2020 introduced massive changes to many sectors – and IT was no exception. Worldwide, IT managers and directors have scrambled to facilitate large-scale shifts to home working, to respond to a raft of new security threats seeking to capitalise on fear and uncertainty, and to keep their organisations agile and responsive amid hugely challenging business conditions.
What, then, are some of the main IT lessons learned in 2020 which should be carried into the months and years ahead?
Lesson 1 – Expect the unexpected
It’s a hackneyed phrase, but it still serves a useful reminder of the fact that nothing is certain in business (or life). 2020 was about the starkest reminder many of us can remember that organisations operating on the basis that tomorrow will be like yesterday are playing a foolish game.
Furthermore, in an increasingly globalised, digitally-driven and interconnected world, dynamism and rapid change is the new normal. Whilst we have hopefully seen the last global pandemic for a while, we certainly haven’t seen the last of organisations being forced to adapt quickly to major changes in government policy, economic outlook, international affairs and working practices.
In terms of IT management, this means that an ability to deliver agility and flexibility is absolutely key. It is impossible to prepare for every eventuality – but it is possible to create IT infrastructures which are well-placed for rapid change. Provisioning new applications, enabling new working patterns and installing new security tools or software are things which any IT department should be able to do seamlessly.
Lesson 2 – Understand the difference between reactivity and proactivity
Countless IT departments were forced to roll out new solutions on the fly in 2020, whether to support a sudden shift to home working or to respond to new security threats. As outlined above, it is impossible to anticipate every eventuality, and so a certain amount of reactive, short-term solutionising will always happen. Indeed, being able to react quickly and intelligently is an increasingly important IT skill.
However, once immediate needs have been met, it is important to take a step back and identify where short-term solutions need upgrading or replacing, and where unexpected events have highlighted holes in business resilience. Perhaps 2020 offered a reminder that your organisation needs a new disaster recovery plan, or that it had failed to upgrade its hardware in far too long. A combination of superfast reactive and thoughtful proactivity is essential for robust IT functions.
Lesson 3 – Staff are your biggest security risk
It’s a longstanding truth of IT security that human error and carelessness account for an extraordinary proportion of breaches – but 2020 threw this into particularly sharp relief. A wealth of new security threats proliferated, targeting individuals with misinformation and capitalising on their fear and desire for updates.
IT departments can mitigate a great deal of security risk simply by educating and training their staff properly on the nature of major security threats – including quite how simple and banal they can seem.
Additional simple but effective security measures include requiring multi-factor authentication for all users, ensuring all patches are kept up-to-date and, of course, implementing high-quality firewalls, antivirus software and advanced threat prevention.
Lesson 4 – Facilitate collaboration
Precisely how office working will resume over the coming months is anyone’s guess. Some are claiming they will never be office-based again, whilst others are clamouring to get out of the house. However, it is certainly clear that videoconferencing and remote collaboration tools have enjoyed their year in the sun in 2020 – and that smart organisations should expect those tools to be a vital part of the arsenal for years to come.
Facilitating remote collaboration doesn’t mean that your organisation is becoming a hotbed of home workers only – it simply means that you are placing flexibility and agility first and foremost. This will grant a competitive edge both in terms of productivity – virtual meetings can happen immediately, after all – and in terms of attracting the best staff, who seem likely to want to retain some of the flexibility they may have enjoyed over the past year.
The effects of 2020 will be long reaching in the IT industry, but some thoughtfulness about the lessons learned will enable innovation in the months and years ahead.