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Covid-19: IT considerations for the 'new normal'

Covid-19 has had a massive impact on world economies, societies and businesses, as governments introduced lockdowns to flatten the infection curve. Meanwhile, eyes have fixed on the chief information officer (CIO) community. They have been tasked to quickly set up work processes and to support users of IT services with the right tools to do their jobs.

However, CIOs, chief technology officers (CTOs), chief security officers (CSOs) and heads of networks and infrastructure also need to think more broadly to: 

  • enhance the effectiveness of remote working
  • secure the IT environment
  • ensure supportability of the new normal

Enhance the effectiveness of remote working 

Your organisation’s staff may have access to key systems and applications, but that doesn’t mean they’re working effectively. Access may be slow, for example, due to capacity challenges  on the VPN platforms you use. Or, it may be intermittent due to home or corporate broadband issues. Other issues may also occur as IT infrastructure is stretched. And if the estate is ageing, say, with out-of-support hardware and software, users may be plagued with failing systems when constant connectivity really matters. Finally, users may not have the hardware they need to work as effectively as they would in an office –  screens, headsets, printers and so on.

Here are some pointers to enhance your business’s remote working:

Monitor network capacity

  • Review and monitor daily VPN usage across the estate –whether it’s local, regional or global. Remember, options exist should you reach VPN capacity.  You could spread the load when gateways reach capacity. Consider consolidating networks to fewer VPN gateways, centrally controlled and managed, and have local assets available as backups. And keep in mind that as governments reduce access to offices and other locations, it will become harder to maintain local hardware. Invest in medium-term projects now to cater for a continued increase in bandwidth demand.

Review third-party arrangements

  • Speak to your network and telephony providers. These companies will want to ensure customers are well catered for as demand increases, so discuss what options are available to increase capacity. Importantly, get transparency on the likely increase in costs.
  • Give infrastructure providers as much notice as possible for future orders – demand for ‘standard’ devices will remain high for a while, so shortages may occur.

Cater for the remote workforce

  • Invest in end users’ IT needs. Set up a system where you can quickly handle requests and prioritise investment decisions. Headsets to enable staff to attend meetings without all the background noise of home life, more powerful corporate devices to support remote working, a single printer to enable invoices to be printed and posted – all requests from staff matter and shouldn’t be underestimated in the drive to improve working from home.

Secure the IT environment

Balancing business-critical priorities with IT security has  become more important. With more and more people remote working, the stresses and strains on IT infrastructure provides a greater opportunity for outsiders to exploit possible holes in security and cause organisations harm. Malware attacks, malicious  probing and phishing attempts – personal and corporate – will likely increase.

Now is the time when corporate security policies and standards must be central to decision-making; it’s doubly important these are followed and enforced. There’s a balance to strike with business operations, of course, but security must be at the forefront. Make sure VPN access has multi-factor authentication; check administrative access to files, servers and systems is controlled and monitored; and see to it that security and data-handling specifications in client–supplier contracts are adhered to.

Consider the human factor to security as well. With more people at home, with new pressures on their work environment, mistakes are bound to happen. You should reiterate the need to follow online behaviour guidelines when dealing with suspicious emails, or when using home rather than corporate machines.

Ensure supportability of the new normal

It’s stressful enough for staff working from home, so IT support must adapt, not add to that stress. Support organisations and their clients should discuss how support works during these challenging times. Do you need to prioritise certain requests? Are there communications you can send to end users to help manage expectations? Can SLAs be relaxed as requests increase for support?

Many support organisations are going through some of the same challenges and strains as their clients, with their own workforces also needing to work remotely. Do they have the tooling in place to do this? With desk-side support no longer an option, what is the end user experience? Can support organisations do what their clients expect?

These are unprecedented times, and support organisations will take time to catch up to provide a new type of service to their clients. Some activities may take longer than others, but here are a few examples to focus on:

Joiner, mover, leaver

  • Joiner, mover and leaver processes will be different. Getting configured laptops, phones and other devices to new joiners may prove difficult. So, could businesses use remote solutions to securely access a suite of services needed to start work (like Office 365 and others)? Leaver processes may need to change to make sure accounts are locked down immediately, even though the leaver may still have their laptops before returning them to the company.

Backup and restore

  • Backups that may need an on-site presence are also a factor. Many businesses use tapes to back up data, but without the ability to rotate tapes in the office, you need to explore other options. Can you deploy a cloud solution? Can you extend backup timelines?

Real-time reporting

  • In today’s virtual office, it’s paramount for leadership to agree on proactive monitoring of key metrics, KPIs and SLAs. Real-time reporting tools will need processes set up around them to react to network capacity issues, leavers’ account lockdowns, joiners’ account activations, as well as security alerts. It’s become more important to be proactive in support processes rather than reactive (to tickets and incidents, for example).

Again, communication is vital. It should be at the heart of how CIOs, CTOs, CSOs and their support organisations work together over the coming months. And this communication should have its foundation in agreed measures and management information, to minimise confusion and different interpretations of progress. Clear management information will also help make prioritisation calls easier and more objective. If this information is jointly agreed between parties, it will be even more powerful.

We’re in uncharted waters – and companies have moved mountains to enable their workforces to work remotely in huge numbers, as have the organisations that support them. However, while no one can predict how long this new normal will last, it’s clear that work needs to continue to assure the longevity of IT services provision to global workforces.

We’ve published an article on the intangible elements of business operations – values, behaviours and team dynamics – in this new way of working. You can read it here: ‘Virtual office established… what next to ensure your organisation remains effective?'

If you are interested in learning more about any topics in this article, please contact Neil McClumpha at Neil.McClumpha@berkeleypartnership.com.

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