Navigating IT During (and After) COVID-19 [Webinar Recap]

At Electric, we’re dedicated to providing a space for IT professionals at all levels to discuss the challenges and successes they’ve had in the industry. In the this installment of our virtual IT Pro tour, we brought together a group of seasoned technical leaders to discuss the state of IT in the midst of COVID-19.

Electric CEO, Ryan Denehy moderated the discussion and was joined by:

  • Allen Houchins, IT Director, Jamf
  • Curtis Salinas, IT Director, Slack
  • Ian Peska, IT Manager, Electric
  • Christopher Gerhardt, CTO/CIO, Graybeard


Read on to learn more about what these leaders are doing now and what they see in the IT landscape in a post-COVID world.

The strength of the IT community

Ryan opened the discussion by asking the panelists what resources they were using within their professional networks to receive and share relevant information. Curtis chimed in first, noting how important a sense of community is at the moment and how he has had engaging discussions around technology and managing people.

“Let’s be real here,” Curtis said. “We’re in the midst of a crisis and half of the battle is just getting your folks through this.”

He added that multi-organizational shared Slack channels are becoming a great place for IT leaders to meet and discuss similar issues. Allen had similar thoughts and highlighted the Mac Admin Slack team.

“It’s a group of Apple enthusiasts from all over the world helping each other out,” he said.

Managing security and compliance

Prior to COVID-19, most corporate security policies were based on the assumption that most employees were using sanctioned devices in an office. This model no longer applies in the present moment. Ryan asked the panelists about the sudden change and how they are communicating expectations around compliance to end-users.

Allen answered first saying that in addition to device and endpoint management solutions, IT teams need to enforce conditional access policies. “It’s being able to evaluate at the point of authentication who that person is, some risk-based detection around the user’s location, and what is the state of the device they’re logging in from.”

When it comes to actually communicating with end-users, Allan emphasized the importance of providing users with information at the point of barrier. “Being able to communicate at that point in time how they can self-empower and self-resolve that issue goes a long way.”

Christopher provided some perspective from his work as a digital transformation consultant. “COVID has accelerated the conversations I typically have post-cloud transformation[...] about trusted device, BYOD,” he said. He added that clients are more quickly coming to the conclusion that endpoint security is the approach that they should take.

Changing the IT stack

This time of uncertainty has driven many CFOs to look at IT budgets with more scrutiny. Ryan asked the panelists if they knew of organizations that were considering cutting (or possibly adding) tools to their IT stack.

Most of the panelists said that there was value in taking the time to evaluate what is and is not working among their tools. Ian mentioned that at Electric, this was also an opportunity to get more value out of their tools. “We haven’t really cut so much, but we’ve actually paid a lot more attention to the tools that we had and focused on best practices.”

Curtis mentioned that at Slack, the changing environment has actually driven an investment in additional tools and more automation. “In a period of about two weeks we got to rewrite the past three years of process and technology at the company.”

Christopher said that among his clients, he has seen an increased interest in productivity software. “The adoption has gone from incremental to lightspeed.”

Potential IT blindspots

The sudden need to work from home exposed many blindspots within IT organizations. Christopher noted that among his clients, a major obstacle has been figuring out how to support users who are not physically in an office. “The pain point is they built a model based on presence and now they’re not there, so there’s a lot of scurrying around.”

An additional problem that Christopher mentioned is IT’s inability to scale changes to VPN or remote access. “It just reinforces the idea that you need to accelerate digital transformation,” he said.

Formal policy changes

The conversation shifted to formal policy changes that weren’t necessarily about technology. Curtis said that at Slack, their priority was making the work environment as easy as possible for their employees.

“We should be focusing on our people so that they can be focused on our customers,” he said of Slack’s policy. That philosophy has fed into the company’s WFH, sick time, and flex time policies. This has also influenced the onboarding process, policies around software restrictions, and limitations on the number of meetings employees have to attend.

Standout products

Ryan asked the group what products (other than Teams or Zoom) that their organizations have found to be particularly useful during the remote work situation. Allen chimed in with a surprising answer: the iPhone.

“The iPhone has been a blessing in disguise for us at Jamf. Not only for the portability. You can deploy a corporate softphone to that device. For our employees who don’t have a great internet connection at home they can use an LTE hotspot.”

Curtis and Christopher added that they liked using task management tools like Trello and Asana which bring visibility into work and allow individuals to work asynchronously.

Post-COVID predictions

The conversation closed with a short discussion about what the future of IT and business may look like in a post-COVID world.

Allen said that IT would be cloud-first and more empathetic. “Even when we’re back in the office, you’ll still have remote sales teams working from home. You’ll still have satellite offices that don’t have a local IT presence. IT’s role will be finding solutions that help people regardless of location. The most successful IT teams will be the ones most empathetic to employees and their situations.”

Ian agreed, noting that now that management is more aware of remote tools and their value, they will be more supportive of WFH for individuals across all teams.

How will companies rethink their budgets and business continuity (BCP)? In the case of BCP, Christopher predicts that companies will finally see WFH as an alternative to a second site, effectively reducing their real estate budgets. He also sees a more obvious justification for video and remote conferencing solutions. In the past it has been thought of as an alternative to air travel, but really it is an alternative to real estate.

Curtis says that companies will finally make the shift of capex to opex technology investment budget planning. He also sees the rapid consumerization of IT. “We have to start thinking what does that new set of tools look like, and how do we get ahead of that curve?”

To get more insight, be sure to join the IT Pro community on Slack.

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