The pandemic has been a pivotal moment for just about every organization and IT manager. Suddenly, workplaces went virtual, IT departments were tasked with provisioning hundreds or thousands of employees with remote work technologies, and many industries were thrown into turmoil.
Given the dramatic impact of Covid-19 on IT, it's no surprise that it was a key theme of several sessions at BraveIT 2020. In one important session, The Pivot for Now: IT Peers Share COVID-19 Stories, executives from three companies related their efforts to remotely enable employees and support customers during the early weeks of the pandemic. Charles Osborn of Enable Midstream Partners (an energy company) and Phil Goldfeder of Cross River Bank joined TierPoint’s IT Strategy Workshop conductor dMitri DeVos and TierPoint Senior VP of Marketing Pete Abel in a lively discussion of how these organizations handled the Covid-19 crisis.
What our IT peers said about pivoting for COVID-19 in March
Enable Midstream talks about the foundational IT groundwork
Charles Osborn, VP and CIO of Enable Midstream Partners, explains that when the first cases of Covid-19 in the U.S. were reported in March 2020, the IT staff at Enable Midstream Partners began working in earnest to equip its employees—scattered across 11 states—to work remotely. Fortunately, the company had already implemented several key mobile technologies in the prior two years, so it had a good foundation on which to build.
“Those earlier strategies helped a lot,” noted Osborn, pointing to WebEx Teams collaboration software and Office 365 Tenant as two critical cloud applications that Enable had adopted pre-Covid.
In addition, the company began provisioning key employees with VPNs and multi-factor authentication and established a disaster recovery service through TierPoint. The IT staff had also created an external help desk, which they began scaling up as it became apparent it would be supporting as many as 1,500 employees. Finally, the company contracted for office space with TierPoint, to provide facilities for employees who could not work from home.
Perhaps the biggest advantage, however, was Enable’s advisory team of oil and gas industry executives.
“We had an amazing network of energy CIOs telling us what to expect and sharing best practices,” said Osborn.
However, Enable still had more work to do if it was going to make its workers fully remote. The IT staff doubled the company’s Internet circuits and expanded employee training on how to use WebEx Teams and other remote work technologies. Finally, they created a prioritization strategy for provisioning employees with VPNs, to ensure critical employees would be first in line.
The one major surprise that Osborn and his team encountered was fairly mundane. They hadn’t considered how much physical effort and equipment went into creating electronic processes such as digital documents and signatures.
“We didn’t appreciate the physical connectedness of workflows, like scanning in files while also ensuring that regulatory controls over those files were followed,” he said.
They also learned that speed is critical in disaster planning: “We thought we’d have weeks to get ready, but weeks turned into days, and then hours.”
Cross River Bank discusses the virtual workforce & PPP program
Phil Goldfeder, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, at Cross River Bank in Ft. Lee, N.J., a regional bank that specializes in funding financial technology start-ups. When it became apparent in March 2020 that the bank’s entire workforce would be operating virtually, the IT department hurried to provide equipment and secure connections to its 320 employees.
Fortunately, management had anticipated the need for more home-based workers and had already approved purchases of additional computers, hardware, home office equipment, and even cases of Purell to keep everyone healthy. But it was still a scramble to set up hundreds of remote offices with secure connections and workflows that met all banking regulations.
“We had to transition 320 employees under one roof to 320 employees under 320 roofs,” said Goldfeder. “We had to ensure we had the equipment, the IT infrastructure, and the ability to comply with consumer privacy and protection requirements. Our team worked literally around the clock to make sure everyone had the resources they needed to work from home without cutting corners on banking regulations.”
Cross River’s staff faced a second major challenge when the federal government suddenly announced the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) in late March. The PPP was designed to get loans to businesses suffering from lost revenues due to Covid-19. With many of the bank’s customers facing major business losses and worker layoffs, Cross River wanted to create a fast, streamlined process for submitting the hundreds, or possibly thousands, of the applications it expected to get.
Fortunately, Cross River has experience in helping entrepreneurs and small firms get business loans, so was in a uniquely good position to get the PPP workflow going quickly. But it was still a race, as the program began in early April with limited funds. Speed was essential to ensuring customers got their loans.
Thanks to the bank’s experience in the financial technology industry, Cross River understood the value of IT automation over human manual labor in loan processing. This turned out to be a key advantage.
“Some banks needed thousands of employees to do what we did with fewer than 100,” said Goldfeder. “We processed 7,000 applications on April 3rd, the first day of the program.”
By April 16, when the original $349 billion in funds ran out, the bank had processed 198,000 loans—the third highest volume of PPE loans in the country. Only Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase Bank handled more.
“Big banks often throw workers at a problem instead of innovating to be more efficient,” he said. “This pandemic has proved that financial services institutions need to innovate or suffer the consequences.”
How TierPoint and their customers pivoted at the onset of the pandemic
dMitri DeVos, Vice President of Solutions Engineering, at TierPoint, a provider of cloud services, colocation facilities, and managed services, the challenge last spring was meeting a surge in demand for all types of mobile and remote computing services. TierPoint was already in a good position with a variety of technology partnerships and cloud services, including security, connectivity, help desk, disaster recovery, cloud infrastructure, and cloud app development. All of these services and solutions were suddenly in great demand by existing and new customers.
According to DeVos, interest in in cloud adoption as well as managed services increased the most. He quoted an UpTime Institute survey, released in early April 2020, that reported on the top challenges and concerns that organizations faced in March. It found that 45% needed to reduce staffing, while another 45% had to delay key data center projects, and 42% had to reduce or defer scheduled maintenance for IT equipment.
“They’re interested in managed services to augment the IT staff they’ve lost,” DeVos said.
Adoption of managed services is on the rise, both day-to-day tasks such as performance monitoring and backup services, as well as for more strategic areas like managed security and managed disaster recovery.
If there’s one major change that the pandemic has caused in the IT industry, it’s greater adoption of cloud services in general, to better manage IT costs, said DeVos.
“It’s about maintaining service availability and providing services with reduced staff and reduced revenues,” he said. “Because they’re all expecting this to last not only through 2021 but probably 2022 as well.”
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In addition to this session, we held a session about pivoting for the future: How to Survive a Pandemic Recession. In that session, Forrester, Service Now, and Newmark Knight Frank discuss what IT leaders should start doing now to realign their digital transformation efforts to survive the 2020 Pandemic Recession.