From Business Continuity to the New Normality for IT and People

Does anybody remember the 23rd March 2020? Will that date become so profound in the future that we recall it with the same significance that we feel it now?  Clearly that was the date the UK officially entered “lockdown”, 31 days ago.  How has it felt for you?

My last post on 26th March spoke a lot about the personal (and to some extent my personal) impact of transitioning to a work from home “steady state”.  Over the past 4 weeks I’ve had the opportunity to observe my own organisation’s response to this situation, alongside many of our customers and partners as we come to terms with huge disruption to our businesses.    Even the most optimistic of us probably didn’t expect the lockdown to last just 3 weeks, but what has become apparent recently is that we are likely to be in this situation (or something very similar to it!) for the long haul.  We now talk of social distancing as the new normal, with all the implications this holds for our lives and our work.

Whilst I spoke a lot about user and user experience impacts in my last blog post, followed by a post from Ashley, our Workplace CTO who addressed collaboration and security best practices.  I wanted now to take the opportunity to share some wider observations.

From Workplace Enablement to Workplace Optimisation

Initially we saw a wave of activity as organisations looked to procure laptops, desktops, whatever they could get their hands on in order to assure themselves that they could equip their user for home working.

As this initial momentum has settled, the dynamic has changed.  Beyond initial device provision, when you’re working from a fixed position 5 days a week, your desire or need for a premium device soon becomes secondary to: the need for an external mouse or keyboard for health and safety/RSI needs, the need for a quality headset to supress background noise and enable you to engage in video call and the need for an external display  to provide access to a larger screen.

We are seeing these elements of the workplace environment become critical to supporting user performance and user health and wellbeing.  In summary, for the short term, working at home on a laptop is fine .  For the medium or long term you need to really think about your work space – technically and ergonomically and how you create a sustainable working environment.

Enhancing the Infrastructure Underpinnings

“There’s a problem with the network”

Everybody always says that! – Whether it’s the network’s fault or not, the network gets blamed.  Its same with the internet at home when your favourite app won’t reload.

By the way, we’re all now dependant on the internet as the network – its our lifeline to the video calls we spend our working days on, our connectivity to corporate systems and in many instances to our customers.

The point I am making relates to my second trend.  Once we’ve enabled people able to work, i.e. with a device in hand, we need to ensure that they can work.  By this we need to ensure that the infrastructure that runs these services is online, available, performant and scaled for the new demands it faces.

Many of these infrastructures simply weren’t designed for this, and quick adaptations have been required to increase capacity.  Whether it is Virtual Desktop platforms, storage infrastructure, or platforms for online services, everything has needed to be assessed, underpinned tactically, and then a more considered decision made as to how to scale these services for future needs.

Whether you are an end-user within an organisation, or a consumer of an organisation’s services, we know that patience and tolerance for poor performance is low, and therefore ensuring that platforms are performant and available is the current challenge.  We’ve seen, anecdotally, huge pressures on public cloud platforms in response to this situation – as demand and consumption has scaled beyond any sort of projections of what was possible in such a short time period.

Evolving the Support Model

Technology, People and Process are the 3 classic dimensions of impact.  I’ve spoken a lot about the technology dynamics, so the final area to cover blends People and Process.

When we step back and think about what has happened – thousands of people who typically work in an office IT environment have been asked to work from their homes.  Distanced from both the peer and IT support they depend on to be effective in their roles and to resolve their issues – they’re now left to “fend for themselves” in an isolated environment.  Service desk contacts have grown significantly as users come to terms with the new technology, a new “friction” they didn’t ask for.

This is the new normal.  We need to provide innovative and flexible ways to support users, and augment the support capability to cater for “unknowns” in the home setup – home printing, spurious WiFi setups etc.  We’ve adapted to provide home deployment services for users and have introduced virtual support services so that we can provide the “Tech Bar” experience that users were becoming accustomed to in the office, now over Microsoft Teams, Skype or Zoom.  We always spoke of a “future workplace” where people worked more remotely, and now we’ve been forced to deliver that promise – it’s now our reality and we must re-gear our services to cater to users wherever they are – literally!

In Summary

I’ve touched on 3 major trends and dynamics I have observed.  There’s far more detail than be covered in a single blog post.  The situation will continue to evolve – and its important that IT continues to adapt to cater for the needs of users and optimise the services to enable businesses to continue.

But equally, look at what has been achieved in the past few weeks. A product of circumstance, of a “can-do” attitude and a rapid acceleration of digital strategies.  There’s lots more to come over the coming weeks and months to ensure we stay ahead and support users and leverage technology to help guide businesses through these unprecedented times.

Take care of yourselves and your families,

Paul

About Paul Bray

Paul is Computacenter’s Chief Technologist for Computacenter in the UK & Ireland @PSBray

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