Preparing your IT strategy for 2021 — in the wake of Covid-19

Mark Lomas, technical architect at Probrand, discusses how tech leaders can prepare their IT strategy in 2021, in the wake of Covid-19.

For the majority of businesses affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, technology has proved an essential enabler in 2020. It has allowed companies to continue trading throughout lockdowns and staff to work effectively from home. The need for new tech, however, put enormous pressure on IT departments – which often had to roll out emergency short term solutions. This was all happening while global supply chains creaked, and at times collapsed, under the strain being placed upon them.

It’s estimated that 97% of companies experienced supply chain disruptions in 2020 and, because of this, IT buyers regularly ended up paying a premium to procure even the most basic tools they needed to keep businesses functional. But as we move into 2021, and with some element of working from home likely to remain indefinitely, it’s time to review IT strategies with a longer term lens.

In the new normal we will need to consider: whether teams are equipped to achieve the highest level of productivity – wherever they are located; whether the right systems are in place; if staff have the right tools; and if the corporate infrastructure is secure and resilient enough to protect against future shocks and disturbances.

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Equipping the workforce

For the first three to six months of the pandemic, companies focused on immediate priorities – keeping staff operational as many adapted to working from home. Only now are companies getting the chance to breathe, take stock and assess whether staff are properly equipped for the longer term. For many, this will involve making work-life more comfortable for employees who they assumed would be back in the workplace by now.

Procurement priorities have evolved from supplying the basics to addressing the broader needs of the workforce. Wellbeing is now much higher up the agenda, and orders of ergonomic chairs, wrist rests, etc. are on the rise as companies seek to create the best possible environments for their teams to work in. As staff seek to improve performance in their home offices requests for enhanced WiFi, better audio and visual equipment and printers are also increasing.

These ongoing investments require a more considered long-term fulfilment strategy to ensure the workforce gets what it needs. But, at the same time, companies should analyse how they are procuring products to avoid paying the high margins they may have been subjected to in 2020.

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Enhancing productivity

It’s not just hardware that requires greater consideration, though. Hastily thrown-together collaborative systems, that got employees through the early months, need to be reviewed. Are those combinations of cloud-based video conferencing and email systems helping employees get the job done, or have elements started to inhibit productivity? Is a more joined-up workflow required to fit the way employees want to operate?

Now might be the time to think about online services that go beyond basic scheduling and chat and support bespoke business workflows. For example, many executives using Office 365 are yet to explore the custom workflows available through the Flow app.

If enhancements are required, a bigger investment in time and resources may be needed to set-up and train teams across various business units.

Ensuring security

Another priority on many IT directors’ to-do list is security. Companies that rushed to equip employees with computers, and provide remote access at home, will need to ensure that no corners were cut in the process – and that critical functions remain secure.

There has been a significant increase in cyber attacks in the wake of lockdown, with criminals seeking to take advantage of lax security measures. To ward against this, IT teams should be working with their HR department to deliver security awareness training.

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Organisations will also need to revise their endpoint security controls however, to bolster perimeter defences. With large numbers continuing to work remotely, mobile device management (MDM) solutions may be needed to authenticate users, and check that anti-virus, firewalls and software patches are up-to-date.

MDM can also ensure employees are storing information in the places they should be, so the appropriate backup can take place and disaster recovery protocols are still functioning.

Long-term planning

While many companies will have planned for isolated technology outages, few will have been prepared for systemic disruption on the scale we’ve seen in 2020. So, pandemics now need to be factored into that disaster recovery playbook.

What has also become clear is that IT must be considered a strategic asset. It enables companies to stay agile and adaptable – ensuring they are able handle any significant interruption to business as usual. Organisations should, therefore, include technology procurement within their long-term business continuity planning. They may need to include supply chain management solutions in their IT priorities to ensure they have greater control and visibility over crucial lines of supply.

Everyone has been forced to overcome the unexpected this year, but as we move into 2021 (with a bit more optimism than we had earlier in the year) we have an opportunity to plan ahead. If we do so successfully we will emerge from this pandemic in a better position to handle even the worst of scenarios.

Written by Mark Lomas, technical architect at Probrand

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