What You Do Now Defines Your Recovery

Events of the past few months have forced organizations to make technology changes and investments that they weren’t expecting or that were planned for further in the future. In short order, new priorities supplanted existing plans, with long-term transformation projects paused in favor of immediate actions to adjust to new operating environments and  ensure business continuity.

The reality for your workforce, customers and partners has already undergone lasting change. There is likely more change to come. How you respond now will define your recovery from the crisis. But the question isn’t “What will our organization look like after the recovery?” but rather “What do we want it to look like?”

With the right approach and the right guidance, what you do now will not only help you recover but also compete and thrive post-recovery.

It’s important that business and IT leaders keep this in mind and continue to build momentum as they work through the phases of response and recovery:

  1. Enabling remote work capabilities
  2. Ensuring security and performance for core IT services
  3. Reducing costs and increasing ROI on existing assets
  4. Translating change into competitive advantage

Below, we explore the ways technology leaders can leverage this moment of change to drive innovation and establish a model for revenue growth once on the path to recovery.

 

Adapting to Change and Stabilizing a New Environment

When the implications of COVID-19 became apparent, organizations were singularly focused on adapting to fast-changing conditions and short-term needs as business continuity plans were defined and activated. Even for those who were somewhat prepared, the shift to all-remote work was jarring, as IT departments had to deploy or update the applications and the infrastructure they ran on. For those less prepared, it placed crisis on-top of crisis.

There just wasn’t enough time to lay the groundwork for a fully-fledged, secure and connected remote work strategy. Users may have been asked to adopt an unfamiliar working scenario or tools they weren’t used to overnight. After the initial deployment, challenges around use and support arose.

Next came the need to support a stable, workable employee experience in the new all-remote environment. This produced its own challenges as networks came under unusual stress, people learned how to work in the new reality and cyber criminals wasted no time exploiting the confusion.

The silver lining: The journey from business-as-usual to all-remote work at the outset has already started either to rapidly define or push forward a digital workplace strategy.

If you weren’t transforming through technology six weeks ago, you likely are now.

The roll out of modern collaboration, remote access and the accompanying security and network changes has equipped your organization to be more flexible, more secure and less tied to the core office environment and the proverbial walled garden.

The pandemic has also prompted many businesses to ask the question, “is it what we’re selling or how we’re selling?” For example, take a brick-and-mortar butcher that has embraced digital ordering and curbside pickup to accommodate physical distancing requirements. Already, the owner reports higher satisfaction from customers as they pick up purchases rather than wait in long lines the way they had pre-crisis. Meanwhile, selling through digital pre-order means the owners keep less inventory on-hand and dramatically reduced waste.

In short, transforming through technology, albeit quickly and out of necessity, has improved the customer experience while making the business more efficient.

If you’ve been through this kind of change, you already have more flexibility around the digital workplace, where and how you recruit talent and deliver products and services to your customers.

Security and Stability to Reduced Cost and Risk

The economic impact of the pandemic is ongoing and cost management has become urgent for organizations in every vertical. IT departments have or are about to enter an “efficiency phase” aimed at reducing costs and increasing return on existing investments.

Many organizations are now embarking on the process of rationalizing software, infrastructure (and in some unfortunate cases, personnel). At this stage, it’s important to stay focused on gains in stability as you look for ways to reduce short-term cost and risk.

It’s also important to keep in mind that recovery will begin eventually. Steps taken toward cost efficiency now should aim at streamlining for faster growth and innovation in that recovery stage. Simply put, you can come out of this an “optimized” organization.

Meanwhile, IT departments may have to find ways to support this new environment with fewer resources than they had before. The need to establish a zero-trust security posture hasn’t gone away, but options for doing so may be more limited. Every organization has its own financial needs and pressures that impact technology spending and many will be looking at new models of subscription, financing and leasing.

The streamlining of IT operations and infrastructure, while difficult today, will set up efficiencies that support a strong recovery.

There is no financial solution that fits every situation. For example, while shifting to subscription or OPEX (operational expenditure) models may work for some, this doesn’t suit organizations with cash flow or debt covenant issues. Considering the right financial options to meet your specific budget and technology needs will be paramount.

Nonetheless, rightsizing the data center or a broader use of public cloud to optimize efficiency, rationalizing licenses and augmenting your own resources with cost-efficient solutions will set you up for agility later. As another upside, many CIOs and IT leaders have received long overdue support for business continuity planning (BCP), modern collaboration and other transformation initiatives.

Driving Efficiency to Thriving in Recovery  

The journey out of finding efficiencies and into recovery will build on the lessons learned in enabling remote work and streamlining costs. In this phase, the steps you took to ensure you got to recovery, done the right way, will help you gain a competitive advantage and thrive once there. In some cases, the crisis has put transformative projects into higher gear, by highlighting the urgent need for modern, agile IT tools and infrastructure.

The PwC COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey in April found that half of those surveyed intend to make remote work a permanent option for roles that allow. Meanwhile, 40% said that COVID-19 has prompted them to explore the use of technology to enable automation and new ways of working.

This includes redefining the way you work and collaborate through IT automation, analytics and governance. It also includes innovating new ways to connect with and support customers for continued revenue growth. Sticking to this goal as you drive your decision-making in response to the pandemic will help ensure you thrive. To this end, organizations should re-evaluate their digital transformation agenda with the following changes in mind.

Most if not all the workforce is working remotely today – to what extent will this become permanent? What lessons about remote work can you apply on a lasting basis?

When the time comes, returning to work safely will require a holistic strategy that pulls together technology, facilities and human resources groups as well as senior leaders.

Your approach to engaging with employees and customers may have changed out of necessity. But that process of innovation should continue to have a positive impact during recovery and beyond.

How Softchoice Will Continue to Help

The response to the global pandemic has not been easy on any organization, but the hard work they are doing today has the potential to help them come back stronger and more competitive than before.

From adapting to change and ensuring business continuity to driving efficiency and setting the stage for future growth, Softchoice can help you make the right choices to build and sustain momentum out of the crisis and into recovery.

Are you ready to re-imagine your digital transformation journey?

The Softchoice Virtual Discovery Expo (VDX) on Thursday May 21, 2020 is a full-day, no-cost virtual conference designed to provide the insights and explore the technology trends driving business transformation, from the cloud and hybrid IT to end-user collaboration, networking and security. Register now for Softchoice VDX

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Testing Our Business Continuity Plan for All-Remote Work

This past week, organizations and IT departments across the world crossed a new frontier: remote work for everyone.  

While business continuity planning has always been part of an IT department’s mandate, organizations and their people have not seen disruption to business-as-usual on this scale before. Preparing to adapt to a fast-changing scenario like the one surrounding COVID-19 is a major advantage. However, being ready for anything doesn’t happen overnight.  

The need to support all-remote work has also highlighted the need for IT leaders to integrate the human factor into their business continuity thinking along with traditional concerns around data and infrastructure. 

On Thursday, March 12th, Softchoice conducted a company-wide test of our remote work capabilities involving more than 2,000 users across the US and Canada, who depend on 24/7 access to applications hosted in our hybrid data center and SaaS applications in the cloud.  

We met (remotely) with Jeff Reis, Sr. Vice President – Information Technology, and Lester Moniz, Director of IT Infrastructure, to discuss what went into preparations to meet this unprecedented need and how others could benefit from what we’ve learned.  

Laying the Groundwork 

Softchoice has always had a business continuity plan in place as part of our responsibility to customers. However, the last several years has seen the IT organization lay the groundwork for remote work with a focus on people, process and technology.  

The underpinnings of native business continuity at Softchoice came out of a strategic decision to outfit every employee for flexible work. About three years ago, Jeff explained, the company made a switch from deskbound technology to software-enabled tools. 

“In terms of the process, equipping everyone with a laptop, camera, headset and a suite of collaboration software – is by design when they start at Softchoice,” said Jeff. “Part of our business continuity plan is the toolkit we give them.”  

More than just hardware, the broader technology strategy touched a host of software and infrastructure areas. For instance, support for remote VPN connection required network and data center upgrades.  

There was also a major security component, including the adoption of TLS 1.2 – the highest standard for encryption protocols, without deprecating support for older protocols needed to support partners and customers. Planning for an all-remote work scenario included mitigating the risk of loss of assets as well as data loss. For the past two years, all employee laptops have shipped with builtin firmware allowing the IT team to track and manage anywhere in the world regardless of OS build.  

Measures like multifactor authentication and device encryption also played a key part in providing employees with a secure way to work remotely. A single-sign-on (SSO) portal model helped ensure ease of access to applications for remote users – tying together all the components needed to native business continuity.   

All these efforts were done “with the notion of any time, anywhere and on any device” in mind.

We applied this thinking to our Network Operations Center as well to provide continuous support to our Managed Services Customers. Even with all the components to support a remote workforce in place, however, Softchoice had never fully tested these capabilities for a scenario requiring remote work for the entire organization.  

They warned that rolling out all-remote work doesn’t happen overnight. “By and large, we did have this in mind – but not in a perfect way,” said Jeff.   

Putting AllRemote Work to the Test 

On test day, the biggest concern for the IT team was the stability of the VPN infrastructure. This had never been tested for the load about to be put on it. While VPN connection is not necessary to access all work applications, this would be the area where strain would be most visible.  

We felt good about what we had designed on paper and implemented, but as is often said, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating,’” said Lester.  

The good news: The all-remote work test went as planned with few surprises.  

At peak time, Softchoice had 60% of our users with an open VPN connection and their total utilization did not load the VPN infrastructure beyond 20%. At the same time, the ticket dashboard revealed a ticket volume and issue type dispersal consistent with a typical Thursday.  

Relief and confidence were the words – that our people were able to work without challenges,” said Jeff.  

Softchoice planned its remote work test on March 12th with the intent to capture and incorporate any lessons learned before shifting to all-remote across the company.  

Circumstances moved the timetable forward.  

 “The COVID-19 situation evolved so fast – we thought we’d have a week or two,” said Jeff. Because the results were so positive, however, the executive leadership team was confident enough to go ahead with all-remote work for Softchoice employees beginning the following Monday.  

An Integrated Approach 

Jeff and Lester attribute the success of the business continuity plan, to people and process, then technology. They described the approach as “very collaborative,” involving many departments outside IT, including Human Resources, OperationsRisk Management, Facilities and Communications.  

Decisions needed to be made and were guided by our company values. Keeping our employees well informed was paramount. Ensuring customer experience and our ability to deliver uninterrupted services was equally important.  Enabling managers to lead remote teams and planning for upstream and downstream impacts to the supply chain were also key focus areas for our business continuity planning. 

They agreed that the cultural shift toward flexible work also played a key part in the test day looking like business-as-usual from an operational standpoint.  

Applying Lessons Learned  

Jeff and Lester acknowledged that there are likely some organizations living their lessons learned around remote work right now. Some may be wishing they’d had a few months to prepare for this situation.  

Their advice? “Keep challenging yourself on the what-ifs,” said Jeff. They agreed that there is a responsibility for certain leaders in an organization to consider different scenarios and make the right decisions and investments to be ready to react.  

At the same time, Lester explained, the shift to cloud-based tools at Softchoice played a key part in reducing the stress on known potential failure points in the infrastructure.  

Furthermore, they advanced the notion that being able to work anywhere, anytime and on any device extends well beyond emergency preparedness. “It’s a cultural work shift and expectation of younger people entering the workplace today,” explained Lester.  

“I think if organizations start to think that way, it will open the possibility of reducing their dependency on a single physical work space.”

Where to Start with Remote Work 

In an unexpected event, complexity and confusion threaten to impede the return to business-as-usual. Our team of experts and product specialists are on hand to help you identify, deploy and adopt the right approach to support your users for all-remote work.   

The Softchoice Remote Work Preparedness Workshop is a structured workshop addressing the most common end-user enablement challenges organizations might face during times of work interruption.  The session assesses your readiness to support remote work, pinpoints gaps and identifies requirements. Each workshop is facilitated by an End User Productivity Journey Architect, a highly tenured expert in helping organizations to define and enable modern collaboration and workplace strategies. 

Explore the Softchoice Remote Work Preparedness Workshop

When Remote Work is Much More Than a Perk

For some, the opportunity to work from a location other than the core office is a perk.  

But remote work is much more than that: It’s a critical aspect of business continuity planning. When going into the office or traveling for work aren’t possible or safe, the ability to connect and collaborate easily and without interruption is essential to sustain day-to-day operations.  

The recent office closures and travel restrictions due to COVID-19 are just one example of events outside our control with the potential for serious business impact. Health concerns, weather events, strikes, service shutdowns and many other scenarios may enter the picture without warning to disrupt business activity.  

Is your organization equipped to maintain business-as-usual when external circumstances are anything but?  

Many of our collaboration provider partners have already responded to the current situation by extending their premium offeringto organizations in need.  

While we cannot predict how any given situation will unfold, we are ready to help you implement the solutions you need to ensure you can keep things up and running when workers can’t come to work.  Here are three key considerations for integrating collaboration tools into your business continuity strategy.  

Maintaining Face-to-Face Communication 

Between better collaboration and team participation to faster decision-making by internal teams and external customers, there is no substitute for face-to-face communication. No email or instant messaging platform will fully replace the business value of meaningful collaboration.  

In the event your organization cannot access core office spaces in the medium or long-term, a videoconferencing solution that provides seamless calling and meetings helps preserve that valuable person-to-person connection.  

To maintain face-to-face communication, your strategy should consider: 

  • All-in-One Collaboration Platform: a collaboration suite that consolidates in-person meetings and other functions like real-time document collaboration, messaging and project tracking into one secure platform helps to simplify teamwork across locations.   
  • Meetings, Calling and Messaging: selecting a collaboration suite that offers a frictionless video calling and meeting experience is key. Many users are accustomed to easy-to-use consumer applications and expect a similar experience with those they use at work.  
  • Training & Facilities: making sure users are equipped and ready to use video meetings is another key factor in business continuity. This requires making sure users have continuous access to the tools, facilities and training they need to conduct meetings from any location. 

 

Staying Connected and Collaborating   

Your business continuity plan likely includes measures to restore data backups and minimize downtime for critical infrastructure.  

Maintaining high availability for business-critical systems is important. But no organization can survive without continuous communication. As such, it’s also imperative to consider the people who will drive and carry out business-critical decisions.  

In a situation where employees can’t access each other for in-person communication, the connectivity of email and collaboration solutions is even more important.  

To ensure continued connectivity, your plan should consider:  

  • Network Readiness: ensuring your network architecture is capable of supporting cloud-based collaboration tools over ordinary web traffic is important. Many legacy architectures were not designed with this use case in mind and may degrade performance, causing significant business impact.  
  • Training & Adoption: being well-prepared to shift to remote communication and remain connected also depends on the readiness of your user base. If users don’t understand how to access and use collaboration tools, the change may cause confusion and frustration.  

 

Keeping Everyone Safe and Secure 

The need for secure and seamless access and governance only increases with a shift to all-remote communication. In this sense, proper planning for a potential interruption to workplace access involves extending security from inside the business to the cloud and mobile platforms.  

To be prepared, IT leaders should take measures to implement security across the four pillars of identity and access management, devices and applications, data and threat detection.  

In an emergency scenario, providing the right users with the right access to the right applications and data is more important than ever. We recommend you consider:  

  • Integrated Platforms: simplifying security by consolidating point solutions in line with industry best practices will go a long way to protecting your users in a scenario calling for all-remote communication.  
  • Automation & Advanced Authentication: putting in place advanced authentication and automated threat intelligence will help provide safe, seamless access to business applications and data from any location.  

 Next Steps  

In response to the current situation surrounding COVID-19, many of our vendor partners are extending offerings to support continued productivity and collaboration throughout.  

Click below to get the details 

In an unexpected event, complexity and confusion threaten to impede the return to business-as-usual. Our team of experts and product specialists are on hand to help you identify, deploy and adopt the right approach to support your users in any event.  Ensure readiness and jumpstart your business continuity plan. 

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