Executive Insights

IT’s New Role in a Reconstructed World

Authored by Robert Offley, President and Chief Executive Officer

When the pandemic became a shared reality, many companies were left wondering how they would stay open, let alone function, amidst quarantines, lockdowns, and social distancing.

IT has always existed as a back-office necessity, enabling digital touchpoints in business. Digital points of contact between clients, support, and employees became even more critical after the pandemic struck. Everyone’s needs changed overnight and businesses were forced to transform in order to navigate mass closures and the growing disconnect between them and their employees.

The role of IT quickly proved invaluable in facilitating those digital touchpoints and traditional face-to-face interactions. How companies communicate with key stakeholders; how they address changing security needs; and how they ensure employees have access to business essentials—all these questions pulled IT out of the metaphorical shadows to guide businesses through the abrupt changes required by government mandates and a growing public health dilemma.

It’s intriguing how a crisis provides the leverage to focus on action.

Where businesses have, for the most part, been able to previously weather times of adversity through reactive solutions (as opposed to proactive ones), everyone was now forced to rethink how they did business and communicated as a matter of necessity and survival. Companies had to adapt and shift, differentiate themselves amongst a sea of competitors, and find ways to create meaningful experiences with their customers, partners, and employees. IT ushered in new ways of communicating and connecting with others, but how do companies now navigate this new norm?

How Technology & Security Concerns Shifted Throughout the Pandemic

From an IT perspective, changes focused on making access to key business systems, collaboration tools, and other resources available to those who needed it and keeping that access secure. A lot of the technology that companies turned to had been in place for years. The shift for businesses in relation to technology has really been to realize that the tools are there to be utilized properly.

Digital touchpoints remained the same, but more thought had to go into how they would interface with customers and employees and how they could provide an environment that fostered sharing and collaboration. A new, people-driven aspect of IT had been realized.

These new circumstances also created a shift in paradigm towards how to best protect company assets and data when people are sharing information, being liberal with passwords (weak or repetitive), and where they are relying more and more on social media and its messaging for communicating sensitive, private details.

Companies had to ask themselves, “how do we lock some of this down without cutting people off from each other or the resources they rely on?” The answer, as it turns out, isn’t a case of the tried and true, but the tried and tested.

Security and updates have always been consistent, particularly in the case of virtual desktops and video conferencing tools. So, while some of the remedies to the business problems of today aren’t entirely new, it simply means that there’s been time to fortify existing technology to meet the changing security needs of the rising digital workforce.

Security Challenges Get Complicated

Moving from on-site to remote operations required a fresh look at cybersecurity and big data as companies began shifting their business models towards the digital. Government institutions, which were previously used to keeping everything locked down, suddenly now had to troubleshoot how they could remain open and in contact with their customers securely. Some of those institutions, for example, weren’t even using email for communication or business purposes before the pandemic.

Many customers were faced with a remote workforce that went from 5% to 100% practically overnight. That situation presented two key hurdles: securing connections between the system and the user and managing the essential infrastructure of the business.

There were a lot of immediate challenges in protecting the data from infrastructure elements, such as files, networks, remote VPN concentrators, and making sure the connection between user and enterprise was secured.

These issues didn’t change the way companies thought about security, they just complicated the existing challenges surrounding it. Beyond a secure connection, it was ensuring protection against breaches, and preventing bad actors intruding on company meetings while pretending to be an employee.

Traditionally, the office was the start and end of where data was stored and used—employees left at the end of the day, and data stayed behind under lockup. Now, companies are pouring all information out into the world through their employees, and businesses are unaware of the type of devices they carry, how they’re using them, and whether or not they’re properly secured.

Unprotected digital touchpoints can easily become points of access for others, which is what most of the security challenges and policies currently revolve around. This is why ongoing training is so important to creating solutions within these systems and understanding how to best utilize them is of great importance.

The Impact of IT on Communication and Preserving Company Culture

There’s a whole element of human interaction that tends to be absent when most are behind a webcam on Zoom, Teams, or any other communications software.

Some people believe that when they’re using such platforms, it doesn’t matter how things get done as long as they get done. What people tend to overlook is that these moments can be heightened by creating meaningful experiences.

Some of the tools and techniques for communicating today are great. They’re used and presented with while fulfilling their potential for greater engagement. Organizations tend to miss the mark in adopting the range of option tools have at their disposal. There are plenty of examples of Zoom calls turning into lectures, completely missing the point that they are meant for collaboration in order to personalize and enrich experiences.

The communication tools we have, as well as team-building events and the like, are all important for organizations from a cultural standpoint too. It’s about making people still feel like they identify as part of that brand or organization. It’s promoting collaboration, shared experiences, teamwork, and employee morale with the help of IT.

Understanding the Importance of Enriching the Customer Experience Through IT

We have to become smarter about our customer interactions.

As customers come up with new demands, it’s important to put in the effort to enrich these interactions by focusing on sharing the most pertinent information and ensuring that it is all about connections and understanding their needs.

IT does help make the world feel a bit smaller by allowing companies to connect with all employees and clients globally in a way that can still feel as personal as regular face-to-face.

When meeting with a customer, companies must make sure that they have facts and rich content to offer—it’s how brands differentiate themselves from the competition.

For example, when doing a QBR over Zoom, it’s important to make sure that stats are being presented; such as ticket performance and key KPIs and how that relates to the customer (depending on the context of the meeting).

Ultimately, it’s about creating an experience beyond the tool itself. Ensure that interactions are tailored to client needs—that extra effort is what turns a simple tool into a valuable resource for businesses.

Staying Open with the Cloud While Managing Security Vulnerabilities

Cloud-based email and collaboration tools have been at the forefront of managing security and many customers have been getting more use out of SharePoint and Azure Virtual Desktop. These tools addressed concerns around unsecured and bad passwords as users could log in remotely and run their desktop sessions in the cloud as opposed to having data stored locally to the device, which can turn into a weak spot in security.

The great thing about buying cloud services is that it’s kind of like walking into a Build-A-Bear workshop. All of the components are there ready to build whatever is needed; you just have to know how to do it in the right order. The cloud provides an easy win and leg-up for those who get on board.

One whole area of the cloud has enabled businesses to match their costs to their revenue: buying things à la carte and on-demand, which is kind of like having an unlimited pool of resources. If a company needs to go from one remote user to ten thousand, it can easily be done.

Being able to adjust capacity for things like remote employees helped companies deal with uncertainty; it was easy to dial back or increase what resources were being used or the cost of add-ons. Grocery stores and restaurants are two good examples of industries with fluctuating needs that gained a lot of freedom in switching to the cloud during the pandemic.

A grocery store might suddenly face a 400% increase in demand, but only require these resources for 3 months before they dial their needs and costs back. Restaurants saw more extreme fluctuations, often between 100% and zero, then back to 100%. The ease of being able to increase or decrease the level of cloud services not only gave these industries affordable ways to benefit but kept them from paying for more than they needed, or for longer than it would be needed—and in terms of cost-savings, that’s been huge.

The cloud offered that variability of resources to smoothly scale up and scale down in all facets. In traditional IT, you focus on the build; and if you overbuild, it doesn’t work. If you under-build, your time to market and your time to scale become too high.

The New Role of Information Technology

The new role of IT is that of enabler; arguably one of the most important aspects of any business. The companies that survive and thrive in the future will be those that use these tools to improve the quality of their product and their interactions across all their digital touchpoints. It’s all about maximizing digital potential and gaining ROI.

History has shown that companies who set themselves up and invest in the current climate grow quicker than companies who don’t take the steps to be proactive and invest in IT.

Advice for Companies as they Venture Deeper into Digital Collaboration and Remote Work

It’s easy to get sucked into the mundane of day-to-day routines. Most customers really appreciate interaction and input on a call after a meeting, which is why it’s good to follow up after a Zoom call. If a person is saying, “Thanks for taking the time. We really appreciate your business,” it shows humility and that one cares enough to differentiate themselves from the monotony of all of the other Zoom meetings that the client had to endure throughout the day.

For businesses that want to properly utilize their communication/collaboration tools, the goal should be to understand their full scope of capabilities and then integrate those aspects to enrich the experience and interaction into internal and external communications.

Remember that IT stands for information technology and that businesses who arm themselves with the right information and tech can be capable of not only meeting these new challenges head-on but can do so while reassuring their employees and customers that they’re seen, heard, and continue to feel connected to the greater organization and its ethos.