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April 03, 2020

How IT Kept Us From Crashing

By Rick Pastore  – Developing transformation research, tools and content for IT leaders at The Hackett Group

The Hackett Group has had real-time visibility of the response to this crisis from the functions most vital to continuity of business operations – IT, HR, finance and supply chain. We’ve chronicled the responses and best practices here. What we are seeing from IT specifically is that digital infrastructure transformation and rigorous preparation have delivered a big win.

  • Investments in digital, agile infrastructure – modernized platforms and applications – have kept companies functioning and minimized disruption.
  • Zero-trust architecture and multifactor authentication have kept companies safe, despite the vulnerabilities of work-at-home environments and a massive spike in villainous attempts to gain access.
  • Continuity plans for epidemics and “practice” work-from-home days have minimized worker frustration and unpleasant surprises.
  • Calls to critical third-party providers certified that they were prepared to withstand extended work-from-home scenarios.
  • Scalable service-desk capacity managed the spike in calls from employees unfamiliar with remote-access processes and tools.
  • Prescient stockpiling of user devices and advance warnings to drop-ship suppliers provided the right tools at the right time.
  • Deployment and training for collaboration tools like Teams and Zoom have enabled teamwork to continue and group discussions to flourish.
  • IT leaders’ standing team meetings have kept employees informed and helped manage their anxiety. Virtual team happy hours have sustained a sense of extended family.

You wouldn’t call these moves ”heroic,” though CIOs I’ve talked with this week have applied these actions and others to help set up remote  COVID-19 testing centers, installed telemedicine in clinical sites, supported conversion of manufacturing lines to build ventilators, and helped ensure that the food supply chain does not miss a beat. But even in companies that are not part of their nation’s critical infrastructure, IT’s coronavirus response has meant much to many. IT threw employees a technology lifeline that has kept them going when everything else around them was shutting down. IT was there for them, and they’ve noticed.

The accolades for technology teams have been numerous and vocal. As one hospital system CIO said of the appreciation coming from physicians, “We aren’t doing anything we weren’t always able to do for them, they just didn’t see it.” A rail transportation company CIO told me that this crisis “puts the idea that we can’t run the business without technology into stark relief.” There hasn’t been a tide of IT goodwill like this since 9/11, and that was mainly localized to the Northeastern United States.

Of course, there have been epic fails by IT as well: broken VPN network connections; frustrating, absurd limits on how many people can be on a call at the same time; and inability for workers to transfer or share secure documents. These IT leaders have learned a lesson, and more importantly, so have the business leaders who resisted investment in infrastructure.

Overall,  I think this has been an opportunity to say “well done and bravo” to the men and women of IT. As companies adapt to whatever is required to emerge and function “normally” post-crisis, IT will again be pivotal to that effort and will again rise to the occasion. In the meantime, everybody stay well.