Business has experienced what can be viewed as a once in a generation stress test during the COVID-19 pandemic. All aspects of business faced new pressures as supply chains were disrupted, budgets realigned, and workforces scattered, adapting at varying paces.
Blind spots -- business and technology issues that had lingered just outside the impending priority view -- suddenly became operational imperatives that required correction for the business and its technology infrastructure to survive, let alone thrive. IT leaders have been central in correcting these blinds spots, most notably in relation to how businesses approach internal collaboration, service continuity, and the management of cloud services.
Collaboration Between Finance and Tech
Pre-COVID, many companies operated in siloed fashions, with lines between decision making relative to finance and to technology. Each department was focused on how to hit the mark for the next quarter’s financials and to meet SLA agreements, these priorities were viewed independently and not in each other’s views.
Collaborations between the offices of the CIO and the CFO during the pandemic are correcting this blind spot. The last year has demonstrated, through necessity, that more corporate benefit can be achieved when these departments align their priorities and together seek opportunities to increase efficiencies and manage expenditures.
IT is uniquely positioned to scan the entire company for technology-enabled improvements: revenue opportunities, productivity increases, and cost savings. Collaboration between the CIO and the CFO brings into view opportunities to improve how office space is used, how and when software purchases are made, and where and what hardware is deployed, just to name a few. The company operates more effectively when the CIO and the CFO work together to find and implement these improvements, as opposed to when they take a siloed approach on a per-department basis.
While hardware and software expenses are relatively easy to monitor and measure against the company metrics, the implementation of IT projects has become a focus of the CFO-CIO collaboration over the last year. In such a volatile business environment, projects need to bring value to the company, and the calculation of that value requires the CIO and CFO to jointly calculate the value accurately and measure the results once the project is in place.
Complementing each other’s perspectives, the CIO and CFO together are better armed to find cost-reduction opportunities that don’t impact customer satisfaction. This partnership is critical to ensure a potential financial decision that may benefit the company doesn’t touch customer service.
For companies that have addressed such silos, closer collaboration between finance and IT is an overdue correction that will likely continue well beyond the current crisis and will remain an ongoing part of any business strategy.
Continuity of Service Across the Continuum
Prior to the pandemic, working remotely usually applied to only a segment of a company’s employees and was most often periodic. IT teams were accustomed to monitoring LANs/VLANs in office locations, with dashboards that allowed them to manage capacity and utilization for their onsite workforce. With two-thirds of employees now working remotely, many of these network devices are not being utilized as the home networks of remote workers have taken on most of the burden.
Remote workers who were on the periphery now require focus and attention comparable to that applied to the onsite workforce. Pushed into the spotlight, IT has taken on the new responsibility of ensuring that remote workers can connect to the company network without issue, and VPNs have become a much more prominent actor in the network that provide secure access to company networks.
As up to tens of thousands of users at the same time use VPN sessions to access business critical apps, IT teams need to be able to see where there are saturation points on devices as saturation can impact end-user access to applications. More IT teams now turn to network monitoring solutions to visualize VPN activity over time, both geographically and down to individual device level for troubleshooting. Seeing how activity fluctuates during business hours and correlating the number of VPN sessions with application performance empower IT to plan for optimizing capacity in a new hybrid environment.
To service the remote workforce effectively, it’s equally critical to ensure on-premises applications perform optimally. With fewer people on site, extra attention should be paid to the environmental conditions of server rooms, QA labs and data centers. A server room, where many business critical on-premises applications are hosted, could be susceptible to a cooling failure.
Companies have realized that the era of remote and hybrid workforces requires a continuum of IT management and have shifted to a balanced and comprehensive view of network and infrastructure performance that our new business environment requires.
Cloud Application Monitoring
Along with the rapid pace of business change during the pandemic, applications and services have continued to move beyond local installations and into cloud-hosted environments. This means the majority of services a business relies on are now beyond the traditional reach of their business network monitoring and troubleshooting abilities; a critical blind spot many companies are now addressing.
As remote workers have increasingly accessed cloud-hosted applications, understanding how those applications are operating and performing has become a new mandate. If an employee experiences difficulty accessing Office365, for example, it’s essential for IT to discover where the problem lies to pursue the appropriate method of troubleshooting or request the ISP provide a fix if the issue is beyond the firewall. IT teams now more commonly gain visibility into cloud /SaaS services to identify, analyze and resolve issues quickly, prioritize vital applications and receive real-time alerts on performance.
Many IT leaders have turned to real time network path discovery tools that can identify and monitor where an application’s traffic is traveling over both private and public networks out to the cloud. Analytics tools can also assist with monitoring apps from outside the network. By deploying an analytics agent in a public cloud, or in an office remote from the host site, you can monitor reachability, availability, and performance from the perspective of someone outside the network.
No business would have chosen the disruptions caused by COVID-19. But the reality is this experience has forced many companies to see and to correct notable blind spots across business and technology functions. In doing so, they embraced an accelerated corporate evolution that may have taken several years to achieve and modernized their approach to technology ahead of the curve.
Michael Cantor is Chief Information Officer at Park Place Technologies. He leads the delivery of technology initiatives to improve Park Place’s internal and customer-facing capabilities while ensuring the globalization and security of Park Place’s systems as the company continues to expand.