Turning an uncertain 2021 into a year of opportunity

The pandemic put organisations in a race with time, as they have sought over the past year to build resilience into the business to ride and survive the disruption through 2021 and beyond. But for many, the impacts of Covid-19 have been significant. According to EY, 34% of businesses issued a profit warning within the first nine months of 2020.

Of course, this was not unexpected. The pandemic has proven to be an event like no other – and certainly not one that most were planning for. But it should serve as a lesson to organisations. This isn’t the first, and most definitely won’t be the last, black swan event that disrupts business operations.

Despite a clearer roadmap back to normality, the uncertainty is expected to continue for some time yet. So, business leaders cannot afford to sit on their laurels. How they spend their time, and their IT budgets, in the coming months is vital.

Planning for the unexpected must remain the central focus. Even with millions now vaccinated in the UK, many British businesses still have a question mark hanging over future trade with and operations in Europe as the consequences of Brexit come into play.

So, what can companies do now that will put themselves in the best position to turn 2021 – despite its uncertainty – into a year of opportunity?

Becoming digitally resilient

Businesses must focus on building the muscle memory for resiliency and agility to help them respond with speed and success to the continued disruption. The foundations of this resiliency can be built in the cloud. And this is where most businesses should be looking to continue investing a good proportion of their IT budgets in the upcoming months.

Whether it’s to help employees become more effective and productive when working from home, improving the speed of delivery of new services to meet changing customer expectations and environments, or ensuring continuous uptime through improved scalability and continuity, the cloud is a vital piece of the resiliency puzzle.

Some industries have long been extolling the benefits of the cloud for digital resiliency. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), for example, previously recommended that financial services firms should be using multi-cloud to ensure continuous uptime.

Promisingly, our recent research found that 71% of UK businesses were already in the process of or planning to move to hybrid or multi-cloud in 2020, with 80% of these projects having been pushed forward as a result of the pandemic. The improved resiliency those organisations achieved as a result is unquestionable. While those that haven’t yet considered the potential of a multi-cloud strategy, may find themselves unable to react as quickly to changing market, customer and employee demands.

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Stress-testing to prepare for future disruption

IT leaders putting new cloud and technology strategies in place to help improve their resiliency and availability must ensure that, once implemented, they don’t just sit back and hope that it works. Organisations need to know that the improvements to their business continuity plans (BCPs) will stand the test of disruption when further unexpected, and even significant planned-for, events occur further down the line. Stress-testing exercises are the best way of identifying gaps and faults in your BCP, before it is too late and remediating any problems becomes reactive rather than proactive.

Organisations can do this by identifying which threats pose the biggest risk to the business – this is a vital step as every company and industry is different. Once these have been identified, each scenario can be placed in order of priority, by gauging exactly how much impact they could have on the business and how complex the plan needs to be to respond.

When conducting these exercises, each team member should also be assigned a clear role. This might be as an active player in the BCP test, or it may be as an external party, for example an evaluator or observer, who can help spot any flaws and play a vital role in measuring its success.

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Planning for cost efficiency

IT leaders may be asking where all this leaves your budget. While many business leaders increasingly appreciate the importance that IT investments play in the ability for their company to weather disruption and rise successful from it, implementing new technology and processes doesn’t come for free. At a minimum, there will be increased pressure on IT leaders this year to show that the necessary investments in 2020 not only paid off in the moment, but have contributed towards improved resiliency, availability and profitability in the long term.

It is therefore crucial that cost efficiency is considered as part of any BCP, so that these initial investments do not turn into long term drains on IT budgets. Thankfully, this is another area where the cloud can support IT leaders.

Research from Rackspace Technology found that many IT leaders are focusing on utilising new and optimising existing cloud infrastructure to help reduce costs (39% and 45% respectively), with a similar number also recognising these benefits through application modernisation (36%). These were seen as having more potential for cost optimisation than increased automation or AIOps (33% and 3% respectively).

This is perhaps unsurprising given the outcomes of the cloud projects completed ahead of and during the pandemic. Central North West London NHS Foundation Trust, for example, completed its migration to the cloud just before the pandemic which empowered 10 times more staff to provide essential health services remotely during the pandemic.

Maintaining business continuity

2021 has already proven to be more promising than the last, with many now able to see some kind of light at the end of the tunnel, but it will not be without its own challenges, as the first quarter has already demonstrated. Business leaders that have successfully weathered the immensely challenging circumstances the pandemic has brought about, cannot simply view this time as them having survived a “difficult moment”, and look forward to sunnier skiers.

Let’s instead look upon this period as the catalyst for a new way of operating that puts resiliency and agility at the heart of the business. So that no matter what the next challenge, and no matter how severe, the business is in the best possible position to ready this. IT leaders have shown that they are an essential piece of this puzzle, the onus must be on them to take advantage of the opportunity cloud offers their business.

Written by Andy Brierley, UK general manager at Rackspace Technology

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