IT Brief New Zealand - Technology news for CIOs & IT decision-makers
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Hard lessons learned: Why some struggled and some succeeded in the move to mass WFH
Tue, 2nd Feb 2021
FYI, this story is more than a year old

It can be hard to hear.

When the pandemic struck, 85% of IT leaders felt prepared to make the transition to a distributed workforce. But 93% had to delay or cancel their security priorities during the shift, and 98% experienced at least one significant security challenge along the way.

Even worse— six months later, some IT leaders continue to face these challenges.

“There are a lot of companies right now that are completely blind and in the dark about how they are doing business,” says Tanium (an endpoint management and security company) chief customer officer Charles Ross. “They will put on a tough face and say they've got this, but behind the scenes they are scared.

These companies have not reestablished visibility over their new environments. They have not regained control over their endpoints.

And they have not rebuilt the security controls they lost when they sent their workers home and left their perimeters behind. They are now scrambling to create new defenses, all while hoping nobody notices that their doors are wide open.

It's a harsh reality.

But one that some IT leaders have managed to avoid. These IT leaders were prepared for the crisis. They experienced a smooth transition to a newly distributed workforce.
And they are not scrambling to catch up now. They never took on substantial new risk, and they never lost visibility and control over their new environment.
In this article, we will explore why some technology leaders succeeded while others struggled during the WFH transition, and explain how leaders currently playing catch up can rebuild their defenses and prepare for the next crisis— before it strikes. Let's begin.

Making the smooth transition to mass WFH: One CIO's success story

Ralph Loura is one of the technology leaders who did not struggle during his transition to mass WFH, and who remains in a confident position managing his distributed operating environment.

Loura is chief information officer at Lumentum, a global manufacturer of infrastructure components that are critical for the operation of the internet.

Loura had been CIO at Lumentum for two years when the pandemic struck. During that time, he had made numerous changes to Lumentum's underlying technology. Most revolved around moving Lumentum away from a primarily on-premise set of tools, processes, and infrastructure, and towards a more distributed model.

Loura credits these changes with setting the stage for his relatively smooth transition to mass WFH, and believes Lumentum “would have been in a very, very different place than we are in today” if he had not completed these changes before COVID-19 hit.

The changes Loura made include:

  • Shifting Lumentum's on-prem video and collaboration platform to a Cloud-based platform.
  • Maturing Lumentum's end user support systems to increase their agility,  responsiveness, and alignment to business needs.
  • Trading Lumentum's on-prem, “old school” hub-and-spoke model of endpoint management for a modern, distributed endpoint management platform.

For Loura, completing this final change pre-COVID-19 made all the difference in his ability to effectively tackle his transition to mass WFH.

“Having an effective endpoint management solution is really key,” explains Loura. “If we didn't have a solution in place that allowed us to understand what was occurring at user's homes, we really wouldn't be in a place where we had a baseline to understand what our risk was.

Ross fundamentally agrees with Loura that having the right tooling already in place was the key difference between those IT leaders who succeeded during their transformation, and those who struggled.

“There is a distinctive difference between companies that are using the right tools to manage themselves, and the ones that are flying blind,” explains Ross. “The companies using the right tools know how to predict what's coming next. The ones that are in control are managing their businesses comfortably— even under very new sets of conditions.

Catching up: How technology leaders can prepare before the next crisis

Loura, Ross's customers, and other leaders paint a clear picture of what it took to succeed where others struggled during the transition to mass WFH.

Those IT leaders who succeeded had:

  • Evolved beyond legacy, on-prem, hub-and-spoke systems.
  • Adopted modern, distributed tooling that could rapidly adapt as their environment changed overnight.
  • Transformed their organization long before they needed to.  

Those IT leaders who are currently playing catch up learned these lessons the hard way. If they wish to avoid the struggle the next time a crisis occurs, they must consider how to transform their operations to meet tomorrow's challenges long before those challenges arrive.