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4 lessons IT has learned from the pandemic

Charlie Miles Principal Consultant, Pink Elephant

During the COVID-19 pandemic, IT managers have had to deal with employees working from home or other remote locations, provide them with the equipment they need to do their jobs, and ensure those employees are as productive as possible.

Throughout, IT managers have learned a lot about the need to be flexible and agile in making decisions and to take actions to keep up with the realities of the new world of remote work.

Here are four lessons that your IT team can take away from the pandemic.

1. Collaboration tools are now a necessity

In the past, IT management has looked at collaboration tools as nice-to-haves. Companies didn't view them as necessities because people could just pick up their phones, have a conversation, go into conference rooms to work together, and conduct videoconferences with remote offices.

However, after being forced to adopt a hybrid workforce or work-from-home model because of the pandemic, IT must view these tools as necessities. The pandemic forced IT managers to take a step back and assess how to approach the new remote model of working.

This category isn't limited to tools such as RingCentral, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Skype. It also comprises online Kanban boards and collaborative whiteboards such as Mural and Miro.

Even if it had been using collaboration tools, IT didn't pay much attention to them from a standardization perspective. A lot of different ones were being used in the same environment, because people had different preferences, and there was little control over what was being brought into the organization.

One company I consulted with had a major application outage, during which one part of the IT organization communicated using its preferred collaboration tool while another part used a different one. As a result, critical communications broke down.

The rub was that this was a relatively small company. They all sat in the same physical office area, but they didn't talk to one another.

IT managers finally realized that for IT teams to be productive, they all had to adopt the same collaboration tools. This drove the capability for people to do work the way they wanted to within IT, and it allowed management to see that people can be productive even if they're not together in an office.

2. Keeping the lights on is no longer enough

Traditionally, IT management has taken up the mantle of being the protector of the status quo. IT managers have been slow to make decisions and to transform the business. We have our systems, we have our services, and we have to keep the lights on.

Even if it wanted to or knew it needed to be more transformative, IT could not be. As a result, a lot of effort and budget were spent on keeping the lights on rather than growing the business. That's no longer enough.

The pandemic forced IT to make decisions literally overnight about allowing for different ways of working, such as increasing and updating the capacity for remote access and supporting a lot of users in remote environments. IT managers have also had to quickly make decisions about getting assets and tools to the people who need to do the work. They couldn't slow things down by following the traditional review-and-approval processes that could take days to complete.

IT managers have finally realized that some things are more important than keeping the lights on. They've been able to make the right decisions and take the right actions quickly. And they've been able to complete projects, literally overnight, that had been on the table for a while, such as increasing remote access capability, because they had to.

There's a lesson to be learned: Yes, we had this terrible thing we had to respond to, but the world didn't end because we didn't follow the established approval process. IT managers now know that they can be agile and more flexible in getting things done.

3. IT asset management is critical

As IT managers scrambled to get laptops and other devices to remote employees as quickly as possible, they lost sight of the importance of simultaneously implementing strong asset management controls. (Disclosure: My company, Pink Elephant, provides consulting and other services related to IT asset management.)

In their haste, many IT organizations didn't do a full accounting of those assets; they figured they could deal with that when life got back to normal. The thinking at the time was that, once the pandemic was over, people would come back to the office and bring the assets with them, at which point IT would address the control aspects.

But that didn't happen. Now IT managers are concerned that a lot of those assets may never come back, so they're playing catch-up in deciding how best to manage the assets that they no longer physically control.

These are not just hardware assets; IT also has to monitor software, the licenses for that software, and how the software is being used. Consequently, IT has been forced to step back and put stronger asset management controls in place. 

When you look at security risks, compliance risks, and the core reasons for why these things occur, it generally goes back to a lack of adequate control over IT assets.

These issues are going to be absolutely critical moving forward if you're supporting a remote or hybrid work environment, because IT will no longer be managing those IT assets in relatively controlled physical environments. There are still some organizations that don't have adequate monitoring and discovery capabilities to even monitor and detect what's being used on their networks. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen anymore.

However, it remains to be seen what IT managers are going to do to ensure that they establish the asset controls necessary for the hybrid and work-from-home environments that will likely continue in their organizations.

4. IT has learned to make outside-the-box decisions

IT managers habitually work the same way they've always done things. But during the pandemic, many made some good outside-the-box decisions to help keep their businesses afloat. For example, some of my clients set up curbside pickup locations, where employees with appointments could get or swap out the office equipment they needed. This curbside support is morphing into a storefront approach to help employees manage their assets.

Companies found this approach to be a lot less expensive and a lot more effective than packing up and shipping equipment to users' homes, after which they would have to rely on the users to adequately pack up the devices they needed to send back to the company. While it may not be a long-term answer, the experience proved that IT can come up with novel ways of doing things, rather than simply following processes that may be outdated or ineffective.

In another example of out-of-the-box thinking, some organizations are getting rid of their landline office phones and the infrastructure needed to support them, even when there are plans for employees to return to the office. There's simply no reason to have the expense and overhead of landline systems when employees can effectively communicate through standardized collaboration tools and their mobile phones.

Absorb these lessons

IT management has traditionally been viewed as the protector of the status quo and slow to transform for a variety of reasons, some of which may have been imposed upon them (think cost controls). But the pandemic has proved that with the proper focus and the right drivers, IT management can respond to any challenge and be truly transformative.

Yet the question remains: Will IT management continue to be transformative once things finally get back to normal, or will it settle back into the old, comfortable ways? It is time for IT management to look inward, to conduct a retrospective, and to learn from the lessons of the pandemic.

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