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CIOs Dish on Doing the Job During & After Quarantine
How are CIOs handling the COVID-19 pandemic and associated quarantine? To find out, I attended a virtual Q&A session with some of the leading CIOs in Atlanta, hosted by Atlanta Technology Professionals (ATP). The panel was diverse, representing large and medium-sized organizations in verticals such as manufacturing, service, and local government.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. This was an informal after-hours virtual event, and my hope was I might pick up a few interesting nuggets. But the one-hour meeting turned out to be full of real-world insight, with panelists discussing the challenges and successes of the last six weeks.
Here are eight takeaways that I found most interesting.
- “IT has never been more appreciated” — It has been pretty amazing to see how well IT has responded to the challenge presented by the quarantine. Stories will be told for decades about how IT was able to send home entire workforces, spin up collaboration platforms, and support remote call center agents in short order. Projects that might have taken years in other times were completed in days. It’s really good to see a lot of credit being given to the folks who have made it possible for employees to work from home in an efficient and secure manner.
- “All IT projects for the rest of the year have been cancelled” — Some panelists said they won’t have the time or budget to support any new IT initiatives. Other panelists said they’ll only be able to address mission-critical projects in 2020, and noted that they were postponing projects like upgrading conference room equipment.
- “We’re adding bandwidth to our offices so that when we return to them we can continue to support desktop video meetings since conference rooms likely won’t be utilized for many months” — Looking ahead, tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom are clearly here to stay, even when workers return to the office. With social distancing requirements, it is likely that folks will continue to meet online even when in the same office. All organizations should be taking a look at future bandwidth requirements well before folks start returning to the office.
- “In hindsight, I wish we had spent more time preparing to deliver analytics around Microsoft Teams usage” — Analytics is one of those things you don’t really think much about until you really need it. And with entire workforces working from home, executives are trying to figure out how to manage productivity. This particular CIO talked about how they are now getting requests to provide analytics on the utilization of applications such as Teams to make sure their remote workforce is staying engaged and remaining productive. Fellow No Jitter contributor Kevin Kieller, with enableUC, has been talking about the importance of analytics for some time now, and CIOs are starting to really understand the need for it now more than ever.
- “We include VPN as part of all of our installation images, including desktops” — This CIO told the story of sending desktop computers home with employees. As a general practice, IT had installed VPN clients on all computers — laptops and desktops. Because of this forethought, users were able to pack up their desktop computers, take them home, plug them in, and get to work without having to download and install VPN software. (Coincidentally, this idea came up for discussion during a recent BCStrategies call: Should devices be set up to act the same in the office as they do out of the office?)
- “We just finished converting our office to shared spaces and are having to revert back to dedicated workspaces” — The idea of shared workspaces is indeed a good idea, but not during a viral outbreak. Companies will need to figure out how to support social distancing in their workspaces, as well as in common areas such as elevators, where there are no good options for how to move large numbers of people up and down a building.
- “The thing I miss the most are whiteboards… being able to draw out ideas and brainstorm in person with my team” — One of the limitations I’ve seen with video meeting tools like Zoom is the ability to support an effective whiteboard experience, where a facilitator can diagram ideas and take input from participants. While many of these applications do have a whiteboard feature, you really need a full-fledged virtual whiteboard-style touchscreen to replicate the effectiveness of traditional whiteboards. As we continue to live in the world of virtual meetings, I would expect a huge surge in demand in the coming months for interactive whiteboard solutions like the Google Jamboard and Cisco Webex Board.
- “I’m closer to my team now than before the quarantine” — This is one of those seemingly paradoxical things that is probably the most unexpected outcome of the quarantine. Being away from each other makes us closer? During the quarantine, we’ve had to be intentional about staying connected with our teams, something we take for granted in the office. Another byproduct of folks working at home and the increase in video calls is the personalization of interactions we’ve seen. We are invited into each other’s homes, meet each other’s kids, and see and hear each other’s pets. Virtual happy hours are commonplace, as we all bond over the shared challenges of living and working in this crazy and unprecedented time.
Even with the diverse challenges in front of us, it’s encouraging to see how well IT and the technology companies have stepped up to keep business going. Not only are they saving a good portion of the economy, they’re saving lives by allowing business to be conducted without putting millions of workers at risk.
Thanks to ATP for organizing this terrific event and to the panelists for so generously sharing their insight into the current world we live in.