By Nik Devidas. Rock IT Managing Director.

How the world was

On Saturday 7 March, 2020, I boarded a flight to New Zealand at 6am with some mates. Our plan was to spend five days in Queenstown hiking and riding, then head back to our families on Wednesday 10 March.

The public sentiment on the Saturday was pretty relaxed. We laughed at the few people in the airport with face masks on and generally went about our holiday like any other.

Due to terrible global roaming data charges, we usually only got our phones online when we were back at home after a big day out. That particular weekend was a long weekend in Australia so I only really started getting email traffic from the Tuesday. I saw images of friends at the MCG watching the Women’s T20 cricket final with 86,000 people and apart from the lack of toilet paper on the shelves, life looked normal.

Remember back when we used to celebrate with a warm embrace?

when life was normal

By the time Wednesday came around I began to notice the mood had suddenly changed.

When I left for New Zealand 5 days after arriving, our business had a number of IT projects lined up for our clients. We were in the process of on-boarding 3 new clients, representing over 500 new computers under management, plus we were about to commence a number of digital transformation projects for clients. That included migrating services from old infrastructure to new infrastructure, plus a huge number of new computer fleet refreshes.

If I’d tried to enter New Zealand the following Saturday I’d still be in isolation.

It was business as usual in my eyes when I left.

Five days later I was seeing notifications that these projects were being bumped down the road in favour of what could only be described as COVID-19 prepping.

Digital Transformation: A thing we used to do

Core elements of digital transformation

The Thursday of my return I attended a lunch of technology executives. I was greeted with hand santizer and fist pumps. There were a few handshakes offered and I wasn’t yet comfortable enough to offer my elbow or toe tap. Humans really are social animals, even the shy among us will reciprocate a handshake.

By the Friday we were trying to avoid opening doors with our hands but still managed a team lunch out, still laughing about the virus and people’s over-reaction to it.

The weekend of 14/15 March proved to be the most telling where we decided to split the company into rosters. We had identified that the biggest risk to our business continuity was all of us getting sick at the exact same time. The flow on effect of all of us being sick would be that our clients would suffer and therefore their clients would to… we estimate that our client base provide direct products and services to more than half of Australia on a monthly basis.

We made the call to split the company into teams with the Management team not being in the office at the same time.

The other obvious risk to our business is our clients going out of business, a risk that at this point in time we’re hoping will be avoided.

What is COVID-19 prepping in an IT context?

Broadly speaking, it’s enabling a business’ workforce to work remotely. I guess it could be whatever I tell you it is because it’s never been done before!

For the most part people can access many of their systems remotely already. Email is largely available on computers and phones wherever people are, but some industries still operate on legacy applications that require traditional remote access services. Virtual Private Networks (VPN) are typically required to allow works remote access to infrastructure along with high speed internet.

The challenge is that nobody was willing to discuss “Global Pandemic” in their business risk assessments. Actually the real challenge was that nobody was willing to discuss their risk assessments in any great detail! That will change in the coming months.


The problem with COVID-19 prepping

The major problem we encounter with trying to help businesses cater for their new remote workforce is that many simply do not have the infrastructure available to cater for such an increase. If a business of 100 initially invested in internet and VPN services, they would have allowed for maximum 20 remote users – most of the time only 5 would concurrently be on the system. So it’s not simply a matter of enabling 100 users to access the system – if the system wasn’t designed to cater for an increase of this magnitude then it will simply fail. Which brings me to the next problem…

If we’re all at home, the “solution” rests entirely on the Internet to work

The NBN in Australia is an absolute mess. Designed originally with good intent, too many Government changes over a short space of time have seen it become a white elephant that is now the backbone of a remote workforce.

As of the time of writing, it’s hard to see how the NBN will cope. Popular video conference tool Zoom fell over on 16 March 2020 due to an increase in demand. Just days prior people questioned whether it was up to the task. It clearly wasn’t. How could it have been?

Swivel chairs and standing desks are in short supply as people scramble (panic?) to setup their home office environments. It’s hard to believe that they didn’t have something to sit on prior to this, but people are starting to do strange things. Don’t get me started on toilet paper (NZ has tonnes of it by the way).

Is there an upside to all of this?

Focusing exclusively on a business perspective: Absolutely.

Risk Management will be right at the top of everyone’s agenda forever after this. No longer will people see the “worst case scenario” being a localised issue that can’t affect them, such as a weather event or war. Even the devastating bush fires in Australia this year were generally seen as a “country thing” that didn’t affect people that badly in the city. We felt the emotional impact but not necessarily directly.

Why an increased focus on risk management good for us all

An increased focus on risk management will help curb the greed and fascination on growth at the expense of profit. We will hopefully see good businesses be celebrated and rise. You know the type: ones that stay in business for the long haul, pay their employees and their taxes, and generally do something good for the community around them.

The other big upside is that the entire planet is in this together. There’s barely a part of the globe that is unaffected from this virus and it’s hard to see many businesses trading through this period with a huge smile on their face.

And that’s really the good thing – we’re all in this together. If we’re all impacted in some way we’ll all be compassionate towards one another when things go bad.

We’ve all learned to embrace the elbow and toe tap

covid-19 elbow tap

Today is 17 March 2020 and whilst there’s a lot of uncertainty around the impact of school closures and possible society lock-downs, the vast majority of businesses that are run well will survive. Banks will be forced to be compassionate with those less fortunate but business owners are well aware that the reason we own our own businesses is because we want to control our own destiny.

Rock IT will continue to provide our Managed IT Services as we have done since 2003 – through multiple local, national and now global disasters. I hope your business can survive through this uncertainty as well.