Tech and Emotional Support for a Distributed Workforce: An IT Leader’s Perspective

“The real challenges were psychological,” says Willie J. Anderson II, Black Knight’s SVP for Distributed Infrastructure Services

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Black Knight

Willie J. Anderson II is Senior Vice President for Distributed Infrastructure Services at Black Knight, a financial services firm focused on the real estate industry. Anderson is no stranger to change management after 30 years in IT. Yet, he, like millions of others, had never seen the kind of upheaval caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Even so, he and his team of 200 successfully met the challenge of supporting a stay-at-home workforce while working at home themselves. Here he talks about how they did it and why people and process are more important than technology for managing change.

How did you and your team’s day-to-day operations change as a result of working at home?

This change didn’t hurt us that much, quite frankly. I initiated the stay-at-home order with my team via text. The reason that it sounds so uneventful is we perform thousands of changes to our software a month, including adding new functionality as well as security and maintenance updates. Those changes we execute during the weekend hours. So we have a crew that’s been doing quite a bit of critical work from home for quite a few years.

Was such a shift part of your disaster planning?

We have robust business continuity plans and annually test for pandemics; while we were prepared for it, we never imagined the severity and length of the impact of COVID. Thankfully, we were able to successfully convert our entire workforce to WFH within two weeks. During WFH, we have successfully implemented our largest client on our servicing platform, completed a $1.8 billion acquisition, and implemented a new collaboration tool.

What were the major challenges you faced?

The real challenges have been psychological. You have folks who just loved being in the office. There was nothing in their home that prepared them psychologically for extended work from home. So we learned not to overly focus on trying to achieve the result of getting people working from home. We needed to balance that with the process and the relationships. Especially now, I tend to spend more time on the people and the process than I do on the technology. For example, first thing in the morning, I have every leader on my team get up and open a chat line with their teams. That quells a lot of fears.

What about security challenges?

The minute folks go home, you’re dealing with VPNs and individual ISPs. So your scheduling for security updates for endpoints needs to change to a daily cadence while not disrupting folks in the middle of the day.

Any advice for others facing similar challenges?

We picked things to turn on slowly, and then we made whatever adjustments we needed to make. So, have a setup where you enable things, measure, then enable more, and then measure again. There’s nothing wrong with turning capabilities on bit by bit so that when you execute—when you turn the whole system on—it’s flawless. There’s nothing worse than enabling something and having to turn the darn thing off.

For more perspectives on how IT executives are managing the new normal, visit https://world-at-home.tanium.com.

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