Some observations that we have seen with our customers; the old historic landscape is the premise of connecting people to data. The reality was that in the past it was very simple. The central data source was there, and the connectivity was simple. Therefore, the backup and resilience were clear and simple as well. Users were generally in a centralised location or office location, and recovery was simple because it could link in clearly and simply.
The challenge we face now in the current landscape is that the basic premise of enterprise network and landscaping is still the same; to connect people and data. However, there is an expectation of instant application response, but the data can be in multiple locations. The infrastructure can be distributed. We have also seen the ascendancy of PAS, IAS SaaS. The majority of enterprise landscapes have organically grown and therefore evolved. This also has a backdrop of in many cases IT has been the poor relation and a cost rather than a benefit. Unfortunately, in many cases that emphasis has led to certain instances which have been brought into crystallisation in current circumstances.
Most enterprise architectures are built around the BAU environment, around people being in an office, with traffic flows designed accordingly. The challenge has been that users are dispersed at present. It’s not just communication but content. What we need to do is reflect on the four principles of IT Network and delivery: scale, security, control, compliance.
If we look at the scale, some companies have been lucky enough to flex the bandwidth. It may be ADSL or Ethernet. Because the topology has been built around an office environment, networks can’t necessarily flex. Although the bandwidth may be there, there is pressure on other elements. You are now moving from connectivity in the same building to WAF to firewall balances – all the things you haven’t thought of needing before. You’ve had to get users to come in through the various security aspects. What we have seen is, to cope with the current scenario, many companies have used their bandwidth and exceeded it, and had to use their DR links as well – those set aside for business continuity. This leaves businesses vulnerable.
More reliance on SaaS applications means a need for better connectivity. There is a culture of expecting an instantaneous response. You must make sure the latency is short, and therefore how you architect the environment is more critical.
Do you provide it yourselves, or go to someone who can consolidate it for you? How do you manage that?
The other point which people are finding contracts, and how flexible are they. The CFO community is finding that the only certain thing is uncertainty. Now looking for contractual relationships for an outcome. How can spend be reallocated across various outlying services to give the outcome needed? We should be considering this.
Security: one of the unforeseen circumstances is because traffic patterns have changed, we have now seen traffic is flowing through firewalls. To balance the user experience, some companies have relaxed or changed their security policies, or had difficulty maintaining them. More than one company has left itself vulnerable to attacks, and these are prevalent. We will reap the whirlwind once the immediate crisis abates. One question is, have your data and applications been correctly identified and are you approaching it in a tiered fashion? Is it one size fits all? How do you protect yourself and future traffic patterns?
Control: people have been working off kitchen tables and using home Wi-Fi, using the same laptop for meetings and shopping. You have now seen the challenge of shadow IT. Again, has IT become the bottleneck because we haven’t reacted fast enough to this changing environment? Should IT be seen as a broker rather than a provider of services?
Compliance: rules of land/union still apply. There will come a time when rules will be applied once more. The same will apply to financial industries. While some leeway will be given to recording conversations, that time will soon pass when that is okay. The new normal – how will it be structured, and are we prepared?
Costs have always been a major factor. IT is a cost centre, not a profit centre. CapEx has been spent which hasn’t been budgeted for. This has been an overspend. Which projects which will give competitive advantage will be delayed or put-on hold? Has the business done a review of what they’re going to ask us to do? What will and will not be in scope? The reality has to be that strategy has to change and we have to reflect our ability to support that strategy.
If you look at budgets generally, it’s now time for IT to look at global real estate. They are intrinsically linked and feed each other. Is it under review from occupancy and budgetary viewpoints? We use IDC as a reference. They reference the fact that pre-pandemic, 10% was working from home. They predict 25-30% as a new normal. They say: “physical space can have a tremendous impact on inspiring staff and enabling companies to imprint their unique corporate values. It generates human collisions and companywide collaboration in a unique way that is still hard to replicate in the digital workplace.” How do we reinvent ourselves? To capture energy and collaboration and accept GRE will be different? We are now looking at a hybrid GRE approach when a return to work is being talked about.
One of the consequences of lockdown was all centres of excellence locked down at once. Support in two locations rather than the same place. Do you use a serviced workplace, or set GRE aside which won’t be used, which is expensive? How do you expand the capability to fit the new normal? You have a blended hybrid environment with customer co-location, customer site, hosted private cloud and SaaS. How can this be blended? Is it time to take stock? If the majority of users are using SaaS, is the same infrastructure needed? Do I need premises or not? How do I architect it? We need to look at GRE and IT together.
How do we execute this? We have the desire to improve versus ability. People are the most critical and limiting factor. How do I free my people up to give me intellectual horsepower? How do I automate more things to get more time back? What we are seeing in a lot of companies is run the business and improve the business are two separate functions. That can only be done when you have identified the mundane tasks that are essential but non-core.
The point that we are looking at, hybrid is the new normal. 74% of people are using a hybrid environment today. If we acknowledge this is the new normal, is this the time to do a tactical review, and understand how IT moves from cost to value? Although we are looking through the lens of the pandemic, the majority of calls are around network, power, and comms. Especially when you have a dispersed environment. Whilst we are looking forward, we must make sure we don’t have the perfect storm of a pandemic, distributed workforce, and potential outages.
“In war, the moral is the physical as three is to one” – Napoleon.
If the best army isn’t being used correctly, it’s all to nought. Leadership plays a critical part in inspiring and developing. The pandemic has been a surging stress test. It may be useful to consider what we have seen in recent months.
During the lockdown, a study commissioned by Sungard in North America found that customers use of digital services more than doubled on average. The survey found rising levels of expectation and less tolerance for outages. 32% of consumers would switch providers if a website was down for more than 24 hours.
During the pandemic, whilst some staff never left the office where the tech solution was just too complicated, 97.4% of organisations had staff working from home. There is a requirement for resilient and secure IT. Senior leadership wanted to get people back around tables for water-cooler moments. This will get thrown into a challenge as many countries fall back into lockdown. That genuine face to face collaboration is important.
Demands on IT support staff: a report commissioned indicates that 27.6% of organisations had to supplements security systems. A fourfold increase in cybercrime. The Honda data breach is thought to be related to remote working. Data weaponised through ransomware. That should cause leadership to pause for thought as to how they view the recovery of data. 5-10% of business data is crown jewels, but what that is needed is to be determined.
Delivering resilient services and responding to regulatory demands is a challenge. Financial sector businesses need to have greater ownership of issues.
When we talk about enterprise resilience, technology isn’t enough. The whole organisation has to be resilient and a leadership team that sets expectations. Ultimately, the role of leadership is to make difficult decisions, which requires an understanding of issues. These choices need to be coherent and aligned with a strategy.
Five leadership attributes need to exude: leadership’s role in making decisions in an environment of imperfect information where compromise is inevitable and necessary. Avoid decision paralysis and no decisions being made. The second piece is a sense of purpose which provides focus. Leadership is all about people. In times of trouble, leaders must be calm – the swan analogy. You need to know and understand your team, recognising anxieties. You want a learning culture striving for better. Trust your people to do the right thing and they look to you to do the same. Culture beats strategy every time. Finally, communication – clear, consistent, open and transparent. You need to develop a shared understanding and is key.
What is the most valuable trait for leadership to display in the current times?
During the pandemic, calmness has been a key trait, even though it’s a crisis. The logical approach has calmed everyone and allowed innovative ideas and not isolate people. Lack of panic has been useful.
One of the major factors was a reiteration on focus on goals from everyone from the top down, and support through the organisation to manage those goals and achieve them. This was a change from COVID-19. The isolation and remote work emphasised the management to use that tool to drive the business forward.
In a complex situation, developing ground truth is a real challenge, but once you have its decisions can be made quickly. Leaders must listen.
Point of concern – the drifting team. When the crisis started, everyone was energised by the newness. Now it’s new normality, there’s the long grinding stress of the implications. Everyone is somewhere on the spectrum. It will be interesting to see how management styles evolve out of this. The one thing that it’s nice to see is the exponential increase in cyber exposure as we’ve had to flip our networks on their heads. Cutting corners to keep the organisation running, we know we’re living with this on a day to day basis. These are observations.
The technology has supported us. Very few organisations have suffered from lack of investment. Teams have risen to the challenge. The responses we need are in place. That has been fairly successful and was affected very quickly. We have worked for a long time to make our leaders accessible. This pandemic and remote working environment have led to us losing this interaction. Normal face to face engagement is lost. We are starting to lose the collaborative environment. It’s a lot more difficult when you’re doing it over Zoom or Teams. You can’t look at body language. We are at a point now when some effort has to be made in how we lead in a remote environment.
From the start of the pandemic, a lot of leaders have begun to overcommunicate. Coffee mornings each week over Zoom to fill the gap. Previously, at least 10% of the workforce worked from home so that behaviour should have been there from then. The level of consistency has been poor as leaders have had to adapt to what was already a reality for a lot of people. It showed the rigidity of their previous test scenarios. None of this was tested in advance.
How can water cooler moments be reconstructed?
We are not envisaging having small, compact meeting rooms any longer, more collaborative, open workspaces. They are more than likely to work from home. The long-term percentage we don’t know. The office will just be used for those engagements where management wants to bring people in. What we maybe take for granted today in the office space will need to be booked in advance. Cleaning those spaces afterwards will need to be more focused. It will be different.
Have you seen that the goals have changed?
IT is seen as a poor relation. What are not going to be priorities?
The management of the goals has changed. The people interaction and evaluation of people. The whole management and people management around those goals has changed. From a technological side, we have seen that we have built systems that were able to cope that nobody realised were able. This is a positive development. The investment made had now enabled us not having to react. We had something like 2000 people working from home to all of a sudden 29,000. This was some change, achieved within 10 working days without really any disruption. The resilience of disaster recovery, we expect still to be able to deliver to the customer. That was available. What was not so available was that we do try it on a case by case basis, but the communication of the knowledge base internally and the focus on goals. What is vital to the company and what is nice are two different things.
Leadership is there to make decisions. They think I need to do this, but I don’t know why.
Do you now feel that the whole business resilience seat is now there at the table, or is it still a fight?
This won’t change. What maybe has come to a better understanding is that IT is a vital part of the business. This is quite important because we are not necessarily the speaker on the table, but when you switch on the light, you expect it to come on. That has opened better communication channels to improve on the output of IT and to make people understand, for them to understand that their input is what drives us. I said that I was interested in the discussion because of the change. As part of a service, we have to understand business expectations. It is not free. It is based on the business expectation, and we have to understand both sides of the table. The separation of the day to day job operation – has it changed? Yes. Has it improved IT? Maybe not so much as to reinforce or to reiterate the role of IT as part of the business. We could provide everyone with laptops, phones, all that just happened. We had a security team and firewall in place – this is what we need, but you need to upgrade your systems because of security. Cause and effect.
This has been a crisis and it’s not a nice environment to operate in, but there have been opportunities. It has proven what we say about investments. For us, it’s been positive in terms of the discussion and the seat at the table. We were flagging in trying to develop and get focus, but that very much has led us to that’s a priority for the organisation. We are getting to hear about things. There is an IT element to everything. Everybody is having to go digital. People who were delivering training are now saying can we do this online. It showcased our department. Positives have come from it. That is not to say we don’t struggle for resources. The people are the limiting factor. We are going after the money and securing funding. We are finding resources within our team are hitting capacity.
It’s best to have somebody within who gives you an insight into the culture and hit the ground running. Showcasing talent. Giving people the ability to walk around proud. There’s a link between strategy and activities on the ground.
One of the big questions is the constant pressure of digital transformation. You’re delivering automation of systems continually. This crisis has proven that on the journey, we had already implemented a lot of the steps. The processes and technologies were there. There were gaps, but that wasn’t a choice. Business leadership and the world as a whole – where is that going to lead us to? Where is the transformation component now that we are all in that space? It is no longer a concept, it is real. Are we doing enough? Do we stop here? Is there a permutation we should seek to aim for?
The new normal is one where if you’re just surviving, you’re going backwards. If that’s your instinct, you’re dead already. Digital means what? As many answers as people you ask. Make the journey less siloed. How do you make those interactions as seamless as possible?
What is the strategy to be?
What do we want to be when we grow up? Priorities are changing. If IT is required to support everything in escalation mode, effectively nothing is in escalation mode. We have to pick what’s beneficial. We can coalesce around that. This has proper board membership and sponsorship. The wheels of the conversation are greased.
The whole point of this is, the lead has been given to us, but the race isn’t finished. Is it a marathon? It’s a set of sprints. We need to understand the next thing to give a business advantage.
We need to understand what the next thing is we need to give a business advantage – whoever would think education would be a competitive world? The question is holding leadership to account, and what is the new normal for them. We have to be at the table with leadership. Have people focused on the right things at the right time?
A lot of this is about educating leadership. The current crisis had put IDTR into the ExCo area where it didn’t sit previously and hasn’t for a long time. Now the leaders understand the importance. If you try to cover all options, you’re not going to do justice. The strategy needs to be aligned. Now that technology has a voice at the table, make use of it to educate the other decision-makers around it.
There are more challenges because people are working from home. The challenges are if compromises happen that damage workplace networks. It is a serious issue. IT used to be a cost centre.
IT Disaster Recovery
One thing we have noticed about the pandemic experience is that everything has worked.
We do; however, all have a dependency on our ISPs. Multiple ISPs have been useful to give business further resilience. Network outages can impact services in rural areas. Data connectivity is critical. The investments have paid off.
Before Covid, back-up suppliers designed our plans, and for the tests, we were trying to be clever and resilient. Even when you are careful, the staff being lost can be tricky. In general, there has been a realisation of the importance of IT. There is also impatience when something goes wrong. We had a system where SMS messages were sent and not received. We don’t know whether this was to do with the software of phone providers. Things have changed, and yet they remain the same.
Agile infrastructure is great. Managing it is something else.