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Remote work technologies to account for in 2020 IT budgets

In light of a crisis like COVID-19, IT organizations must amend their budgets to invest in technologies that can support remote access and foster employee collaboration.

IT teams must be able to adjust, often on the fly, in times of disaster or crisis. This applies not only to technical practices and communication protocols, but to budgets and spending habits, as well.

For example, 2020 IT budgets were set during the halcyon days when people could collaborate in an office and maintain a normal working schedule. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed that: Many now work from home, entire industries have shut down and consumer behavior has shifted drastically.

These cataclysmic changes should affect how IT departments plan their spending in the near and long term. Mid-crisis work patterns are vastly different to those established before it:

  • There is likely more traffic to in-house IT systems, due to remote worker access.
  • There might be an increase in user calls to contact centers and service desks, which staff must manage and address from their homes.
  • Some technologies, such as physical security systems used for partner and customer visits, might be relatively unused compared to before the crisis.

It's time for managers to review IT budgets for 2020, and ensure adequate investment in remote work technologies that can keep the business moving. The budget review should contain two components: the ongoing, mid-crisis period, and the post-crisis period.

Form a strategy for remote work

For the mid-crisis period, estimate how long the current situation is likely to last -- and how things will evolve during that time. For example, business leaders might decide that remote work will likely continue through the end of the year, or that controls will loosen progressively as the weeks and months roll on. Either choice affects where to focus IT spending.

In the case of long-term remote work, for example, invest in practices and technologies that can bolster information security, as well as remote access capabilities with adequate user response times and IT support.

The post-crisis environment should be the focal point of any IT budget adjustments. Some guesswork is required to determine what is likely to be the new normal -- and some guesses will be more accurate than others.

For example, a proportion of employees might need to continue working from home. Consider how that distributed and colocated workforce increases business flexibility through more variable working hours and job sharing. Less commuting contributes to the organization's sustainability strategy. If enough staff members work from home, the organization could even reduce office space.

End-user technologies and support

IT must prepare for employees to work remotely. Virtual desktops make support easier. And software systems, such as data leak prevention and digital rights management, enhance information security. Ensure that there is sufficient bandwidth and connectivity redundancy to support a distributed workforce.

A crisis could accelerate a move from on-premises systems to a hybrid, cloud-led approach.

Invest in remote work technologies that can enhance collaboration and communication. Enable home workers to use voice over IP systems, along with live video systems such as Zoom or Teams, to host meetings and make up for the lack of socialization compared to working in an office. Consolidated and secure information storage systems, such as OneDrive, Dropbox or Citrix ShareFile, enable teams to coordinate work on content, and ensure versioning and enterprise control.

IT infrastructure investments

When it comes to the data center, the obvious amendment to a 2020 IT budget is an emphasis on remote monitoring and management tools, with as much preemptive monitoring as possible. AI and automation minimize the number of engineers required on site. These investments will be valuable even during non-crisis times, as many of these tools can significantly improve the IT issue remediation process.

A crisis could accelerate a move from on-premises systems to a hybrid, cloud-led approach. The ability to offload some of the keeping-the-lights-on aspects of platform management, such as hardware acquisition, provisioning and maintenance, becomes especially appealing. Whether IaaS, PaaS or SaaS, IT departments should look at which workloads can move sensibly onto a third party's platform -- and what must continue to run on premises.

See the big picture

Some aspects discussed above can set the scene for IT budgets in years to come. While it's wise to refocus spending on remote work technologies that can provide continuity during a current crisis or disaster, it's also critical to prepare for the future. Plan for broader investments that can accommodate changes in working habits, rather than try to approach each individual crisis independently as it comes along.

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