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What Infrastructure Issues Need Addressing Following Urgent ‘Sticky-taping’ During The Covid-19 Situation?

Friday 15 May, 2020

We should not underestimate the role that IT infrastructure flexibility and agility has played in helping organisations deal with the challenges of Covid-19. Failure to support the multiple changes needed would, in many cases, have resulted in the organisation slowing significantly or even being unable to operate. 

We have seen migration en-masse to remote working and a huge uplift in businesses moving to online channels, both of which require significant changes to IT infrastructure as well as processes and applications. In many cases it has been amazing to see how quickly and how well organisations and individuals have adapted to the change. Some organisations have been able to seamlessly support the new ways of working, whilst others have had to apply infrastructure changes in rapid timescales.

Inevitably, making change happen this quickly means that some ‘sticky-tape’ will have been used to ensure systems work in the short term. It is, of course, vital that we don’t forget that this has been done and ensure that we both regularly check the tape to confirm it is still holding the bits together firmly and plan its replacement in the longer term.

In supporting organisations over the past few months we’ve noted four key areas where there are opportunities to both address any ‘sticky tape’ and to make more permanent improvements against the ‘old’ normal, often both at the same time. These must be part of medium-term plans as the new normal starts to become clearer and more established.

Security Aspects of Collaboration Tools

 

Most organisations experienced a huge rush to deploy collaboration tools and video-conferencing solutions as a result of enforced remote working. Most have used established tools such as Teams, Zoom, Slack and Webex but this does not guarantee that there will not be security issues that need to be addressed, particularly around human factors and culture.

Suggestions: 

  • A focus on security needs to be applied. Appropriate security aspects and controls need to be accelerated. We’re seeing an increase in threats e.g. ‘Zoombombing’.
  • Access rights – security needs to be built into the design
  • The training element - users need to be aware of phishing scams and other human factor threats
  • In addition, organisations need to:
    • make sure rights controls are built in
    • be able to react quickly if an anomaly is spotted
    • ensure patching is up to date and monitor security alerts from vendors.

 

Ensure Solutions Meet Longer Term Demands

For organisations to rapidly react to Covid-19, many have had to deploy solutions so they 'just work'. Whilst these solutions may be working, they may not be offering adequate levels of performance or resiliency. Given remote working at scale is likely to be the new norm, organisations should review their infrastructure and network architecture, identifying where remediation or enhancements are required.

In some cases, tactical solutions have been deployed. Organisations should look at whether these will become longer term solutions or whether more strategic solutions need to be deployed to align better with longer-term roadmaps.

Organisations have also had to make the most of the tools they currently have. However, these tools may not be the best option, and as they evolve, different tools may prove better to meet individual organisations' needs. Or, there may be opportunities to make better use of the existing tools. Now that we are past the first hurdle, it is a good time to look at how to simplify and leverage the best solutions that are in the market. Moving forward, users will expect services to evolve and become seamless, so it's time to think about what is needed in the longer term and how these needs can be met.

Suggestions:

  • Think about changes differently, to account for users being remote
  • Look for support from suppliers
  • Capitalise on the fact that users are currently more receptive and keen to make great use of technology.

Cloud Solutions

The Covid-19 situation has underlined how Cloud solutions offer a great level of flexibility and scalability that is not necessarily offered by on-premise solutions. The generic benefits of cloud solutions have been understood for the past few years but this situation has amplified the benefits and made the flexibility risks associated with on-premise solutions much clearer.

Suggestions:

  • Ensure the current architecture is documented with on-premise and cloud services clearly differentiated
  • Identify any services which are not currently flexible enough to meet the need and assess the short- and longer-term benefits of addressing this issue, with cloud as a potential solution
  • Leverage offerings from vendors that allow free usage, free migration support or both to support assessment and planning 
  • It is imperative that all activity around the IT infrastructure before, during and after the current situation is documented (even after the event). This is important for ongoing support but also critical to allow us to learn from our successes and failures during this time. 

Training

Tools have had to be rolled out quickly so training has not been delivered as thoroughly as it might normally be. Users are likely to be working individually and together to share learning and find solutions. We have seen that the team working spirit has been amazing across many clients.

Whilst this self-learning approach has facilitated a quicker adoption of tools, users may still be using the 'minimum' functionality and not necessarily making the most of features that are available to them. More formalised training programmes should now be put in place to educate users on the tools, help embed good practices and avoid the risk of longer term process divergence. 

Suggestions:

  • Establish Digital Champions to drive broader adoption and help harmonise the use of new or changed tools
  • Gather helpdesk statistics and feedback on problem areas or commonly raised queries 
  • Communicate the intention to go through more formalised adoption processes.

Blog by Sandeep Thakrar and Keith Thomas, Coeus Consulting

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