Keeping the lights on in a crisis

April, 2020

By: Rohan MacMahon

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By now any New Zealand business than can has moved to online and remote working because of the global COVID-19 pandemic. This is when you really get to test how well your Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is performing.

How well your ICT stacks up can determine how well your business survives this disruption and governs your ability to be flexible around how to keep business flowing.

Regular readers of this column know I often talk about running your business virtually instead of physically. Responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic, you will almost certainly be using some of the tools I have covered in my articles – things like remote working, mobility, workflow and collaboration tools, etc.

Of these, remote working (see BusinessPlus, March 2020) is perhaps the most important. It gives your staff the ability to do their work from wherever works best for them. For all of us right now, that means home.

The level 4 lockdown would have caught some businesses off guard, while others may have had a business continuity plan (BCP) ready for this type of unexpected disruption and a lot of that plan would have covered ICT.

If you have a BCP, you’re probably busy implementing it, however, many businesses don’t or have not kept it updated, or even know how to implement it. If your business falls into one of these categories, here are some simple steps you can take immediately to help keep the lights on during the pandemic:

Embrace mobility and remote working:
Big global organisations like Google, Apple and Telstra have sent their entire office-based workforces home. For such large entities this is quite difficult due to the complexity of operations and business processes. For smaller businesses with office-type operations, it can be much easier.

You can check what capabilities you have for working remotely by asking:
• Which staff are physically needed in the office?
• Do employees have laptops and smartphones they can use at home?
• Are key applications and data available remotely?
• Do staff have good internet connectivity to work from home? Is their WiFi up to scratch?
• If you use a Virtual Private Network, will it scale to support many or all staff working remotely?

Be flexible:
Unusual times call for special measures. Especially in relation to your team, supply chain partners and customers. This is where flexibility in your ICT is essential.

Some businesses have reportedly been affected by congestion on key services like videoconferencing, cloud computing and messaging. This is less likely to be because of the broadband “pipes”, which have been expanded, and is more likely an issue with individual applications, which may not be configured to deal with the current volume of usage.

Keep an eye on IT security:
There have been many instances already reported of hacking attacks, phishing scams and the like during the pandemic. At a very simplistic level, business disturbance and more remote work means more opportunities for cyberattacks. Reinforce your security policies to staff, and ask your service provider for help.

Don’t forget to answer the phone!
If your office is physically closed, make sure landlines divert to mobile, and ensure calls to a general switch get answered. If you run a call centre, there is a good chance you already allow staff to work remotely – but it is hard to repurpose to a remote working model on short notice if not.

Freeze non-essential work:
It’s also common to have an “IT freeze” during exceptional circumstances. This means a pause to regular IT updates and changes unless they are absolutely necessary to keep your business running. This allows your IT staff or your provider to focus solely on keeping the lights on.

Keep customers well-informed:
Don’t forget to let your customers know what you are up to – let business customers know via email and consumers via social media. Keep your communications short and to the point. Include salient information like changes to opening hours, impacts on delivery schedules and so forth. Ask customers to get in touch if they need help.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a challenging and rapidly developing situation. Your ICT is there to help you get through it.

Further reading:

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