Editor's Note: This article first appeared on The New Stack. It has been posted here with permission.
In a crisis, the notion of “business as usual” often flies out the window. To respond to challenges created by COVID-19, for example, many organizations have implemented rapid changes in their IT organizations — sometimes more changes than they are accustomed to or comfortable with. And as we all move forward, many companies may find that they need to change their overall approach to IT to remain innovative as we all adapt to a changing world.
This isn’t necessarily a bad outcome. In fact, the search for new ways to run an enterprise during an emergency often presents opportunities to leverage new technological solutions — some of which may only be in the early stages of development. As we’re learning, an emergency can shake things up and force us to exchange the slow, deliberate route through development for an expedited path toward innovation.
We’re also learning that most legacy systems cannot be modified quickly enough to deal with crisis-level complications. As a result, more companies are likely deploying cloud solutions to perform business-critical functions. Examples include providing robust remote connections for employees who are now working from home, overcoming supply chain disruptions and supporting customer services. There are out-of-the-box cloud solutions that can rapidly be deployed and scaled up to meet all of these operational gaps and more.
Further, we are learning that while tried-and-true legacy systems have kept operations humming for decades in many industries, a crisis like the recent pandemic suddenly exposes unseen weaknesses in their systems. As a result, traditional business processes are upended and businesses are facing major losses.
Whereas upfront costs and implementation challenges may have been barriers to IT innovation within some organizations pre-pandemic, many organizations will see those as shorter-term obstacles that can be overcome while providing large payoffs in the long-run.
Assessing Future IT Innovation Needs
It’s not easy to make rapid moves in IT. In fact, it seems to go against our ingrained responsibility to thoroughly vet a technology prior to commitment. But, if making an emergency decision today ensures business continuity by improving connections with workers, supporting customers, maintaining supply lines and reducing losses, then it’s a leap well worth making. To make the best decision in a crisis scenario, organizations should ask the following questions:
- What problems do we need to solve right now? Once you identify the exact problems that need to be fixed, pick the two or three most critical items that need immediate attention. Once you have your priorities, consider all possible solutions. Nothing should be taken off the table. Then, through a process of elimination, determine the ideal solutions that will fix the problems. After the crisis is over, go back to your list and see what other issues are worth addressing with an innovation IT solution. If they made the original list, there’s a good chance there’s room for improvement in those areas. The list effectively provides an innovation roadmap going forward.
- What is our risk/reward equation? Deploying a new solution is always a gamble, and it’s impossible to consider every upside and downside scenario. Organizations have to decide which compromises are worth the gamble and how much risk they are willing to bear. In an emergency, an organization may be more willing to accept more risk than they would under normal conditions.
- What are we willing to move off-premises? While an organization might be willing to move their order taking operation off-premises, they might not be willing to move cybersecurity to a remote location. Or they may be willing to have data stored in the cloud, but only accessible via a private network versus in a public cloud.
Best Practices for Deploying Innovative Solutions During Disruption
A sudden disruption to business operation is often met with desperation to get the problem fixed rapidly so that business may continue. But achieving an optimal outcome in a crisis can add additional layers of problems. A few best practices for deploying innovation solutions, like the cloud, can boost the chances of a successful outcome.
Resist the urge to hesitate. If a system is failing in a crisis and only an innovative solution can fix it, teams should make a decision and move swiftly. Delays only add to the losses; other systems downstream could break as well. With so many cloud solutions available for out of-the-box implementation, there’s no reason to hesitate.
Resist the urge to fix everything. When you’re preparing to make the leap into innovative new IT solutions, you may be enticed to try fixing a litany of problems all at once, or to at least push back-burner plans into the forefront. But just as you shouldn’t delay in fixing the most critical issues, you should also resist the urge to fix too many things at once. Instead, focus on the minimal amount you can do to fix the most critical problems first. After the crisis has passed, give yourself time to assess the outcomes before moving on to the second- and third-tier issues.
Measure your results. It’s important to apply data to every new system. To understand your outcomes, define what you’re trying to solve, and what success looks like. Then set a few easy KPIs to hit, such as employee productivity, sales order velocity, production throughput or revenue generation. The good news is that sophisticated cloud applications already have key metrics built in, while measuring legacy system performance is more complex and time consuming. You just have to know what you are looking for.
Evaluate your path forward. After deploying an innovative solution, consider the pros and cons of either staying where you are or going back to your traditional processes. If you find that the organization is better off, you should definitely take advantage of this opportunity and move forward with additional innovative solutions. You may, however, decide that you just needed the fix for the duration of the crisis, and you prefer your former systems. Perhaps you view this as a learning experience, and now you know what to do in the next crisis. If that’s your outcome, you’ll find that today’s intelligent cloud solutions are as easy to disconnect as they are to connect. But if you decide to embrace the new systems, review what you’ve deployed. If you upgraded just enough “scaffolding” to make systems work for the duration of the crisis, bring in reinforcements to make the change permanent. Many organizations will recognize they gained considerable value from being forced to take a leap forward. They shouldn’t squander that value. Just step back and do it the right way.
While managing IT during a crisis can be a painful experience, there can also be an upside — namely, being forced to take your operation a step forward with innovative solutions. If your organization had to rapidly respond to emergency conditions by deploying new solutions, you may find that it was a positive step. If you gained meaningful increases in connectivity, production and profits, for example, you are likely going to want to expand on that success going forward.
Because we never know where or when the next emergency will occur, organizations should always have a continuity plan that includes innovative rapid-response installations to shore up problem areas and keep operations running. Instead of waiting for a crisis to force your business into a potentially disruptive emergency scenario, plan ahead to identify the solutions you can turn on as needed to keep operations running during a crisis. You may just find that they also deliver long-term business advantages.