Recent events have highlighted how well organisations react to change. Organisations that utilise flexible infrastructure, agile processes and new working methods will be more effective. Here's why.

Navigating change

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented disruption to everyday life around the globe.

Virtually all organisations have been impacted, requiring changes to how we work – and prepare for events like these, as unpredictable as they may be. The pace of change has caused business continuity plans to be executed, and many organisations have had to rapidly adapt their strategies due the risk of the economy deteriorating.  

In New Zealand, most people have pulled together to respond quickly and with purpose. However, it has also been noticeable that there has been a lot of reactionary behaviour when it comes to business continuity systems.

Many organisations have aspirations of being able to adapt when a crisis hits, but many of the organisations we have seen don’t have tried and tested business continuity plans, while many more have been encumbered by more traditional technology and working practices.

Infrastructure dependencies

Ensuring staff can work remotely has been a common requirement across most organisations.

Can core systems be accessed remotely, and securely? How many concurrent users can be supported, how much bandwidth is now needed to ensure stable and fast access, how quickly can all this be scaled and, most importantly, how secure is this access? These have been common questions most of us have had to ask.

For many, they’ve had to rely on traditional infrastructure and VPN technology, which has been stretched – and stressed – to the extent that agility, usability, and performance have been constrained. This has been exacerbated in some places where end users are still deskbound with a desktop-based operating environment.

Further compounding this challenge are the impacts on supply chains, which has meant that those needing to quickly scale capacity or procure access solutions or devices may not be able to get what they need.

Communication is obviously critical in any business continuity event: How do messages get out and how do you respond collaboratively? When working remotely, how do people continue day to day work, work that often involves a high level of people interaction?

Accessible collaboration tools are invaluable in today’s inter-connected world – they become a necessity in business continuity situations. Too many enterprises have either limped along with substandard collaboration tools and/or had to reactively spin up a solution with urgency. Luckily cloud-based solutions have enabled many unprepared organisations to rapidly respond.

In a country prone to natural disasters, around 10 years ago the New Zealand government recognised an opportunity to reduce risk by mandating a move from ad-hoc on-premise computer rooms (and cupboards) and dated infrastructure platforms to purpose built data centres with evergreen infrastructure services.

This has vastly improved government infrastructure stability and the ability to keep core systems running in business continuity events with these data centres located outside of dense or high-risk areas, with added redundancy and automated failover features.

Public cloud Infrastructure as Service (IaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) services have provided even higher levels of on-demand provisioning, automation, availability and geographic redundancy.

SaaS provides Internet-based access to key productivity and line of business applications that can be accessed from anywhere. The use of laptops and mobile devices that can be taken home, used in conjunction with cloud-based virtual desktops, has further enabled those organisations consuming cloud to seamlessly move to full remote working.

Maintaining security

Security issues have often been raised with remote access and public cloud but these services typically provide robust encryption, multi-factor authentication and single sign-on to provide peace of mind.

Due diligence and a proper cloud security assessment is a necessity, but if done properly you’ll generally find cloud provides for a more secure environment.

If your organisation has had to move swiftly to a new solution for business continuity reasons, make sure you circle back to assess and implement best practices that may not have been possible in the heat of the moment.

Whatever you put in place, ensure security monitoring is put in place, and that end user education is a focus – cyber criminals often make the most of disruption and confusion to wreak havoc through phishing, ransomware and other malicious hacks and attacks.

Modernisation and innovation

Despite cloud becoming increasingly mainstream, one surprise over the last few years is that many organisations haven’t modernised or automated their processes and workloads for online or digital accessibility.

This has especially hampered organisations’ ability to continue to service their customers and stakeholders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While this will unfortunately strike a blow to some businesses, for many others it will hopefully kickstart a real digital transformation and modernisation programme.

One of the real benefits of embracing the cloud is the foundation it provides to develop more modern applications through ready to use Platform as a Service (PaaS) capabilities, accessible APIs and SDKs, and in-built continuous integration, deployment, and operational tooling.

Often a positive that emerges during adversity and disruption is the opportunity to innovate.

The great thing about cloud is that it enables dynamic and rapid innovation, and enables organisations to respond to disruption.

For some organisations, they’ve been able to deliver new solutions quickly. We’ve seen plenty of innovative approaches to key COVID-19 problems: 3D printing of inexpensive personal protection face shields for front line staff; contact centre AI used for telehealth triaging; data-driven analysis and real time intelligence to track, model, and present impact and threat analysis, highlight risks areas, and develop solutions and responses; virtual desktops and collaboration solutions established in hours to allow people to be productive when isolated from their offices and each other.

The impact on people

Undoubtedly, as we’ve seen, cloud-based technology enables more innovative, collaborative, and rapid responses to business continuity events.

However, working practices are also impacted and equally need to adapt to make the most of the technology and new ways of working forced on many of us. How do leaders rapidly respond and adapt to change and disruption, or manage their remote teams?

Agile principles and practices can play a significant role when managing in a crisis. Focus is critical. Understanding priorities as situations rapidly change is key to adapting, and thus responding quickly and effectively.

Pulling together cross-functional teams across the business and visualising the flow of work enables teams to be quickly aligned, while prioritising and categorising the work needed to respond to what matters. The classic Keep, Start, Stop adage is an effective tool to limit work in progress and ensure productive focus is maintained.  Your cross-functional response team’s job is then to continuously communicate priority of new work and remove constraints and blockers. This can effectively be applied to leadership teams needing to rapidly change strategy and execute urgent initiatives.

Visualisation of work, often via online Kanban boards, also assists remote working. It allows Development and Operations teams working remotely to create centralised work queues to see the prioritised work that anyone on the team can then draw from when they’re available.

Adopting methods like these are crucial as employees care for children being kept home from school, tend to family members who may be unwell or become unwell themselves.

Change may be a constant

While change being constant is a cliché used to describe normal working life, when normality is disrupted by events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, change is constant – and often unpredictable or unforeseen.

To maintain any momentum, organisations need to make sure their business continuity plan is continuously updated, incorporating changes in technology, operating model, and the wider team.

Consider how suppliers, partners and third-party vendors plug in to your plans: What happens if they are also impacted? How do your stakeholders and customers interact with you and what is the impact on them from their end?

While none of this is easy, taking a systematic approach – and utilising technology and new ways of working – organisations will be better placed to cope with severe scenarios.