Click to learn more about author Patrick Hubbard.
In the sparkly, golden days before the new normal, many office workers probably considered “infrastructure” to be the buildings they worked in and their desks and computers. But in what seemed like the blink of an eye, workers learned infrastructure has become a complex digital amalgam — it’s the cloud, mobile access, proxies, VPNs, Slack, Zoom, laptops, tablets, and SaaS everywhere in between.
Digital-as-infrastructure isn’t news to IT pros, but now everyone knows: It’s not the office building that matters but the data and how we manipulate and access it. As a result, since the pandemic, IT pros are more trusted than ever to truly understand how to make the modern infrastructure lifeline work. One can argue IT professionals became the unsung essential workers of the worldwide economy. But how prepared were they to fall into this role?
Prepare for the Unexpected
According to a recent THWACK® poll of IT pros, 61 percent of respondents said their companies were “semi-prepared” for the present remote-working environment. They’re maintaining operations reasonably well, albeit with a bit of duct tape here and there.
The valedictorians among the IT pros — 34 percent — said they were “well-prepared” for whatever this new normal is — they already had a large number of remote workers or already had tested, scalable systems, training, and procedures in place.
The remaining five percent were either “not very well-prepared” or “totally unprepared” for the operational consequences of the pandemic. They reported long days and nights and mad scrambles for IT resources while they raced to provide a semblance of business continuity.
That preparedness breakout is an important signal for business. Without a magical “undo/rollback,” now is the time to again assess your preparedness. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that you should be considering some risks that once seemed completely impossible. Maybe not an alien invasion, but large area natural disasters, prolonged or multiple cloud region or services unavailability, or years of on-and-off remote work now seem like far more reasonable risks to consider.
IT has earned the right to ask for what it actually needs. Nay-sayers have recently learned sometimes Chicken Little’s concerns were warranted, and the sky can fall.
IT Workers Are Essential
IT faced many challenges during the pandemic — like hardware, for example. Unable to be ordered, provisioned, or configured to the doorstep next day via Amazon Prime, it added a huge time delay to getting everything set up remotely. Vendor fulfillment is another challenge, with long lead times, interrupted supply chains, and many businesses scrambling for the same, limited gear. The great laptop shortage didn’t help either.
As a result of shortages, IT pros were forced to rely on both professional skills and some street smarts to get the tech they need. This meant adopting entirely new cloud services or enabling BYOD at home.
Then there’s fatigue — this ongoing trauma is getting really old, and IT isn’t in the business of spinning plates in the air while in a holding pattern. We diagnose, plan, fix, and move on to the next issue. We’re also not 100 percent at home. Many IT pros must still travel to and from physical data centers and help desks for tasks that can’t be performed remotely.
Even for IT staff fortunate to work 100 percent remote, there was still a lot of unprecedented day-to-day. They saw an explosion of time-consuming one-on-one support for newly remote workforces on unfamiliar networks; they built war rooms and worked high priority issues with multiple vendors simultaneously. All of them were carrying out the C-suite prime directive, save our business. And save their businesses most did, and well.
The THWACK survey above suggests most of these essential workers transformed their systems to support the new normal. They worked brutal hours while caring for friends and family. They learned how to make do and delay what they could. They may have self-reported being “semi-prepared,” but in this time of IT operations sink or swim, once again, IT proved its reliability and usefulness.
Expanded Consideration for What’s Coming Next
Fortunately, IT is in a much better position than back in March 2020, and it’s time to ask ourselves how prepared we are for what’s coming next with the benefit of hindsight. Some teams are looking for alliances outside of IT, but they don’t know where to start or with whom to share their ideas. Remember, streamlining conversations to speak the language of business means pushing aside tech and biz jargon. Even classic tools like ROI calculation can spur conversations that get your company and IT team better prepared and more resilient for the next unknown.
One bright spot for well-prepared IT teams was they were generally able to rely on their existing monitoring systems to identify which apps and infrastructure elements are most critical in the new normal. Awareness of which application and services are working correctly as networks and resources were reconfigured or expanded provided reassurance that their responses are effective. Better, rich performance data made troubleshooting quicker, even as systems were pushed outside original design constraints.
Performance monitoring data is also replacing many of the SWAGs sometimes seen in PowerPoint slides. That’s critical when teams must decide if it’s more cost-effective to run an application in the cloud than on-prem. IT can then confirm real-world performance after lift-and-shift, modernization, or replacement. Monitoring also speeds consolidation and streamlining, identifies underutilized assets, and helps justify expenses. Pre- and post-pandemic comparative metrics can even help IT leaders detail how they’ve adapted and even help extrapolate other scenarios. Everything is easier with solid empirical data instead of guesswork. In short, solid operations data can reassure leadership IT is aligned with business objectives.
You’ve made it this far. You’ve done some of your best work, and now’s the time to get prepared for what’s coming next. Businesses are reporting that IT professionals are more important than ever. It’s a great opportunity to help leadership remember we’re not just there when things go wrong. We’re not just prepared to respond in times of crisis. We’re an asset to proactively achieve major business goals, whatever the driver.