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ICT investments to consider during and post COVID-19 pandemic

BUSINESS
By George Amolo | February 10th 2021

Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and IT leaders have been put to task with the Covid-19 pandemic that has tested how organizations' ICT infrastructure is set up and overall business continuity plans. While some have been caught off guard, ICT investments by organizations have come under more scrutiny with the sudden demand for employees to work from home. 

Over the years Boards and CEOs have been presented with massive IT budgets for approval. Budgets that include technology promising transformation of an organization's digital space, however, such technology had never faced real tests until a pandemic like COVID-19 came along. Questions have been asked and CIOs put to task, while some will be praised for providing the organization with a resilient IT space, others will have to justify why the firm’s investments never bore fruit when they were needed the most post-COVID-19. 

During the pandemic, quick and unplanned investments have been made, from purchasing devices to enable mobility e.g. Laptops for organizations that had staff relying on desktop, to purchasing software such as VPN and internet services for staff working remotely. 

Depending on the business model, organizations that did not have a robust infrastructure in place have had to dig deeper to ensure staff can work from home. Investments in technologies and resources to facilitate this had to be done, items that had most likely not been budgeted for. 

Some organizations already had their IT infrastructure in place and pandemic just presented the opportunity for the organization to see their investments come into play, while for others, this was business as usual as staff already working from home. 

One of the key conversations during this pandemic has been working from home (WFH), but all this is not achievable for organizations without a proper ICT infrastructure in place. While advances in ICT have enabled WFH, not all job functions and tasks can be done outside the organization. What needs to be in place to enable WFH? 

Communication and Collaboration Tools

The need to have a physical space for a meeting has reduced. It has all been about Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco WebEx among others. Usage of collaboration tools has surged, and CIOs will need to go into the new battlefront which is a discussion on usability versus the security of the platforms. In the early months of the pandemic, we had privacy and security concerns most notably ‘Zoombombing’ where conference calls are disrupted by intruders.

Integrate Collaboration tools in your environment to increase staff productivity.

Organizations should adopt softphones vis-à-vis physical desk phones as they not only enable staff to work remotely but also save costs by using the organization’s official communication lines. 

Connectivity

The digital age has made internet access a basic need. Organizations have internet access readily available in the offices, however, that is not necessarily the case at home. While home internet access has been on the rise over the past decade, there is still a challenge in access, and organizations are forced to provide internet access in form of data bundles or home Wi-Fi subscriptions to staff to enable them WFH.  

Virtual Private Network (VPN) 

VPN privatizes data communications to achieve confidentiality for data being transferred across networks. A good infrastructure should enable where possible for staff to access the organization's resources securely. Data has shown the uptake of VPN increased over the months where COVID-19 infections increased in various countries. 

Many VPN solutions are available and research must be done to select the best solution within the budget and existing infrastructure. With talk around Zero Trust solutions as a replacement for VPN, one can treat this as an addition to enhance the security posture of the organization 

Information Security

Infrastructure in most offices is secure but how safe is the organization's data with staff working from home? Secure the organization’s devices with technologies like Multi-factor Authentication, Encryption, Managed Data Loss Prevention, Host Intrusion Prevention and Anti-Malware tools just to name a few along with effective policies. 

Continuous monitoring should increase if not already in place. Information Security awareness programs should be increased as staff are more vulnerable to attacks with the use of unsecured networks. Google saw more than 18 Million daily malware and phishing emails related to COVID-19 in April 2020. Cybersecurity teams should review the Organizations applications and systems to give a green light if they can be safely opened for remote access. 

ICT Operations and Infrastructure

IT services might require support. WFH means demand for IT services to increase. CIOs should invest in Remote Management tools for IT Support staff. Provide users with platforms to access IT support services like ticketing systems, knowledge base, and bots to supplement commonly used phone lines. 

Adopt new end-user training techniques like training videos instead of having IT staff carry out in-person training.

With the adoption of Cloud technology and virtualization, there is a reduced need to have on-premises servers which mean fewer onsite maintenance jobs. However, should you still pay for more Office Bandwidth with the possibility of having less staff working from the office post-COVID-19? Is the infrastructure to be purchased/upgraded still viable post-COVID-19? Should you consider leasing or outright purchase for ICT infrastructure amidst budget cuts? How does the ICT Strategy and by extension BCM adapt to this pandemic? These are just some questions that a CIO will have to answer. 

IT and by extension ICT Infrastructure is a major enabler of a business's overall performance. COVID-19 provides an item in the CIOs business case for increased investments in the ICT infrastructure, however, with projected economic decline this presents a challenge for approval by the Boards as spending capabilities in most organizations are on the decline.

George Amolo, Enterprise and Information Security Specialist

 [email protected]

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