The pandemic threw a monkey wrench into many things including how we spend money. As IT leaders move through 2021 and consider the post-pandemic next normal, there is a great reconciliation coming that IT needs to prepare for. As I mentioned in the post “As CIO, preparing for the new normal”, the timeline is largely tied to stability in the pandemic. Even so, it is important for IT leaders to prepare and consider significant shifts as the dust starts to settle.
Shifting how we work
The great experiment forced everyone home and dramatically changed how we work. Companies needed to get equipment to remote workers and change how they supported them. Traditional policies, standards and equipment were simply not able to keep up. Corners were cut. Modifications were put in place. Work from home dramatically changed how we think about managing IT, and more broadly, how we work together.
Many IT organizations ended up blowing their 2020 IT budgets just to get the basics in place. From equipment to services to the fundamentals of how we work changed overnight. Now that we are contemplating return to office, what are the changes that IT leaders must consider?
Shifting focus to the next normal
The old model of people, process and technology still holds true. First and foremost, we need to think about the people. What do our people need? What culture changes are needed to support the next normal.
Keep in mind that I have shifted from talking about the new normal to the next normal. As we go through time, we will experience multiple new normal that coincide with the phases of progress and change.
Our teams and stakeholders are at the forefront. If you don’t consider them first, game over. Think about the needs of your teams and how your corporate culture fits in. For many, this will require a period of adjustment.
Beyond the team, IT leaders must consider changes to budget (CapEx and OpEx), process changes, office reconfiguration, changes in tools and an overall shift in IT strategy.
As we see in real time, the way we work is permanently changed. IT budgets need to shift to reflect these changes too. In some ways, less consolidation and a more distributed environment. Less structure and more flexibility.
If we use remote work as an example, here’s how IT needs to think differently. From a physical standpoint, capital and expenses will go up for IT spending. Remote work requires an increase in laptop and remote infrastructure. From a process standpoint, the number of VPN licenses and other services to support remote workers will go up too. The movement of corporate systems and data to remote networks (aka home networks) requires more finessing when it comes to cybersecurity. For the past 18 months, CIOs and CISOs have been incredibly concerned about the increase in risk that remote work brings. Remote work is not new. But supporting it at this scale is new and dramatically increases the number of threat vectors.
Add to this complexity the questions of how to support these remote systems. When we entered the pandemic, IT organizations worked to get their hands on any computer possible. This meant that non-standard equipment and configurations were deployed into the field. A necessity, but far from ideal. How do support organizations support the myriad of different equipment, configurations and home networks? This alone adds a lot of stress and demand on support organizations that had to move remote themselves. Add the complexity of deploying new applications to non-standard systems and one can quickly see how the problem gets exponentially complicated.
Beyond support, how are these systems updated? Typically, environments would test patches and updates before deploying to their standard configuration system. Not the case in this new world where the system is not standard, remote and running on a home network that may not support large update pushes. But let’s say that those weren’t of issue. What happens if the patch or update crashes the system or otherwise makes it unstable? A support tech is not able to deploy to deskside nor immediately replace the system. As if regular patching of systems was a problem before the pandemic, it just got a lot more complicated.
These complexities are just one of many, many issues that IT organizations are navigating. For the IT leader, these complexities create stress on the organization, slow innovation and artificially increase spending.
Each organization will have their own next normal. As IT leaders consider their next normal, which likely will include some form of return to work, what steps are needed?
Office reconfiguration, equipment standards, process changes, support for hybrid cultures are just a few of the considerations. Developing a new standard for equipment, configuration, applications, architecture, strategy and skillsets are just some of the changes needed.
It is unclear how the balance of remote work vs return to work will ultimately net out. While we can solve for everyone in the office or everyone working remotely, a hybrid approach creates significant complexity for organizations. The result is that most organizations are struggling with how to effectively manage a hybrid approach.
Secondary change considerations
Beyond the relative block and tackling, IT organizations have secondary considerations to evaluate. Streaming and collaboration services were engaged during the pandemic and remote work. Tools like Zoom and Teams became household names where even the kids and grandparents were immediately thrust into using these services.
In a hybrid world that supports remote work with return to work, what tools are needed? Collaboration and whiteboarding tools are one thing. IT leaders are also looking at office reconfigurations to support ‘hoteling’ or ‘hotdesking’ where instead of permanently assigning a desk to a staff member, they reserve a desk for the day(s) they are in the office. This change in thinking also causes teams to consider which members are in the office on which days to facilitate collaboration in person. What if only one of the team members makes the trek into the office while the others are remote that day? What is the impact?
Hybrid tools are one thing. Culture is another. Ensuring that remote workers are on equal footing as in-person workers reduces the amount of fear of missing out (FOMO).
For those roles that become permanently remote, how will IT support them long-term? Will stipends be put in place to support increasing the bandwidth of home networks? How will remote staff get the support they need? Will corporate networking equipment be deployed to home networks to create extensions of secure networks and provide better wifi coverage? There are many, many factors to consider.
Where do we go from here?
For the CIO, there is a lot to process. The past 18 months have had their ebbs and flows. As we traverse into a period of somewhat increased stability, how will CIOs navigate this next normal. There are tactical and strategic shifts that need to be considered. In the end, it is the people that make the difference and will drive change.
From culture to retention and hiring to IT strategy, the balance between return to work and remote work will ultimately drive the great consolidation.