From data security to hardware issues, the new normal of a remote workforce has been chaos for IT teams.
Hardware distribution and doing asset inventory has been one of the biggest struggles. Laptops, PCs, printers, phones, tablets, routers, and switches are hard to come by. When the stay at home orders first started, I talked to several IT teams who all had the same issue. They didn't have enough hardware to go around. Employees found themselves at home with no easy way to get work done. Many end users just opted to use their own equipment, which, if done right, is fine. Still, this approach does increase security risk and essentially opens up the perimeter defenses for businesses.
I had the chance to chat with Ben Niernberg, Executive VP of MNJ Technologies. MNJ Technologies is an IT solutions provider helping to reduce costs and help companies with managing their business networks.
3 Phases of IT Pivoting to an Entirely Remote Workforce
Getting the necessary hardware to pivot an office workforce to a remote workforce was probably the first struggle that IT teams had to deal with a couple of months ago when the stay at home order first started. This change across all industries not only caused panic for IT teams, it caused shortages in hardware, which accelerated price gouging. IT teams needed to get creative in this regard.
Ben explained that these issues came in stages, starting with the hardware shortages. "Stage one was hardware and equipment," Ben says. "Did they have laptops, webcams, headsets, phones...those types of hardware devices available to enable a completely remote workforce. After that came that mad rush, you got into phase 2, which was does the infrastructure and bandwidth and systems we have in place have the ability to support that level of working from home. That included those collaboration tools, phone system, your bandwidth, the amount of VPN licenses you had."
The last phase, Ben says, was related to data security. The biggest importance in troubleshooting these problems was not just to put bandaids everywhere, but to enable the workforce in the long term.
Dealing with the Hardware Shortage
When dealing with budgetary restrictions and the hardware shortages, IT teams' partnerships with distributors were going to be tested. How well was an IT team established with a particular distributor to get access to hardware ahead of other companies?
Ben explains, "Really, it became how adept, and how good are you with working with your distribution partners—staying on top of inventory, not just going based on what was in distribution websites. But really calling and leveraging your relationships to find product availability. Being proactive and coming up with other alternatives instead of just a specific one that a company was looking at."
MNJ Technologies was able to work through this in that regard and get their customers (IT teams) the equipment they needed by doing just that. Some ways they were getting creative was providing a PC and a monitor instead of a laptop. Of course, this may not always be ideal for an end-user; it's better than nothing and still gets the end result until the desired hardware can be provided.
Relying on IT for a Culture Shift
"IT was now asked to have an effect on climate and culture," Ben says. Ultimately, this was the first time many companies had to rely on IT to implement solutions that have such a drastic effect on work culture. This is, of course, been done with the implementation of video conferencing tools and adopting a hybrid and cloud environment, whether that be with SaaS solutions with a web portal, like Office 365, or any other online-based collaboration tools.
However, that hasn't been as easy for IT in regulated industries, such as Healthcare and Finance, when it has been hard for IT and security teams to give up control of a server they manage on-site. But if these aren't implemented in a way that is easy to use for the end-users, especially when they are working from home, it becomes a business continuity issue. Your business will start to lose revenue.
It is one thing to be prepared for a crisis like a hurricane, flood, earthquake, etc. But COVID-19 has definitely tested that to the max. IT teams were tested beyond what they have been in the past, and while some companies have been able to roll with the punches, others have struggled to get in working order.
As we say many times, it comes down to trust, keeping all lines of communication open, and empowering users by providing them a healthy and collaborative way to get work done. Without hard-working sysadmins and network specialists out there, many of our businesses would have failed. IT has always been mission critical, but now that is even more apparent today in the current pandemic. Kudos to IT!