Make haste slowly when deploying tools to cope with global coronavirus pandemic
Step one: Check if you really need new tools. If yes, prioritise and take small steps. And don't assume users are in great shape to learn new tricks
IT projects with vast resources and years of planning all too often result in horrendous messes or failures. So what to do if you need to stand something up in a hurry to give your business extra capability or resilience during the coronavirus pandemic? Or if the boss likes the idea of the many free offers for collaborationware that have recently hit the market?
Those we spoke to all suggested focusing on the extra functionality you really do need now, rather than being overly ambitious.
Adam Fowler, a friend of The Register who runs IT for a substantial professional services firm, recommended piloting things even if you're in a rush.
"It's already chaos with the fundamentals, throwing a new system at people is going to be tough right now while everyone's stressed out," he said. "I'd still pilot it but in an accelerated fashion and with the 'best' users to prove it does whatever we're trying to achieve."
Fowler also thinks you need to ask if any new tools really meet a business need. Or meet that need better than the tools you already have at your disposal.
"There's a bunch of fancy solutions and platforms, but is any of it better than SMS and email? Those don't need the end users to do anything, others need users to register or install apps and are you getting your entire user base to get and log onto an app in a short time? Probably not."
Jodie Miners is founder of business systems consultancy The Detail Department, which specialises in serving small and medium businesses. Miners thinks it may not be possible to succeed with a rapid rollout at this time.
"No matter how well the tech goes, your people are not going to be at the top of their games or good at learning new things. You have to take it slowly.
"It is not about the software or the tooling, it is about what is your message to staff," she said. And if that message is a need to learn something new in troubled times, you might be better off sticking with what you have already got and perhaps exploring features you've not used before rather than taking on new products.
"If you already have G Suite or Office 365, use it," she advised. "Maybe try Zoom, but make sure you consider that clients might struggle to download it."
If you think you really do need new tools to get you through the crisis, don't try to get them all in at once.
"Don't try to solve everything in week one," said Kevin Ji, Gartner's senior research director for infrastructure cloud strategies. "Establish a steering committee to pick priorities. Critical processes get high priority, then cascade."
Ji advised that existing project management methodologies should work, but that you should take into account that remotely managing people needs different skills and approaches.
Consider future costs, too.
"If you can't afford paying for something forever, don't start," Miners said.
Adam Fowler also warned of costs, especially those in the fine print, because experience tells him that some SaaS products can charge a premium for specifying data storage locations required by data sovereignty rules. A quick fix can therefore create hard-to-predict costs.
Even vendors that have free COVID-19-era offers in the field urge caution. BlackBerry has made its Desktop product a 60-day freebie during the pandemic, but BlackBerry Spark MD for ANZ Jason Duerden urged would-be users to consider the following three questions ahead of any implementation.
- What is the implication of removing the software after the free period? How easy is it to uninstall?
- Do I need to deploy new hardware or VPNs to leverage the free product offer?
- Do I build, edit or change key network configuration in order to utilise the solution?
He also suggested being aware of high-pressure sales tactics.
"A well-intentioned sales organisation will inform and educate, rather than 'sell' their free offerings," he said. "But, if you are being hounded to 'try our solution for COVID-19' this is a big red flag. For example, you might receive a conditional offer that asks for payment up front, which kicks in after a certain date. However, if your account rep sends you information to inform you of how XYZ company is supporting customers during this time and states an open commitment to make us aware if you need help – this is generally a well-intentioned gesture."
Gartner's Ji also advocated tapping your vendors for help, on grounds that they already have expertise implementing their wares.
"We have seen some case where people led with public cloud and they engaged vendors immediately. The vendor process is already strong."
Ji also counselled developing plans about availability of your own resources, to take into account the possibility of a reduced workforce.
"The virus spreads across a curve and there will be talent issues," he said. "Add some redundancy as key roles become available again." ®