Building a Less Fragile, More Sustainable IT

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The COVID crisis has challenged everyone involved in keeping their organizations running. CIOs and their teams clearly have been on the front lines and have shown us all that the technology works and that IT can operate through a disaster – including 100% Work-From-Home (WFH).

To be fair, not everything has worked perfectly. Fragile edges have been exposed for all of us to see, and collaborative system and Zoom fatigue have set in at many organizations. The question is what can CIOs do to improve business continuity and sustainability from this point forward?

From a sustainability perspective, this certainly involves creating organizations with the ability to be maintained at a level including sufficient resilience for business-critical services. It, also, involves considering how we make IT more sustainable for the environment. These are the topics that I posed to the CIOs of the #CIOChat.

What Historical Investments Helped You Keep Things Running?

CIOs discussed their people, process, and technology investments. CIO Melissa Woo says, “what has helped the most are staff who respond well to incidents and crises”. Analyst Dion Hinchcliffe agrees and suggests, “CIOs have had good payback that invested in a strong and capable chief of staff or office of the CIO that could manage the high level of detailed communications, coordination, and collaboration required during COVID19.” Dion continues by saying that investment in people with “backgrounds that respond well to chaos such as military and healthcare has helped too.”

With regards to processes, former CIO Isaac Sacolick says that “having agile processes and mindsets and a history of using virtual meetings, agile backlog, and ITSM for helping employees has mattered too.” Analyst Jack Gold adds that “companies which gave their employees additional freedoms, rather than regimented work positions, fared better in coping with remote work and work from home.”

Gold goes onto say that “companies that already had a remote work processes in place and had a heavy presence in cloud had a much easier time moving to work from home.”

Having an adaptive culture has really mattered too. Hinchcliffe says, “organizations having a culture of experimentation, risk taking, and are culturally and operational amenable to learning, change, adaptation, and flexibility tended to do better in the face of rapid disruption.” It seems clear that teams that have gotten used to doing innovation work and working agilely also have done well too,” says former CIO Raechelle Clemmons.

Deputy CIO Gomez believes this as well, and says “having a collaborative and can-do team culture helped us overcome our existing challenges. Our constituents because of this became more supportive and flexible at trying new solutions.” For this reason, former CIO Tim McBreen, claims “it is critical to make sure you have multiple small teams covering information, mobile, social, web, and integration. And redo the company to all laptops and office 365/Teams and an upgraded network.”

CIO Milos Topic agrees with McBreen. He says, “enabling people to lead and freeing them to be creative and innovative really helps.” Along the way, he says, “we have invested in additional cross-functional training in support of our broader community.” In terms of process, CIO Stephen diFilipo suggests it is of continuing importance to have “a well-defined and detailed continuity of operations plan."

With respect to technology, CIOs stress the importance of collaboration tools like Slack or Microsoft teams. They also stress the need for strong VPNs and Office 365. It is critical, CIOs believe, that technology, cybersecurity, and other remote work enabling technologies all work together.

CIO David Seidl, said “we built a really stable network, used scalable cloud services for our learning management, and video conferencing, and built a strong working process that leveraged things like TeamDynamix and Slack to help us track our work and communicate better to key stakeholders.”

Where Have Things Proven Frayed and Less Sustainable Than You Hoped?

CIOs were extremely candid. McBreen said that “the service desk didn't hold up as well for remote users as I would have hoped. My organizations had trouble closing issues with remote users. Meanwhile, we wasted the first weeks until people got comfortable with meetings, etc. and lost crutch of being in office.”

For Woo, “end-user device support was our biggest challenge.” Part of the reason for this, says Gold, is “organizations are just now getting enough equipment to work from home. Regimented on-premises workers like call center workers were not equipped to work from home and for getting 10s of thousands of PCs on short order has proved difficult.”

Hinchcliffe believes “there was more fraught than we thought for remote work. You need to establish a culture of digital collaboration. There is more work to creating sustainable remote digital workplaces. This includes cybersecurity, support for middle managers, and an overarching business continuity plan for pandemics.” This is interesting because a survey by Upwork’s Adman Ozimek finds that 36.2% of those surveyed feel technological issues were the major problem with remote work.

Unfortunately, diFlipo says that “in extreme stress caused some people revert to bad habits.” Hinchcliffe, in fact, claims “it's interesting, I'm seeing continuing signals that managers are less productive and line workers tend to be more productive overall, with net productivity being a wash or slightly lower.”

Technologically, Topic says, “our current phone system capabilities and inability to influence the QoS of home networks hurt our organization.” Dion suggests “the big issue is that we're trying to use tools and media largely designed to augment and support employee experience and make them the primary ways we work. But they can't replace the physical workplace today. We need newly tuned tools and techniques.”

Seidl does not disagree with Dion when he suggests that “outside our ability to directly influence, but a challenge for some connectivity for students, faculty, and staff when we went home. There are places that don't have viable Internet. Interestingly, we saw far lower use of VoIP than we expected, despite rolling out quickly via softphones in the early stages of the pandemic. It feels like most people moved directly to video conferencing.”

Looking Back, What Would You Have Changed in Your Investment Plan?

Gold claims, “the truth is that only a small percentage of companies even had an emergency contingent in their planning. Organization must now take emergency preparedness into account”. Meanwhile, Sacolick adds that, “organizations with inefficient or poorly managed face to face meetings. They were productivity killers in the office, and even worse when they are replicating in virtual versions.”

From a technology perspective, McBreen suggests “we should have completed our move to cloud faster.” Raechelle Clemmons adds, “I would have “doubled investment in cloud resources and accelerated migration to all cloud. It was always in the plan but pushed harder on digital workplace initiative -- laptops, digital processes, collaboration tools, and cloud systems. And, the worker agility that must go with that.” Our CIOs and industry analysts say that with benefit of hindsight, best-in-class preparation should have included:

1) Business continuity for pandemics with regular stress tests

2) Training and new skills for IT and workers

3) Larger uncertainty/disaster budget set-asides

4) Establishment of a culture of resiliency

5) Finishing of the movement to cloud

6) Cleaned up integration tech debt

7) More concentration on data, mobile, and web apps along with associated integration

8) More use of SaaS solutions, more mobile devices

9) Contracted out service desk to the experts

10) Invested more in touchless technology

Going Forward, How Would You Build a More Sustainable IT?

CIOs had multiple suggestions regarding building a more sustainable IT. I have listed them here in order of repetition:

1) Accelerate the move to public cloud

2) Reduce manual work. Invest in automation and AI to reduce labor cost and bolster operations

3) Kill ineffective processes and rebuild smart, data-driven processes with low code, no code

4) Make the organization more secure and collaborative by providing the right digital technologies

5) Put in place more asynchronous and less interruptive collaboration tools

6) Establish the right IT mindset by better alignment to the purpose of the company

7) Improve Wi-Fi and use VR to change how we think about being in the same room

I really like what CIO Pedro Martinez Puig says at this point, “the path forward involves reducing the tech centricity of IT and pushing the focus on the customer, the employees, suppliers and the rest of the stakeholders. The alignment between the purpose of the company can be boosted with the right IT mindset.”

What Changes Regarding People Would Drive a More Sustainable IT?

Woo says, “it important to acquire people who accept change readily and can handle ambiguity well.” Forrester Analyst Charlie Betz agrees with her and suggests, “it is critical that CIOs build learning organizations.”

For this reason, Sacolick claims, it is time to be “dialing up the listening skills, performing quick market research, and running experiments. It is totally a new ballgame on customer needs, giving new opportunities." Topic agrees and suggests that “it is time for an efficient, collaborative teams that share knowledge and helps each other. Along the way, they should focus on the community and value we provide to others.”

Adding onto these thoughts Gomez agrees concludes “continue to build trust, collaboration, and knowledge sharing across the enterprise. Place an emphasis on security training and the need to continue to innovate and to remain flexible.”

Parting Remarks

Sustainability is clearly on CIOs mind these days. They want to now eliminate the frail edges and help create a more sustainable IT. Given this, there are a number of concrete actions that CIOs can take starting with improving IT culture and teaming. At the same time, it seems clear that it is time to establish agile practices and accelerate the move to public cloud.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Myles Suer, producer of #CIOChat, is Head of Global Enterprise Marketing at Dell Boomi.



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