Sheltering in Place…Now What?

By Eric Egolf, CEO

Although it may be a while before the metaphorical dust settles from the COVID-19 situation, we are slowly entering a phase in which the planning parts of our brain can be used. That’s not to say that we know if we will have a u-shaped recovery, v-shaped recovery, or any of the recessionary parameters being talked about by economists. What we do know, however, is that our businesses need to be better equipped to survive and hopefully thrive in this new world.

At CIO Solutions, our area of expertise is technology

That expertise not only encompasses the physical hardware and networking side, but also business use, adoption, and implementation of technology. As we move into this next phase of our new normal, this is exactly where businesses will find their attention being focused.  Many companies will discover that their current tech environment and tools are lacking relative to their new needs. They will find that in this new normal, the tools they have will be key to their functionality.

Maturing the use of technology will be crucial to succeeding in this new world

Why do we believe this?

In envisioning possible scenarios on the horizon, we quickly see that robust and reliable technology solutions are a theme in solving upcoming challenges.

Possible circumstances and challenges businesses may face: 

  • Shelter in place extended– Businesses may need to plan for intermittent requirements to shelter in place over the next 18 months
  • Reduction in workforce– Businesses may move to fewer employees, and the ones that remain must work more efficiently.
  • Vulnerability to hacking- Additional surface area for hackers to look for IP theft or other hacker type behavior. Specifically, social engineering attacks or bug exploits from WFH machines.
  • New emphasis on communication– Businesses may notice changes in how they communicate with clients whether that’s for updates, important planning information, or support.
    • Customers may request more communication and transparency regarding your business continuity plans/business response plan to COVID-19/pandemics, etc.
    • Previous methods for supporting customers may no longer be as effective and businesses may need to implement new support methods.
  • Staff challenges with distributed work force
    • Communication– With employees spread out for extended periods of time, businesses need to develop new methods for effective and humanizing communication.
    • Morale– Lack of interaction and feeling of isolation may increase demand on leadership to boost morale.
  • Cash flow and planning challenges– With all businesses effected by these changes, businesses may find it challenging to predict DSO for AR and maintain reasonable levels with customers that might not communicate as well as they used to.

Not all these scenarios will apply to your business, and they are not all guaranteed.

But they all have the same thing in common; they can all be addressed with technology.

We don’t need a crystal ball to know that making smart investments in technology will be imperative in the near future. By developing our businesses’ technological capabilities, we can stay competitive in what is a very wide range of possible future scenarios.

Refreshing current technology vs adopting new tools- the reality

It’s important to understand that adopting new technology can be a process, and expectations need to be set accordingly. Most businesses are used to their current process of refreshing or upgrading their existing technology. This tends to be fairly simple; refreshing servers, firewalls, upgrading applications, upgrading operating systems, etc. For most businesses, upgrading technology is often as simple as signing a check and consenting to the upgrade.

The mistake we see a lot of businesses make when deciding to implement new technology is expecting the process to be the same as what they’re used to when refreshing their existing stack. Often, businesses will decide on a new tool they want to implement and assume that once the decision to purchase is done, the rest will follow. In reality, adopting new technology requires much more implementation work. When a new tool is introduced, in most cases, internal workflows need to change, users need to adapt, and leadership promote full adoption of the tool. It is important to anticipate and plan for the reality of transitioning and adapting to this new tool.

Getting a jump-start on adoption

To leverage new technology effectively in the coming months, it is important to start sooner rather than later. It will take time for employees to get on board and embrace the strategy and vision you put forth regarding your business plan and any new technology implemented to help execute it. Of course, you won’t be entirely alone in this process. Your service provider will have a role, but the hardest job, and the one that requires the most ownership, will be the internal processes that the service provider can’t help with.

The cliché suggestion a service provider can give is for you to designate an internal champion to help with implementation. Although correct in its direction, this suggestion is misleadingly simple. It marginalizes the actual effort required to get traction with new technologies and adapt workflows around them. The actual process will not only require a champion, but clear commitment and adoption from leadership as well.

We believe that businesses should be actively considering the following list and working towards a comprehensive strategy.

Technology to focus planning conversations around:

  1. WFH Machines –
    • Who owns the assets? Are they company or employee owned?
      • The concept of asset ownership and corporate software being installed on assets that may not be owned by you is an important HR discussion. BOYD programs are great, but you need to provide employees guidance.
    • How do we ensure the assets meet minimum hardware and software standards?
  2. Cloud Desktops vs. on Premise Servers–
    • Is moving to the cloud a viable solution for your business?
      • Roughly 60-70% of our customers utilize the CIO Private Cloud desktop which has been an ideal solution to many WFH obstacles.
    • Is the possibility of not having on-site servers an option? 
      • Often, cloud desktops aren’t needed even if servers still are. We have technology to forklift existing servers and put them into a data-center.
    • If running your own servers, how can you optimize your environment?
      • If giving up running your own servers is not an option, then running a robust terminal server environment for daily use (not just remote use) would be an option.
  3. Accounts Receivable/Payable-
    • How will you make and receive payments in an extended work from home scenario?
      • Looking at ways to get, pay, and send bills without physical paper is an important conversation. Online tools like Expensify, Concur, and can help address these needs.
  4. Communication Tools-
    • How can you keep morale up and make your team feel connected in the absence of in-person office interactions?
      • Video, video, video! It’s important to humanize the work experience for employees in a dispersed work environment. This could include virtual happy hours, funny videos from leadership, adding video to your sales process and email campaigns, etc.
      • Modern Communication Tools- If you are not having discussions about slack or teams then you are behind the ball. This DOES NOT mean you need to adopt them right away, but you should be having conversations around them.
  5. IT Steering Committee
    • How are you going to decide on what new technology is needed and how to implement it? 
      • We highly recommend setting up a group that meets periodically to discuss these topics and report back. The formality of the group is dependent on the business and group members, but the important thing is that these elements are frequently discussed and evaluated.
      • A designated committee will create a rhythm to these discussions and keep these essential considerations from falling through the cracks.

Consideration and planning of these elements will be advantageous as you shift your focus to what’s next for your business in this new world.