On March 24, 2021, Noord hosted a virtual boardroom in association with LogicMonitor. The event comprised an introduction by John Rakowski, VP of Product Marketing at LogicMonitor, followed by a discussion between senior IT and security leaders and decision-makers on how businesses have adapted their IT systems in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and ensured business continuity.
Opening of the session
Following a brief introduction to LogicMonitor, a cloud-based infrastructure monitoring platform for enterprise IT and managed service providers, John Rakowski presented a report that LogicMonitor had published in mid-2020 entitled ‘Evolution of IT Research’. At the time of publication, the expectation was that staff in the IT sector would return to office-based working, but it has since become clear that the pandemic has fundamentally changed working patterns forever.
In this context, technology has become more important than ever, with companies accelerating their digital strategy programmes and LogicMonitor having received an increasing number of enquiries about SaaS and VPN monitoring. In particular, SaaS applications were proving to be one of the most important areas in the cloud.
The report by LogicMonitor had surveyed 500 IT decision-makers and focused on three key areas: immediate responses to home working; how companies are changing investment in IT; and automation.
Reasons for attending and key challenges
Participants were asked to briefly introduce themselves, outline their reason for attending and describe the key challenges their company is facing in working remotely.
Most attendees noted that their organisation had been successful in ‘lifting and shifting’ their IT systems from office to remote settings in a short space of time, with the aid of technology such as Microsoft Teams and SharePoint. While attendees highlighted the benefits of remote working – including cost savings and efficiencies for businesses, environmental benefits, improved mental health for employees and the benefits of managing staff remotely – a range of challenges were cited.
One key challenge was the need to virtually replicate water cooler moments – in other words, the opportunity for informal serendipitous conversation in an office setting. This was felt to be particularly important for new employees or graduates who may be struggling to ‘learn on the job’ while working in isolation. This isolation was seen as problematic, particularly as companies are now beginning to consider the experience of individuals, such as their mood and productivity, following the large-scale collective shift to remote working.
Moreover, it was felt that short informal conversations often sparked creativity, which is difficult to replicate without face-to-face interactions. There were some suggestions for how to improve this, including conference call drop-ins and lunch sessions, as well as quirky ideas for staff socials. One attendee highlighted the importance of such informal sessions in making employees feel comfortable and confident enough to voice their opinions – with the point made that despite the changes that have taken place over the past year, the fundamentals of the business have not changed, in that companies can still achieve a great deal through connections, trust and honesty.
This idea of fostering an inclusive culture was also felt to be important as a couple of organisations had experienced huge turnover in desk-based roles – indicating that new employees are struggling to engage with company culture remotely. However, the point was made that the younger generation generally prefer digital interaction and seem to only want to return to physical interaction on their terms and in their own time.
Another challenge cited was overexposure to video calls, as there can be very little breathing space between back-to-back virtual meetings, and as a result, some employees find themselves sitting down for their entire working day. As a potential solution, one participant floated the idea of imposing ‘call-free’ periods across a team or organisation where employees know in advance that they will not be disturbed.
Other challenges cited were the security implications of remote working (including the shift to container and fileless security), the varied impacts on productivity while working from home and the need to ensure the resilience of IT services, which was described as ‘the fourth emergency service’ given our unprecedented reliance on remote systems.
Plans for the future around home working
When asked about the future of working arrangements, all participants were planning to adopt some form of hybrid model.
A couple of participants noted that previous plans to build more office space had been abandoned, with their organisations now planning to use offices more flexibly in addition to home working. Two participants, however, did note that their organisations relied heavily on face-to-face interactions and therefore had plans to return to in-person working eventually.
Crucially, the Covid-19 pandemic had emphasized the need for all organisations to future-gaze to consider what their physical and IT infrastructure will look like in the next 18 months.
IT infrastructure: successes and challenges
According to the report by LogicMonitor, only 36% of global IT decision-makers felt their IT infrastructure had been prepared when the pandemic hit. Some participants felt that their organisation had acted more swiftly than the government in ordering staff to work from home in early March 2020 and had therefore been well prepared to facilitate remote connections and provide staff with the necessary IT equipment.
Challenges cited included sluggish home broadband connections, the security implications of staff using their own devices, and the logistical challenge of taking IT equipment from offices to homes.
Looking ahead to IT automation
As outlined in LogicMonitor’s research, 94% of leaders expect IT automation to be a major focus in the next three years.
In the discussion, one participant mentioned that they were looking into RPA and process automation, along with chatbot technology for internal support purposes. Their organisation was also looking at improving the efficiency of global supply chains by developing AI- and ML-based models in conjunction with the University of Limerick.
Another participant mentioned that at their organisation, software engineers were undergoing intensive training to automate desk processes, although it was proving difficult to ascertain which processes to automate given that it is more difficult to monitor staff processes remotely.
Closing of the session
While there was recognition that the Covid-19 pandemic would continue to shape ways of working well into 2021, it was hoped that in a year, participants would be able to talk more about digital transformation and cloud-based technologies as part of embedded company strategies rather than merely as responses to a short-term crisis.