Where Are You in the 6 Stages of COVID IT Management?

Author: Hyoun Park

Key Stakeholders: Chief Information Officers, Chief Financial Officers, IT Finance Directors and Managers, IT Procurement Directors and Managers, Accounting Directors and Managers, Telecom Expense Directors and Managers, IT Operations, IT Strategy, FinOps Directors and Managers

Why It Matters: Consumer IT, cybersecurity issues, and massive unexpected IT costs can create a perfect storm that could overwhelm IT – unless experts take the time now to understand what they’re up against and learn how to transform chaos into calm.

Top Takeaway: By preparing for the six stages of COVID IT, companies will be prepared for the challenges of supporting a newly transformed IT where over 40% of employees work from home and 30% of unmanaged spend is wasted.


COVID-19 has irrevocably changed the way IT does business. Many employees stand to remain in work-from-home models for a long time to come as organizations seek to mitigate disease transmission. In some ways, that shift bodes well for the environment and for company overhead. In others, it has caused chaos and stress. For example, this shift has left the IT department, in particular, scrambling: Cybersecurity has grown more difficult to ensure, with workers relying on personal laptops, tablets and smartphones, all over home networks; use of apps and oversight of company data has become harder to track as employees turn to consumer-grade file sharing and video conferencing to do their jobs, further exposing the enterprise to potential breaches; and, finally, hidden and unexpected expenses are hitting the IT department in the aftermath of the sudden move to WFH (Work From Home).

Each of these factors is creating a perfect storm that could overwhelm IT – unless experts take the time now to understand what they’re up against and learn how to transform chaos into calm. Achieving that starts with knowing the six stages of COVID IT and then navigating them with a confident action plan.

Before exploring the six stages of COVID IT, Amalgam Insights wants to emphasize that the IT bills incurred during the COVID-fueled work-from-home activity reflect the new normal. They also highlight areas IT must evaluate for excess spending. This will increase in relevance as organizations prepare for a likely economic downturn and for future global events that will call for non-traditional approaches to work.

As such, assessing where your enterprise falls in the following six stages not only will show where you are now, but where you need to go. Keep in mind, IT cannot tackle all of these stages at once, nor is that desirable.

This process is one we’ve built with sequencing in mind – IT cannot reach Stage 4 without analyzing and addressing Stage 1, for example. Sticking to the steps in order supports IT in its quest to serve as a steward to the business, helping it to shed its outdated role as a commodity within the organization, and, instead, bring value. The following figure describes our recommended timeline as a general rule of thumb. Note that we are coming up on the 3 month period for Stage 3 and 4.

Recommended Timeline for Cleaning Up COVID IT

Stage 1: Survivor: Shadow IT Edition

Estimated time required: 2-4 weeks

Most organizations exited this stage in mid- to late April. They had spent much of March and even early April outfitting employees to work remotely, mostly by deploying cloud resources cobbled together in a matter of days. Everyone, including IT, fumbled just trying to survive. That’s okay. Few entities had plans in place that invited perfect governance and compliance in case of something like a pandemic. Because of that, the top priority was to keep employees connected and able to perform their tasks from home, regardless of the equipment or network enabling those capabilities.

At the same time, employees themselves were adjusting to strange new circumstances. Suddenly their spouses/partners, kids, other family members and neighbors were all at home. In addition to still having to attend to work, this meant dealing with distractions in the form of constant interruptions, child care, the need to serve as school teacher and more. On top of that, employees found themselves in the midst of continuous personal and professional change. Could they keep using Zoom or not? Were they supposed to wear masks outside the house or not? Could they even go outside? All this stress compounded whatever other life experiences they may have been undergoing, from divorce or illness to the fear of losing their livelihoods. The last thing on almost everyone’s mind – and this applied to IT staff as well – was worrying about protecting and securing corporate assets, or worrying about IT expenses.

Again, the hope is that by now, organizations have left this stage behind. There may be some areas to clean up, though, and this blog provides the guidance for analyzing where that may be the case.

Stage 2: Secure Your Business

Estimated time required for initial triage: 2-4 weeks

Chances are, most enterprises remain in this phase. Recall that employees across the board still are confronting the myriad stresses caused by uncertainty around COVID-19. That puts them in a more vulnerable position to inadvertently expose the organization to bad actors. For instance, a hacker may call pretending to be someone from IT and request a password. A worker more focused on day-to-day survival than on corporate security may share that information, thinking nothing of it. This form of social engineering makes way for a serious breach. In fact, hackers have managed to turn COVID-19 fraud into a profitable endeavor by targeting unsuspecting consumers.  As of June 4, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission had fielded more than 64,000 complaints totaling more than $46 million in losses. The numbers only represent the consumer side; the possibility for losses in the corporate world go much, much higher due not only to social engineering, but also to phishing, ransomware and malware. Amalgam Insights recommends educating and testing employees, as well as implementing the tightest enterprise-grade cybersecurity measures feasible that can be supported on consumer-grade networks with an eye towards a zero-trust approach in our consumerized IT world.

Stage 3: Audit Your Environment

Estimated time required: 1-3 months

Next comes cleanup, or the need to audit all the technologies and services ordered and used since the beginning of COVID-19 (as well as everything else IT already was managing). This will indicate what is probable in terms of ongoing and future demand, and show where IT can trim or eliminate costs. To do this, pinpoint all the equipment, devices, applications and services procured and consumed. Then look where overages or absence of use occurred. Amalgam Insights recommends taking a focused approach across landline inventory, cloud services, and infrastructure that includes invoices, inventory, service orders, and virtual inventory.

Once the IT department has a clear bead on all of the above, experts then can compare activity to contracts. The results may reveal that it’s time to renegotiate terms with vendors. Once you have done that, be sure to keep the accounting and sourcing departments in the loop. Show the company how IT has positively impacted cash flow and governance – or, in other words, continued to add value to the organization.

This management is especially important because of the IT Rule of 30, Amalgam Insights’ rule that any unmanaged IT spend averages 30% in waste. Practically all shadow COVID IT spend in March and April was unmanaged. Clean your environment and reclaim your cash.

The IT Rule of 30

Stage 4: Train and Celebrate

Estimated time required: 1-3 months

With better and streamlined assets and services in place, and the corresponding financials that mirror that governance, use the next four to 12 weeks to train and celebrate employees. This may seem impractical amid COVID-19. Yet the people aspect of IT is vital.

First, gather the information gleaned from audits to identify current versus past usage. This applies to applications, devices and services. Record cost structure and the change in IT demands; this data will underscore decisions made by IT. Then, schedule time with company stakeholders. Amalgam Insights recommends those people include executives from finance and human resources, and the managers over the various lines of business. From there, IT should present on four main areas:

  • Making everyone aware of the new normal and what that looks like: Discuss how remote work is contributing to greater productivity and allowing employees the flexibility to juggle heightened work and home responsibilities.
  • Identifying best users and practices: Call out rock star employees who are not only embracing policies, but who may be going above and beyond to help the organization steer clear of security threats and unnecessary IT spending.
  • Showing how IT is helping the organization maneuver financial and operational concerns: IT is now a supply chain for delivering digital services. Accordingly, share the outcomes of an IT-conducted SWOT analysis, as well as savings attained, renegotiated terms, removal of obsolete or underused technologies, and any other audit-related improvements.
  • Describing the new and different use cases brought about by coronavirus-fueled IT deployments: Here, IT experts can talk about new processes that have saved time, money and protected the business, for example.

This meeting marks just the first of what should become regular touchpoints with leaders company-wide. After that, start working with HR and managers to train all employees about new and updated IT policies, processes and procedures. Get the HR unit to integrate the information into any and all onboarding and employee education and performance materials. This will prove crucial to awareness, adoption and adherence. It also will pave the way for executives to recognize and reward standout staff (and, conversely, continue to guide employees having trouble complying).

Notably, Amalgam Insights recommends that IT showcase as much as possible what it is doing to support and bolster the organization as everyone grapples with change. A global recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is poised to hit and last for an unknown amount of time. This makes IT’s business contributions more important than ever. Talk about what matters. Quantify what the department is doing by illustrating how IT boosts the enterprise’s bottom line. Now is the time for purposeful, meaningful, quantifiable and visible business contribution.

Stage 5: Standardize and Improve

Estimated time required: 3-6 months

As the organization settles into its new normal, IT will have the luxury of concentrating on strategic initiatives that supply even more value. Standardizing and improving the environment should take between 90 and 180 days. And the efforts will pay off.

To that point, look for redundancy. Amalgam Insights continues to see examples of enterprises that have purchased multiple versions of at least one application. On top of that, recently remote employees probably have received more than one device because IT didn’t know what that person already had – or not. Take advantage of the “standardize and improve” stage to consolidate services, devices and apps.

On a similar note, it’s also time to standardize the services rolled out to staff. The technologies that sustained in-office work will not be the same ones enabling remote employees. Remove unnecessary vendors and consolidate redundant services (and document all of this as the IT department continues to showcase its value). This includes re-negotiating contracts as needed. Investigate current payment terms, business continuity, disputes, and so on, because what may have been acceptable pre-COVID probably does not favor the organization now.

In other words, IT must do due diligence to prevent the carrier or vendor from doing something that would hurt the organization. For example, if the provider or vendor bills on an automated basis, consider pushing out payment terms or minimum payments. This gives the enterprise wiggle room in case of an emergency. Another opportunity is to jettison now-outdated minimum requirements. Seek out ways to secure annual renewals that don’t just provide discounts, but that also guarantee the company will have upgrade to technologies that maintain and support remote work for months or years to come.

Lastly, make sure all onboarding and training materials now contain updated policies for remote work. With at least 40% of staff now on the job from home, any leniency extended to previously remote employees no longer applies. IT must ensure rigorous security and spending standards.

Stage 6: Transform the Business

Estimated time required: 3-6 months

This final stage of COVID IT may appear to be a luxury at first. We assure you it is not. A significant percentage of CFOs say the pandemic has not stopped them from projects to automate, digitize and improve customer experiences, supply chains and, remote work. To the latter point, Amalgam Insights predicts 15% or more of all United States-based employees will retain permanent work-from-home status post-COVID, which more than doubles our previous work-from-home population. Therefore, IT must align its investments with the C-suite’s vision. This strategy bolsters the organization overall. But it also enhances IT’s role within the company. Amalgam Insights recommends using these opportunities to become, and do, far more than acting as an auditor or bill processor if you haven’t done so already. Offer expert advice, planning and assistance that facilitates crucial outcomes and, at the same time, highlights IT’s importance to the business.

Conclusion

IT may find it necessary to repeat one or more of the six stages of COVID IT stages as circumstances evolve or new ones come to light in an environment where the networking, IT and cloud environments fluctuate constantly.

If you are seeking outside guidance and a deeper dive on your environment, Amalgam Insights is here to help. Click here to schedule a consultation.

Join us at TEM Expo on July 14 to learn more about how to prepare for COVID IT and take immediate action to cut costs.

And if you’d like to learn more about this topic now, please watch our webinar on this topic.

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