A CIO Perspective on Business Continuity in Unpredictable Times

The unanticipated changes forced by the global health crisis haven’t been easy for any organization.

As an initial response to the situation, many IT leaders and executives had to shift their workforce to all-remote work, whether they were ready or not.

Now, many are looking ahead to new challenges as their organizations work to stabilize operations and find efficiencies wherever possible.

Erika Van Noort, Softchoice Vice President – Employee and Candidate Experience and Innovation Executive Forum Chair reached out to members of the 400-strong community of senior North American IT leaders to learn more about their difficulties, concerns and successes during these unprecedented last few weeks.

Here are some highlights of what they had to say.

Business Continuity – People, Process and Technology

When asked how their leadership has come together regarding business continuity,  several IEF members reported having to adjust for unanticipated challenges.

“We had a business continuity plan (BCP) in place but not to this extent,” said one IT leader. Despite crisis management requiring an all-hands-on-deck approach, they feel their team is “doing really well.”

For other members, the shift to all-remote work was a new experience. “The mandate is to allow everyone to work from home,” said another member who moved call center operations to remote work.

“Our call centers are PCI compliant, but staff homes are not. Some staff don’t even have broadband internet at home or a quiet place to take calls. These are some of the issues we’re struggling with.”

Nonetheless, “everyone is in a frenzy state trying to accommodate and best support the business.”

In some cases, organizations had to equip users for remote work at the last minute. “A couple of weeks ago when this started, some of our employees didn’t have laptops or tablets,” explained one member.

“We made sure every person was able to walk out the door with at least some equipment to operate from home.”

On the upside, several IEF members saw their years of dedication to business continuity planning and modern collaboration tools win some long overdue recognition and support.

“It is no longer hard to convince people these tools are required.”

Triaging in a Fast-Changing Day-to-Day

We also asked our IEF members how they are triaging day-to-day challenges now that the initial transition to all-remote work is complete.

Many of the IT leaders we talked to placed priority on defining the “new normal” – a real challenge in an unpredictable scenario. One member felt priorities sorted themselves into categories of “could do, should do and forced to do.”

Extending remote access through VPN from select users to all personnel was a challenge for several members. For another, the biggest hurdle was in maintaining a sense of cybersecurity at the same time as cyber-attacks are increasing.  In some cases, physical distancing requirements have required creative technology solutions, especially in field operations where people are used to working in proximity.

“What is virtual competency going to look like?” has been a recurring question for IT leaders.

Aside from technical challenges in setting up, configuring and securing solutions around VPN, virtual desktop and remote access, several members faced challenges with the human aspects of the change.

For one member, keeping people connected on a person-to-person level was an issue. “Convincing people to join a virtual ‘watercooler’ hangout was not as easy as I thought. Everyone is stressed with work-life balance being blurred and off-kilter.”

Accommodating workers with a more traditional approach and those who resisted to remote work was also an obstacle. Yet, many were surprised at what they could accomplish under this unfamiliar model.

In response, one member kept the focus on “turning negatives into positives.” With the right support, even resisters learned that in many cases “you can be 100% capable from home.”

For many organizations, employee needs are emerging and changing every day. Some IT leaders feel it’s critical to have the support of the highest levels of leadership – and even to push them when necessary.

“These events are true tests of leadership and management,” said one member.

“We need leaders and gatekeepers to adopt new processes,” said another.

Adapting to an Unpredictable Future

Having addressed their most critical priorities, we asked our members to describe their approach to the next 30 to 60 days. A common theme among the responses was learning how to adjust business-as-usual for unpredictable circumstances.

Like one IEF member who is “hoping for the best, planning for the worst,” many IT leaders are focused on sustaining operations through any scenario. For example, one member explained, “we are working on plans for how to operate if 70% of our IT staff are out sick at the same time.”

The unpredictability of the current situation has made concrete planning difficult. “If the status quo we’re in now remains, we will keep our #1 focus on maintaining operations and chip away at projects and initiatives, albeit with timelines that are more flexible,” explained another.

“If more restrictions come in, our ability to work on other projects will diminish to near zero.”

For others, the health crisis will only accelerate efforts to transform the business. In fact, some see the necessary steps taken now to digitize the way people work having positive effects on efficiency, productivity and customer experience.

“We are moving to the cloud and now I am more convinced than ever that we need to move even faster,” said one member.

In many cases, however, this situation has placed IT and business leaders on high alert for an extended period, putting strain on the people involved. “We can’t keep up this level of intensity.”

Conclusion

Organizations today are facing an immediate, critical need to protect their workforces and sustain viable operations. From adapting and stabilizing IT operations in a short timeframe to transforming for an unpredictable future, IT leaders are up against an immense challenge.

Reaching out to the senior IT leaders in our IEF community has affirmed some of our observations and shed more light on the ways we can help organizations meet these challenges.

Whether it’s enabling remote access and collaboration or ensuring your network is secure and ready to handle an all-remote work scenario, our team of experts is ready to assist you.

Explore Softchoice Business Continuity and Rapid Response Services.