Business Continuity

Business Continuity
What's a greater concern for returning to the office? Comment how you are prioritizing...

Top Answer : The majority of our focus is definitely on the human factors as the technical factors are mostly related to things we had to solve as we went distributed.  We will need some additional technical stuff to support the human factors (eg. scheduling software to limit the # of people in the office at the same time) but solving the human factors of helping people to feel comfortable, ensuring that safety precautions are being followed, etc... are much harder and why it will be a while before we go back.

 Improving quality of conversation when remote Improving quality of conversation when remote

Remote work has become the new norm in 2020. How are executives thinking about improving the quality of conversation around remote work?

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Was your IT organization prepared for the pandemic?

Top Answer : The COVID period has tested the effectiveness of IT. But as an organization, we had zero downtime because even pre-COVID, every one of our employees across the board was enabled to work from any location. And part of that is because a lot of our folks tend to travel a lot and not to be in an office, especially in the front line. So we were ready way before the pandemic started. So when the pandemic hit, for us it was more of a test of the infrastructure and the capabilities that we had. Apart from the fact that people couldn't physically meet each other, we had all the tools in place for the sales organization to continue to engage with the customer. Now, there might be different reasons why certain deals didn't come through (because companies on the other side might be having their own challenges) but in terms of making sure that everything is at the disposal of the sales folks, that was part of the planning that we had done years ago. I wouldn't try to discount it and say we didn't scramble. For example, pre-COVID we had maybe 10 to 20 thousand employees globally logging onto our virtual infrastructure to do their work, but during COVID it went up to 100,000. So that was a scramble to ensure that the infrastructure can still support it because we had never tested it to such an extent. I know companies that limited their number of VPN tokens given out to employees. Those companies did scramble when they were told to work from home and they realized that they had one token for five people. That's exactly why we try to go above the day-to-day operations and look at how we continue to make the company grow, and what are some of the things you might want to do that you ordinarily would not have done. It gives additional capabilities for the company to grow.

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If these companies were affected then the foundation of computing could be at risk. If you could manipulate at the hardware layer via the firmware, BIOS, ect then a threat actor could weaponize well below the operating system which brings in to question the integrity of the entire computing stack and everything above it.  The firmware and bios are like the rebar and concrete for a building. If that foundation is weak then the entire structure and anything dependent on it is at risk. We cannot underestimate the potential or the severity of these companies being potentially affected by the SolarWinds hack and what that means for the foundational computing hardware they provide to the world.  What do others think ?  How could this impact your organization ?   Big tech companies including Intel, Nvidia, and Cisco were all infected during the SolarWinds hack - The Verge

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What's the top challenge you anticipate in 2021?

Top Answer : Budget limitation

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How permanent are some of the pandemic-induced changes going to be?

Top Answer : It's been a huge “forced march” experiment. It has forced people to embrace some virtual technologies they might not have in the past. If you've worked for a large enterprise tech company and managed teams around the world, you're used to doing virtual teaming. But it was not the mainstay of how people interact. It was more isolated. I think the pandemic has forced everybody to learn how to interact in those environments. I feel I've seen a lot of innovations around keeping people engaged in those environments. How do you stay in touch with people? How do you meet new people that you haven't met before? This has truly forced people out of their comfort zone and it's skills building that is going to be here for a long time. I think it is going to disrupt a lot of the ways people think about how they run their businesses as well. I don't know that it's a disruption, as much as it's an opportunity to really do things differently. It's a strengthening exercise for how people build viable, sustainable business models. It's going to make organizations and businesses stronger over the long haul.

How did Covid impact IT in higher-ed?

Top Answer : I don't think our business really knew how much they depended upon us and how much value we really added until we had to do what we did back in March. We took a hundred-year-old institution and digitally transformed it in about a business week (that's a little oversell, but it's not entirely untrue). We had a small footprint of students (Fully Employed MBA's, Executive MBA's) who were taking classes in a hybrid format and employees that were working remotely, but if the pandemic hadn't hit, there would've been no incentive or impetus to change how we do business. What we found out was kind of fascinating. It's opened some doors while it's closed others.  One of my proudest moments was when Zoom went out for a couple hours on a Monday. It was out for a couple hours, and my business actually said, "Hey, wait a minute. We're using Zoom for teaching. What happens if we can't use Zoom? What are we going to do?", and I'm like, "Oh, this is great. This is Business Continuity 101. Thank you! I was waiting for somebody to get there.” Then they would say, “Can we use teams? How do we set up teams? Can we test that?" and I’m like "Wait, you want to do a tabletop? Really? Okay, cool!" It's all these great check marks along the way, because they're thinking this way now, and that's great for us. The narrative has entirely shifted, and in some cases we got lucky, or we were able to predict some things, but in many cases we already had the technology, just nobody wanted to, was prepared to, or thought they needed to use it.

How should startups respond/pivot to the pandemic?

Top Answer : There's probably some startup opportunities in the area of education. We have great universities in the greater San Francisco Bay area, Boston and elsewhere, and these do effectively manifest as sorting hats. But what they really have is great teachers and networks. There is an opportunity to extend, not just these online classes, but be able to extend that community in a meaningful way into the middle of America, and build on top of this shift. Like all education startups, it's a long road. It would take a brave investor with commitment to the founders, but I do think that this is a trend that will happen.  I also think that the way we approach IT may change. If we look at what it means to onboard an employee who's never going to physically be in the office, there's lots of supply chain relationship management problems that actually exist. The HR startups, that are frankly just web form versions of the paper processes that companies were doing, those companies that are domain experts in doing these things online, they are still burdened with heavy paper processes. I think that there are startup opportunities in the area of how do you automate these core business processes. Another area that is particularly interesting is the way we use work laptops at Google. Let's say my work laptop were to die, I would drive to the closest Google office, I would walk in. And then there's just a stack of laptops there where I come in and I badge and I walk away with a laptop and they assume the one that was unplugged when I badged was the one I took. Then I log in, they cross reference it to that, and now that laptop is associated with me and my downtime is an hour round trip. I think that there will be somebody who's successful in this area to augment the IT desktop lifecycle. If you look at fully loaded costs of an employee, there's a lot of value to be extracted, if you can compress that into a more complete solution.

What IT remote work solutions have failed in your industry?

Top Answer : In the higher ed industry, we know at the end of the day, the students want to be with students. My student population is a little different than the four year undergraduate experience, but part of why they pay so much money for the education is the networking experience with their peers and the alumni network to get their next job. We know that they want that.  We tend to have older faculty who are not necessarily as technologically savvy. They've not used the tools before and may be set in their ways. To teach in this manner is harder in some ways. I've heard the faculty are working 2-6 times harder, because they've had to change the way that they've done business, even for stuff like final exams. I was on a call with another peer recently who said, "I gave my midterm and it was 25 multiple choice, 15 short answers, and two essays." He said he'd never do that again and his final is just going to be all multiple choice. So it's been a heavy lift on the faculty side of things to change their business, and students are the first ones to say, "Yeah, this prof doesn't get Zoom. They just don't know how to teach this way," which is fair.

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