Business as Unusual: What Reopening Might Look Like for IT

We’re collectively navigating uncharted waters. How do we prepare for the unknown? 

On Tuesday, May 12 Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sent an email to his company’s employees letting them know that if they so choose, they can work from home permanently. Work from home…forever. To some it might sound heavenly and to others, hellish. But Dorsey’s decree shines a very public spotlight on a very nebulous issue, namely, what does technology work look like after all…this?    

If you stop and think about it too long, you may find yourself going down a mental rabbit hole. What happens to IT if schools continue distance learning? How can organizations that haven’t modernized their IT infrastructure possibly keep up? How do we interview and hire people? What do we do with all this office space? There are endless questions that will no doubt serve to deliver to many IT leaders a whole bunch of sleepless nights, the most pressing of which is what to expect when we finally do return to business as unusual.  

Course Corrections 

In a recent article published to their Digital Insights, global management consulting firm McKinsey investigates some of the challenges technology leaders like Chief Digital Officers will be starting down. One suggestion McKinsey recommends is getting ready to re-chart your technology roadmap by addressing situations like digitizing transactions that are traditionally done in person, how to steer customers and constituents away from in person channels to online and identifying infrastructure investments that will support both a remote work force and a more remote customer/constituent base.  

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We believe that many agencies and businesses may be better prepared than they think. Those that have already crafted a well-thought IT roadmap may find themselves better off. Many of the likely outcomes of a post-coronavirus world are probably things forward-looking organizations have already been thinking about and preparing for. The big difference is the pace at which those anticipated changes will arrive has been accelerated.  

Doing More with Less…Again 

During and after the Great Recession, the phrase “doing more with less” was commonplace in the public sector and private sector. There are a host of global economic implications that have already impacted organizations around the world. Reduced taxes and revenue will likely mean sharp, sometimes painful, budget cuts. Once again, we can expect IT leaders to be called upon to do more with less while keeping systems running and ensuring services are still delivered. 

In a April 29 paper released by Gartner, the research and advisory firm suggests “CIOs should immediately establish what aspects of their current spend can be deferred, eliminated or altered. Attention should be focused on spend that is not yet incurred or committed and is nonessential/discretionary and variable in nature.” 

Ironically, Gartner also says that CIOs should anticipate cost increases as organizations find themselves building out technology departments that may never again be completely in-house. If the moves made by Twitter’s Dorsey and countless other leaders are any indication, a more remote workforce is here to stay.  

The Modern Workplace 

Perhaps the most critical issue for technology leaders is figuring how to adjust to a rapidly changing workforce. Robert Torres of CIODrive recently reported that “With a distributed workforce, 53% of CIOs point to communication as a key hurdle.”  

According to Torres, at least three-quarters of employers expect some permanent shift to remote work. If this holds true it will be a monumental change to the way businesses and governments operate. It will also mean organizations will be looking closely at adopting cloud-based solutions like Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) to support continuity of operations in a brave new world.  

California Highway Patrol CIO Scott Howland recently participated in a webinar hosted by Techwire. Howland said that 95 percent of the CHP’s IT staff was now working remotely.  

“Luckily, we were well-configured and had the technology, and it was just a matter of a little file-keeping to ensure that we’ve got the right files on our already-owned and -configured collaboration platforms and cloud apps.” 

During the webinar, Howland admitted some anticipated projects had to be put on hold and there was some initial resistance among employee to working in the cloud. But, he said, employees quickly came to “love” the online tools.  

“Across the state enterprise,” Howland told the Techwire audience, “not just in the CHP, we have seen a tremendous amount of technology implementation that normally would take weeks, months, or even longer done in days.” Later, Howland added that, “we’re seeing some great benefits to the public in how we deliver government that I think are really going to continue beyond our current emergency.” 

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“We’re seeing some great benefits to the public in how we deliver government that I think are really going to continue beyond our current emergency.” 

Chief Scott Howland (CIO, California Highway Patrol) – Techwire

So, what do can you expect as the economy slowly reopens? Some serious belt-tightening, surely, though it will be tempered by a renewed spirit of innovation and a diverse, distributed workforce capable of thriving by using tools like SharePoint and Microsoft Teams. You may not have been expecting it two months ago, but the Modern Workplace is here.  

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