner who can help you strategically manage security at scale.
The public cloud will also be a beacon to companies for the agility and responsiveness it provides in all times, not only in a crisis. Any doubts about public cloud must be weighed against the value of continuous business operations. We helped one customer stand up 15,000 cloud-based desktops over a weekend so that they can continue their business virtually uninterrupted—all from employees’ homes.
Finally, revisit your voice and collaboration tools. Are they meeting your business needs and keeping employees connected during this vital time? If not, consider replacing or refreshing those solutions with solutions that can scale on demand while still meeting your business needs.
In times like these, there is great uncertainty and fear. But we will rise. And we will rise with even greater opportunities for innovation in how we manage the next business disruption.
Mike Martin is Senior Vice President for Solutions and Services, responsible for Logicalis U.S. strategy and services.
1“Status of Telework in the Federal Government Report to Congress, Fiscal Year 2017,” U.S. Office of Personnel Management, 01/2019.