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Business Continuity Was a Challenge for CIOs in 2020. Here's How They Did

December 17, 2020 Information Management
By Dom Nicastro

CIOs have had a little to do in 2020. Just a little.

The COVID-19 crisis put these technology leaders into the spotlight. They were tasked with things like modernizing the applications environment, optimizing network capacity, upgrading the workplace and transforming operations, according to a CIO guide published by IBM.

We caught up with CIOs earlier in the year to see how they’d approach 2020 and map out their processes for business continuity amid the pandemic. Today, we check in with them to see how the last nine months went, how they will continue to operate and how they pivoted their IT and other processes.

New Level of ‘Keeping on the Lights’

Back in March, Forrester digital workspaces analyst Andrew Hewitt laid out four key ways CIOs can ensure employees remain engaged when working in a remote scenario: technology enablement, capacity management, culture and security.

Revisiting these themes, we caught up with Hewitt again to see how things played out in these four arenas the last nine months:

Technology Enablement

At first, things were not going well for technology leaders, Hewitt acknowledged. Just 47% of technology leaders said they were prepared to meet the needs of the newly remote workforce a couple of months into the pandemic. Many of them had to scramble to provide devices, procure Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) licenses, open up capacity for VPN, and in some cases, start the transition to cloud-based productivity apps, Hewitt added. 

“Thankfully, most of that was handled in the first two months of the pandemic and organizations more or less solved for the basics of remote working early on,” Hewitt said. “Organizations that had device-as-a-service (DaaS) investments and modern management of PCs fared a bit better when it came to equipping the workforce right away.” 

Capacity Management

CIOs did not fare extremely well in this regard, according to Hewitt. Expanding capacity for VPN was one of the major challenges of the early pandemic, he said, and the ones that succeeded were able to shift VPN resources to the cloud and redirect users there, rather than tunneling through traditional VPNs to the data center. 

“Luckily, the rapid rise in cloud-based videoconferencing did help with capacity challenges, even as tech giants saw massive increases in adoption of their services,” Hewitt added. “For the most part, they held their own, in effect proving the value of cloud services for business continuity.” 

Culture 

Hewitt called this a “big win” for CIOs and enterprises in general. Companies made real efforts to have more empathy for employees, providing services like counseling, meal delivery and tutoring, especially during the early phases of the pandemic. 

“Most organizations found that they were just as productive if not more productive working remotely than they expected, and it's one of the big reasons why we expect a 300% permanent increase in remote workers going forward,” Hewitt said. “The challenge ahead will be when employees return to the office. The fact is we're doing remote work on ‘easy’ right now. 2021 will be a lot harder with hybrid workforces.” 

Security

Initially, this was a major challenge because CIOs and CISOs struggled to get control over unmanaged devices on their networks, and some opened up to BYOD, according to Hewitt. 

“What we're seeing now is that organizations are reinvesting in security and taking a harder look at 'zero trust', which secures data wherever it resides: on a device, app, across networks and of course in the data center,” Hewitt said. “This will be a major priority in the coming year.”

In addition to zero trust, Hewitt expects CIOs to make a few other investments in the coming year:

  • Preparation for hybrid working and adopting digital whiteboards to help remote and office workers collaborate better. 
  • Revamp leadership training to help cope with hybrid work styles. 
  • Increase investment in end-user experience management tools to help diagnose technology issues for office, hybrid and remote workers alike. 

Related Article: Now Is the Time to Replace VPN With Zero Trust

Preventing Shadow IT

In March, Anudeep Parhar, CIO of Entrust, talked about preventing shadow IT as a top priority with everyone transitioning to remote work all at once. How did this effort go? What were the challenges?

Entrust’s effort to prevent shadow IT went very well, he said. Workstations were secured to prohibit unauthorized applications, and IT teams support a robust solutions insertion process to sanction and rationalize requests for new tools and applications needed for business use. 

“The biggest challenge we faced, like many businesses, was creating rapid financial and security due diligence for this process,” Parhar said.

Ensuring Strong Network, Resource Infrastructure 

Parhar also wanted to ensure network and resource infrastructure was equipped to handle a mass global migration to remote work so that employees didn’t experience any interruptions. Business continuity was crucial.

Migrating to VPN-based remote access went without a hitch, according to Parhar. To minimize roundtrips to Entrust’s global headquarters, the company invested in regional hubs. Further, the software-defined network scaled very well to address the increase in traffic and volume.

“That said, our commercial operations need physical access and close proximity to ensure contractual security and compliance obligations are met, which posed new challenges,” Parhar said. “To resolve these challenges, our team rapidly innovated by building secure and compliant remote access rooms to leverage our global workforce.”

Further, IT teams creatively upgraded tracking and audit processes to use video streaming-based accreditation to keep the operating environment safe for colleagues and to continue serving customers, according to Parhar.

Managing Global Cloud Applications, Business Functions

Eric Adams, chief information security officer at Kyriba, said the need to serve customers never stopped. The company’s global client base of more than 2,000 enterprise corporate and financial institutions demanded the ability to see and control their cash and liquidity through Kyriba’s enterprise liquidity management platform. Ensuring employees were prepared and secure was “mission-critical during the pandemic and continues to be a real priority even today,” he added.

Kyriba’s business continuity plan was effective, Adams said, even though the COVID-19 pandemic was a much different scenario than tech teams originally considered. They had planned for the usual scenarios of natural disaster, power/service disruption, social unrest, but those considerations were regionally focused. However, the pandemic could not have been any more globally impactful — and remains that way.

“Similar to most companies, we did have challenges to ensure we had enough VPN licenses and the ability to expand the capacity of our circuits,” Adams said. “This was simple enough to add more license count to also include those that typically worked in the office only to have license capacity for full-time work from home.” 

IT teams enabled nearly 1,000 employees to be able to adopt global cloud applications and business functions while they worked remotely. “We really did not see any surprises since we were prepared so well and had detailed documentation of roles and personnel to the essential duties to keep the system operational,” Adams said.

Related Article: CIOs Reimagine the Workplace of the Not-So-Far-Off-Future

Keeping a Close Eye on Security

The IT department at Kyriba did well keeping personnel up to date on the employee systems while working remotely. In addition, the team’s Cyber Defense Center capability has kept a close eye on attacks since there has been such a sharp increase of attacks to remote systems during the pandemic

“I believe this was a big success by both our IT, information security departments, and HR teams to ensure employees were kept up to date with frequent communications to give them the assurance they were being taken care of and not isolated,”  Adams said. "Our HR department complimented IT’s efforts to ensure the emotional aspects of our employees working in different environments were top of mind in addition to our systems. I believe this team effort is what contributed to the overall success to ensure our employees could continue providing excellent service for our customers."

C-Suite Collaboration, Zero Trust Principles

Parhar of Entrust said in March that he was working with a wide range of C-suite members and executives, including the CEO, CFO and chief human resources officer, as well as heads of customer support and commercial and corporate infrastructure. What was this collaboration like?

Collaboration across the Entrust executive team is continuing to go exceptionally well as they work together to navigate this unprecedented time, according to Parhar. “We pride ourselves on collaborating across functional borders in the interest of customer success and satisfaction,” he said. “Throughout the year, several internal committees were formed to provide rapid and rigorous decision-making across all aspects of the business.”

The goal for next year is to continue to build on digital transformation acceleration forced by COVID-19. This means modernizing workplace environments with new facility models and productivity tools. 

“We’re also looking to update business processes to center around remote and self-service foundations,” he said. “Finally, we’ll continue to harden our information security tech to move to zero trust principles.”

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