Five priorities for keeping your IT organization running during COVID-19

Matt Stoyka

5 priorities - COVID-19

What is your new normal? The immediate and long-term challenges of the COVID-19 crisis have redefined the role of IT in business. During this crisis, technology, systems and IT employees have been challenged to adapt quickly to rapidly changing business circumstances. Changes to how people are working and the technologies they’re using, along with unpredictable business conditions throughout the world, have led to shifting priorities and expectations for IT departments. A 451 research survey illustrates the impact this crisis has had, with 41% of respondents indicating that they’re currently experiencing a major disruption to their business or expect one within the next two months.

When priorities keep changing, it’s hard for tech leaders to know where to focus first. Many challenges related to remote work capabilities surfaced all at once, adding heavy loads to system resources and stretching  already-lean IT teams. As difficult as it can be in a crisis situation, leaders need to think about prioritizing to accelerate transformation, not just throwing money at a current problem. Those priorities should focus on investing in tools, solutions and processes that work in both the short- and long-term.

In speaking to our customers, we’ve compiled these top-five priorities for IT organizations to keep their teams running during – and after – the COVID-19 crisis.

Priority 1: Be proactive with security

Coronavirus related phishing attacks increased 667% from February to March. More people working and transacting remotely increases intrusion vectors and offers more opportunities for attack. The possible addition of BYOD and IoT devices to existing hardware resources makes it even more difficult for businesses to stay ahead of cybersecurity. Data and applications previously protected by networks and processes are now dispersed, requiring new approaches to protection. For many, adapting to this shift means shifting to the cloud.

Though cloud is the ideal option to handle unpredictable conditions, often organizations lack the expertise to migrate, manage and optimize cloud environments. There’s an even larger shortage of cloud security professionals with the skills to maintain compliance and guard against attacks.

What you need to do now:

  • Provide secure access for remote workers leveraging Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), virtual private networks (VPN) and cloud-based applications
  • Educate employees on how to protect themselves and the company from malicious actors, and implement policies to help them, including:
    • Blocking malicious sites
    • Changing password requirements
    • Considering multi-factor authentication
  • Focus on monitoring, alerts and remediation of threats and breaches before they can do harm

Priority 2: Manage performance and costs

Overtaxed infrastructure and volatile demand can create poor application performance and degraded customer experience. For businesses in the cloud, costs can spiral without proper cost governance and optimization practices. When making the move to the cloud, businesses often overlook the need to address cost containment as cloud resources ebb and flow. Missing this crucial strategic cornerstone can be costly.

There’s a real challenge to ensuring you have the infrastructure you need, when you need it, while staying within your budget. Combatting runaway cloud costs requires an integrated mix of expertise, governance and automation best practices. According to a recent IDC study, 39% of respondents cited a lack of skills as an obstacle hindering their rollout of cloud strategies. In addition to technical skills, cloud professionals also need to be versed in balancing costs with needs for performance, security and scalability. 

What you need to do now:

  • Move some of your infrastructure into the cloud so you can scale up and down as needed, while ensuring system performance
  • Assess your current use of systems with a focus on your business goals, challenges and spend
  • Identify usage spikes and valleys, and find ways to address them before they impact your users or your budget

Priority 3: Adapt to new ways of working

Almost overnight, many organizations have had to convert from physical to digital workspaces to accommodate social distancing guidelines. IT teams have had to quickly address legacy systems and outdated processes to get solutions up and running and avoid major productivity losses. This conversion spans selecting, implementing and securing the right tools to ensure that remote solutions support workloads just as smoothly as the solutions that were used on-site. For companies that didn’t have a remote strategy already in place, this shift has been particularly difficult.

And there’s no end in sight. In the 451 Research Voice of the Enterprise Digital Pulse flash survey, 38% of respondents believe that working from home will become long-term or permanent. Instead of looking for short-term solutions, now is the time for all organizations to develop a comprehensive remote working strategy that’s flexible enough to address crisis situations and day-to-day productivity needs.

What you need to do now:

  • Sustain employee productivity as even a brief lapse in workload can mean thousands of dollars in lost opportunities
  • Align systems and processes to deliver a seamless customer experience and maintain customer trust
  • Keep it simple. Don’t try to migrate your whole company onto new applications or systems; instead, enable them to work in the manner most similar to how they worked before.

Priority 4: Keep your customers happy

Stay-at-home orders, school closures and remote working have shifted many activities online. As a result, application performance is suffering, and this directly impacts customer experience. In the digital world, performance can make or break your business. Akamai reports that a 100-milisecond delay in website loading time can lower conversion rates by 7%, and that a two second delay in page load increases bounces rates by 103%. Performance concerns aren’t just related to your digital presence.

The transition to remote working can also cause delays in customer service delivery as IT and employees adjust to using new tools on new networks to provide the levels of service your customers expect. This is your time to shine, as maintaining or exceeding customer experience expectations during this time boosts customer confidence in your abilities while helping you  avoid bad word-of-mouth that can result from malfunctioning systems or processes.  

What you need to do now:

  • Assess how current applications are being used
  • Measure performance to understand the causes of performance lags so that you can better address underlying issues
  • Confirm that remote workers are able to access and leverage applications that support customer service and support needs

Priority 5: Protect your data centers

Maintaining data center operations is critical. The current crisis complicates matters as it’s imperative to protect employee health while maintaining data center operations. Travel restrictions, work from home and shelter-in-place orders make it difficult, if not impossible, for workers to travel to physical locations to maintain data center resources. Add to that, many data center teams are already overloaded trying to support remote access and added traffic, giving them less time to deal with data center maintenance.

What you need to do now:

  • Consider a remote connection to your data center to allow other resources to manage your systems
  • Create a policy that allows your data center team to safely perform mandatory maintenance to avoid downtime
  • Revisit your disaster recovery plans to confirm that if there is a data center outage that you can still operate

Above all, don’t panic. The key to getting through this crisis is to remain calm and priority-driven. Instead of throwing technology at the problem, throw strategy at it. If you’re proactive with a long-term strategy in mind, you have the opportunity to come out of this crisis with stronger infrastructure, better performance and greater flexibility.

For now, however, it’s not businesses as usual. But focusing on these priorities can keep your company up and running during times of uncertainty and make you even stronger in the brighter days ahead. To access the expertise, technology and scale you need, Rackspace is always here to help.

We Are In This Together, and We Are Here to Help.