Becoming an agent of change

Paul Lewis | May 20, 2020 | Edge Exchange

Change has been thrust upon us all over the last few months, as COVID-19 and its impact continue to dominate global headlines.

As employees are urged to #stayhome, businesses are having to rapidly abandon old ways of working and embrace radically decentralized new operating models. The speed with which this change has swept through enterprises has been breathtaking. The hard truth is that some organizations have been much more able to pivot and adapt than others.

Many CIOs I talk to are finding that while it’s easy to plan for and imagine the kind of truly virtualized operation that could ensure practical, profitable operational continuity in these times —it’s much trickier to achieve the changes required in the compressed timescales now needed.

This new blog series is designed to support and inspire technology leaders at this disorientating time and signpost some clear ways forward. I hope you find it useful and wish you every luck with your endeavours.

Around the world, shops, offices, manufacturing plants and warehouses have been forced to shut down. For the vast majority of businesses, there is now no choice but to radically change not just where they operate, but how. And to fundamentally reassess not just what they do, but how they think. Even the biggest organizations are now devolved, distributed and lead from home, in every practical and logistical sense.

This inevitably means that the role of technology has no option but to change too.

It can be tempting to view this phase as merely ‘keeping the lights on’. But in my view, the new working proposition goes much deeper than that. There seem to me to be four key questions that any CIO trying to steer their organization through this disrupted period now urgently needs to answer.

  1. How do I manage complex human capability? What is the best way to support and unite the people, processes, and complex relationships that your operations depend on? How do you maintain your organization’s ability to perform tasks that require rapid and effective team collaboration?
  2. How do I uphold enterprise resilience and capacity? What are your strategies for staying up and running in the wake of current events and how do you – as an enterprise – need to re-envision what resilience and capacity actually look like?
  3. How do I maintain cybersecurity? What is your strategy for balancing business continuity with the protection of sensitive systems and data at a time when bad threat actors are likely to proliferate? How can you maximize security with thousands of people working at home and needing to log on to corporate systems from different devices and locations?
  4. How do I keep Digital Transformation moving? Markets remain every bit as competitive as they have always been, so transformation projects cannot – and should not – simply stop. How should your transformation projects themselves now evolve to reflect some of the longer-term changes to how people work which may result from this crisis? Can the technology changes needed to keep productive in these extreme circumstances be embraced as part of your wider transformation strategy?

(This blog is the first in a series of four dealing with each of these issues in turn. Today, I’ll look at the first item on the list: Managing complex human capability.)

In the new reality, we are all working in virtual isolation in our homes. That is a huge change for many information workers used to physically co-working and collaborating on site to get tasks done.

A major challenge that CIOs now face is how to enable people to continue working in a federated way on day-to-day projects. Critically, that includes supporting creativity: making sure that key design and ideation projects that rely on many contributors and iterative processes can still go ahead in an optimal way.

For example, studies show that about 60% of the projects that IT teams undertake in the enterprise are focused on creating new features and functions within existing applications. This demands an agile software development process which takes place in small SCRUM teams. How can this kind of set up best be replicated with remote workers at home?

The truth of course is that many people do already homework very successfully in both operational and more creative roles, collaborating closely with team members, customers and partners. However, previously, this has often happened on an ad-hoc basis with each individual patching together the kit and processes they need to work effectively.

Going forward, relying on this kind of ad-hoc approach will not be good enough. A much more formalized strategy will be needed to support effective and secure remote interactions right across a company as the weeks and months unfold.

Smarter team working tools: Two key pillars of any successful remote working strategy are rolling out a collaboration hub such as Microsoft Teams and putting in a place a file-sharing collaborative platform such as Microsoft SharePoint.

You may also want to invest in a dedicated high-quality video conferencing solution to support regular team interaction. Keeping in visual contact with teams during this time is a great way for line managers to gauge how well people are coping and pick up early warning signs with regard to individual well-being (as well as project risk).

Transformed desktops: Another great-to-have right now is a workplace-like desktop experience for every employee, delivered by a scalable VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) platform. This will support, enable and protect all your employees working remotely across locations and devices with the latest tools and security, ensuring a great user experience. At a time when many are juggling work and life in busy households, making the desktop experience as intuitive and easy as possible is a real productivity bonus. Desktops are all hosted on a centralized server, enabling the cost and management efficiencies of desktop-as-a-service from your own data center too.

It doesn’t have to be painful: Let’s be honest, the situation out there is tough enough for us all right now. But pivoting around the new reality and adapting how your people work does not have to be as technically stressful and arduous as you might think. For example, quick starter packs are available that accelerate VDI deployment, giving you a fast VDI rollout with the ease of a pre-packaged solution.

Working with people who already have great partnerships in place also simplifies your life. For example, Hitachi is working in close partnership with Intel and VMware to ensure that the hyper-converged platform underlying your VDI and other cloud workloads works seamlessly. One partner keeping their eyes on the ball -- exactly what you need in these stressful times!

In fact, at a time when the bottom-line is a huge concern, you will find that many of these smart collaboration and productivity-boosting technologies will actually save management time and may well preserve precious budget.

Paul Lewis is the global chief technology officer at Hitachi Vantara and can be reached at paul.lewis@hitachivantara.com. He can also be reached on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/paullewiscto/ and on Twitter via @PaulLewisCTO.

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