It’s a fact that information technology (IT) workers of different stripes are important now during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) disease and the ensuing shelter-in-place orders. It's also a fact that these IT workers will continue to play important roles when it's time to reboot the Global economy. Throughout the lockdown, these IT workers continue to maintain technology infrastructure that powers our industries and hospitals, the cloud that holds all our data, support business-critical applications and sometimes develop alternative solutions on the fly.
The important job IT workers are doing deserves our heartfelt thanks. Their work is contributing to the success of our frontline workers (healthcare, law enforcement, restaurants, delivery drivers, grocers, etc.), who throughout this pandemic are tirelessly caring for our sick, experimenting with new drugs an vaccines, and formulating new policies to make sure we all stay safe and healthy.
For better or for worse, COVID-19 is bringing attention to two prevailing ideologies about IT support model and the direct impact on business continuity during the lockdown. In one camp are large enterprise CIO’s who years ago bet everything on the offshore managed service provider (MSP) model–Whereby a company outsource IT infrastructure and end users support entirely, or partially to a third-party company. While on the other extreme end, are smaller business owners who have equally sworn for years that there’s no need to ‘waste’ limited resources on fancy IT support services offered by onshore MSPs, when hiring Jimmy who owns the computer store at a nearby strip mall will do the trick.
Well, now we know neither camp got it entirely right. Because of the shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders instituted across the world to slow the spread of COVID-19, several of these offshore MSPs can’t offer adequate and timely support to their customers because of factors sometimes out of their control, but two of those contributing factors are worth addressing.
1. These providers could not quickly and efficiently set their own employees up for remote working because most of their workforce lack adequate infrastructure, such as power, personal computers and internet connectivity in their homes.
2. Most of the US companies with offshore support model rarely, if ever, allow offshore resources to work from anywhere other than the office because it’s the easiest way to ensure proper enforcement of security and privacy policies.
Note also that Jimmy “the computer guy” isn’t immune to the disruption resulting from self-isolating, social-distancing, or shelter-in-place orders either. Depending on the size of Jimmy’s operations, his customers have had to fend for themselves when it was time to set up their team to work from home.
Now, if I’m not saying either side is right or wrong (at least not completely), then an objective person might ask, why bring this up now, and why should anyone care? My answer to that objectively reasonable fella will be, I don’t know.
These are mainly thought-provoking ideas that’s crossed my mind once or twice, while helping my clients navigate their interim “new normal” remote work setup, or while reading about the global impact of sheltering in place on business continuity in the age of COVID-19. This conversation will surely continue post COVID-19 pandemic and I expect it to shape how companies view the role of IT leaders, and IT departments, and their digital transformation projects.
First, you need to embrace the suck. This is a military concept defined as accepting something that’s unpleasant but unavoidable.
Second, streamline your digital transformation initiatives to make sure it’s driving a culture of agility and innovation within your company, and mostly, make sure it’s generating values for your investment.
Third, bring support for critical business processes geographically closer to your business. These are services that’s most important to your business’ ability to continue servicing your employees and customers during a disaster situation. You’ll be glad you did!
Following my advice will be unpleasant and may end up costing you more in the short-term, but it’s unavoidable because your customers and shareholders will not be as forgiving the next time a colossal disaster or pandemic catches you unprepared. You can expect your board of directors, or your customers, to give you the boot!
The questions to ask when the coronavirus (COVID-19) disease is over are: will companies large and small along with their IT department need to revisit the offshore vs onshore MSP strategy and make better decisions? Or at the very least, will they reevaluate their current strategy and do things differently? The latter approach will prevail because this experience will force companies to take their business continuity and resiliency planning more seriously and do things differently.
These are not radical ideas to upend the offshore IT support model, or to discourage small businesses from hiring Jimmy “the computer guy” for that matter. It’s simply the prudent approach to supplement (if not enhance) a partially broken model. The fact remains that there will always be needs for offshore resources to cover after hours help desk shifts, or perform quality assurance & testing of bugs-riddled computer codes, but at least by diversifying your IT support you will provide a much-needed security blanket for your company during the next catastrophic event.
Pro Tip: large enterprise will minimize risks/exposure associated with overreliance on offshore MSPs by keeping support for business critical systems in-house or onshore; while smaller businesses should outsource their IT support to “real” onshore MSPs.