I have been in the IT industry for 22 years and seen my share of challenging times we had to collectively address as an industry and overcame in due course. 21 of these 22 years have been with Torry Harris Integration Solutions and therefore, I can say I had an added advantage of growing with the organization, planning, mitigating, overcoming these challenges and I continue in the growth path.

I was managing delivery for customers across the globe and was always “the client” for support services. They are usually the invisible heroes, like the engine under the hood. I moved to manage IT and operations for the organization 1 year ago, with the intent of applying all my delivery experience back into the organization. I thus became an enabler to business, helping them move towards a smart and proactive support environment.

Well, as they say, it was a fine start, quiet times! My familiarity with our processes, tools and people ensured that I had a great start where we implemented our planned IT strategic tools. Our plan for 2019 was flawless, we migrated to a top firewall product, asset encryption, end point security, O365 roll out, and most importantly, we had made a decision that all our sites will be mobile sites. Our workforce was to be issued with laptops enabling them to move across sites should the need arise. We made a firm decision that desktops are on their way to sunset and therefore needed to be retired.

For 2020, we had an ambitious plan - rolling out of a DLP solution, SIEM Tools, migration of our existing backup solution, VDI etc. to name a few. By mid-February, the word COVID started hitting us frequently although at that point in time, it was an issue contained in Wuhan, China. It was time to review our Business Continuity Plan (BCP) to assess its ability to provide Business As Usual (BAU) for a defined period and we were satisfied. In any case, we upped the health and safety measures in office with hand sanitizers, awareness posters & sessions. The need for social distancing was being reiterated again and again. We had advised teams not to meet in meeting rooms / closed rooms and encouraged them to use collaboration tools instead. We had requested all our partners to have discussions with us through video / audio conferencing.

In March, the situation became more intense with heightened anxiety levels all across the world. We worked with our customers to ensure we had a robust BCP, addressing all aspects including our preparedness for employees to work from remote locations should the need arise. Well, I think God would have chuckled looking at us feeble humans putting in place elaborate plans to manage the upcoming crisis. By March, we had dry runs of our BCP for all critical services and we were ready for work from premise or home depending on the need.

Then the unprecedented and unanticipated lockdown was imposed. This meant we had to run our organization outside of its physical premises, from remote locations, with minimal disruptions to business. BCP is not about running the entire organization remotely, it usually is about the continuity of critical services without disruption. Our strategic decisions of moving to laptops turned out to be our magic bullet. 70% of our workforce were prepared to work remotely, and we had to mobilize the remaining 30% in two days. We had to issue several laptops over three days working 24x7, ensuring all the information security tasks were completed in terms of hardening, end point security, etc. Other logistics like dongles, data had to be enabled in record time for those who did not have connectivity at home.

On the Monday of the first week of lockdown, 100% of our workforce were working from home. And then came the real test for BCP. How does one manage an OS crash, HW failure, Secure assets on a resource exit? How does one remotely on-board an employee when you are locked in your own home? And more of such unique situations arose in the very first week for which we came out with equally creative solutions.

We had to improvise and ensure issue resolution. For instance, how do you support your employee to create a bootable USB when the laptop is down? How do you ensure the USB is scanned and threat free? We put in simple processes, with all necessary check points, records for auditability and helped the recovery in case of HW failures.

We had moved to ManageEngine as our patch and SW management tool. Such tools proved to be very effective in these times. We used this tool to remotely erase all data in the asset of an employee exiting the organization, removed their user account and made the asset unusable and then secured the asset post their exit.

It has been a very interesting 2 months. The business teams had project releases almost every weekend. Not a single release has been impacted. We have had appreciation mails from customers, on how seamless our transition into our BCP has been. It was an organizational change, a paradigm shift, and I think we as a company went through it as gracefully as Grace Kelly! Force Majeure was a jolt for us, but it did not topple us!!

A few wisdom-bytes below for you to take away and think about:

Defined period of time
No social lockdown. The world around you is functioning normally and all one has to do is to work from remote locations. Partners to provide support based on the SLA (repairs, technical or other issues).
Critical resources may be chosen to work from home and the rest of the employees may or may not continue work BAU. BCP is for a short period in time
Logistics - Laptops, Dongles, phones, UPS are planned, procured and kept ready
On-boarding and exit of employees follows the regular HR process and the formalities are completed
Physical premises are always accessible for server management / infrastructure management
Moving goalposts in-terms of timelines, lack of clarity on the period
Total freeze on movement. People imprisoned at homes with restricted movement, so we end up flying solo and sometimes blind. Internal IT becomes the all-encompassing backbone
Entire workforce has to work from home.
Entire workforce had to be issued with means for connectivity, and UPS
With lockdown, the Covid BCP processes had to be redefined to secure assets of the exiting employees. We had to roll out a virtual onboarding process.
Physical premises are not accessible. Processes had to be redefined to manage IT infrastructure and servers

The success and smoothness of operations of the past two months has planted seeds of interesting, game-changing ideas which we are in discussions about, with our strategic teams. Compliances like ISO are for a physical premise, but these controls can be implemented successfully as cloud solutions for our remote workforce. With collaboration tools like “Teams”, we see remote working as a strong possible scenario even in the future. Our current model is sturdy enough, it has been tested thoroughly. When the lockdown lifts eventually and the new normal commences, we will also have support from our logistics partners. This journey will only get more and more easy. Working from home, we see as a very plausible new normal and perhaps this is the new “glocal” – global-cum-local future! 2020 – the paradigm has shifted, and we are ready with the tools, processes and policies to make glocal.

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