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CIOs Face Decisions on Remote Work for Post-Pandemic Future

After being bombarded at the start of the pandemic with new services and the need to securely connect remote staff, what comes next for CIOs?

With the COVID-19 pandemic in its later stages, and some hope for a new form of normalcy by year’s end, CIOs may be confronted with different questions than they dealt with when this mess all started. By now, most organizations are seasoned at operating remotely. The continued rollout of vaccines may mean it is time for CIOs to consider long-term plans on remaining fully remote, a hybrid approach, or moving back to strictly in-office operations. Advisors, consultants, and cloud solutions providers with Info-Tech Research Group, West Monroe, and Lunavi offered their perspectives on questions CIOs may face as towards the end of the pandemic.

Marc Tanowitz, managing director with tech consulting firm West Monroe, says the game changed for CIOs with different considerations on the table now regarding security and remote work compared with the onset of quarantines and other restrictions. “Right now, CIOs are just coming to the realization that data security is back to being a priority.” Early in the pandemic, he says, there was a notion to reassess data security and look for temporary relief to get work done. As remote work became more widespread, it was not unheard of, Tanowitz says, for staff to become more remote than their employers expected.

For example, a staffer might have relocated to their home country to be with family for the duration of the pandemic. That meant CIOs had to deal with questions, he says, about different networking and security standards in other nations. There is also talk of remote work remaining a staple in some form for the future, possibly as part of hybrid environments, Tanowitz says. CIOs will have to weigh such matters as physical security, logical security, and commercial compliance in their information networks, he says. “It is no longer the case that we can be okay with work-from-anywhere,” Tanowitz says. Though organizations might let more workers continue to operate remotely, he says there may be an expectation that they stay within the country.

Outsourcing suppliers and other third parties could also face new guidelines from CIOs, especially when it comes to commercial compliance, Tanowitz says. This could include working with new cybersecurity supplements the organization requires. “That indicates to us there is a focus on risk,” he says.

The evolution of the global remote work force had its share of growing pains, says Cortney Thompson, CIO with cloud solutions and managed services provider Lunavi. Early on, opportunistic vendors made quick pushes to offer services to companies in dire need to go remote, but he says some stumbled along the way. “A few of those vendors had scaling problems as they brought additional load on,” Thompson says.

That made it important to listen to the experiences companies were having with those vendors, he says, and how their performance changed in response. Naturally if organizations did not see the results they wanted, they looked to branch out to other providers in the market, Thompson says.

While some vendors took a conservative approach in taking on clients at the onset of the pandemic, he says others focused on grabbing as much of the market as possible without such restraint. In some instances, things broke under pressure, Thompson says. “There were some supply chain issues along the way and there was stress on the system and cracks started to show.”

Innovations that found their footing during the pandemic include the zero-trust approach to security, he says, with higher adoption rates. Certain stopgap measures used at the beginning of the pandemic, such as virtual private networks for remote access, may have run into scaling issues, Thompson says, forcing teams to pivot to other options. “It really started to push a lot of cloud adoption and the need to transform the business,” he says.

John Annand, research director of infrastructure and operations with IT advisor Info-Tech Research Group, also says the pandemic pushed organization to test remote technologies. Instead, an enterprise taking three months to simply lay out a strategy for deploying remote resources, technology such as Microsoft Teams, had to be deployed to thousands of employees inside of two weeks. “That’s a real example that we’ve seen,” he says.

Remote work is not new, Annand says, citing AT&T’s efforts in the 1990s to leverage it for efficiency though the strategy did not take off at that time. In the 2010s, remote work resurfaced as a possible way to reduce carbon emissions by keeping workers at home. Again, it did not catch on at the time. “People weren’t forced to stick with it,” he says. “Well, the pandemic forced us to stick with it.”

The technology behind remote work matured and has been tested more broadly, Annand says, giving CIOs more tools they can present to their CEOs. That can lead to new considerations about where work is done, he says.

Going forward, remote work architecture could be as complex or simple as CIOs want to make them, Annand says. “If you adopt a zero-trust networking model, it doesn’t matter if your employee is internal or external,” he says. “It really solves a lot of the complexity.” Annand adds a caveat for legacy systems and preexisting workloads that are not entirely compatible with zero-trust models. “You can wall that portion off and present the rest of the enterprise applications in that manner,” he says.

Info-Tech produced a 2021 CIO Priorities Report that presents five areas the firm believes CIOs might focus on to better prepare for unforeseen events:

  • Create a budget reserve to better respond to unforeseen threats. The report asserts that potentially worsening economics could affect IT. Developing financial contingencies could put CIOs in better positions to address emergencies.
  • Refocus IT risk planning to mitigate emerging threats. Supply chain disruption and cybersecurity risks might threaten continuity of IT services, according to the report.
  • Strengthen organizational change management to maximize tech investments. Such investments could help organizations mitigate disruptions that might compound the stress and toll workers have faced under the pandemic.
  • Establish capacity awareness to improve resource utilization. This can help organizations build up resilience and resources to respond to unforeseen events.
  • Keep emerging technologies in view to capitalize on innovation. As businesses continue their accelerated digital transformation plans, the report cites an expectation for more technology to emerge for IT. There will also be a need to focus on speed-to-value for innovations brought to the market.

The role of CIOs has also changed in response to the pandemic, Thompson says, possibly with lasting effects. That includes more adding dynamic aspects to the job to better respond to problems, he says.

Even after the pandemic lifts, Thompson foresees CIOs continuing to deal with security issues that may arise from workers accessing corporate networks from home -- where there is greater potential for exposure. “It’s not going to go away,” he says. “People have to take a hard look at their policies, how they are enforcing security, and educating end users.”

 

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