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Opinion: Agility Is Key To Business Continuity During The Current Pandemic And Beyond

The ongoing global pandemic has had far-reaching consequences for almost all businesses, with most sectors impacted negatively, resulting in many organisations having to redefine their business models and IT facilities to continue operating under current lockdown conditions and beyond.

While the current crisis has had an extremely negative impact on businesses and people alike, the one positive aspect that has come to the fore is an accelerated pace of digital transformation and the many opportunities that have presented themselves for enterprises to unlock through innovation.

Not all sectors have been equally affected by the pandemic, with construction, manufacturing, mining, retail, real estate, transport and tourism being the hardest hit in South Africa, as well as across the globe. Only a handful of businesses, such as Internet service providers, telecoms operators and e-commerce organisations, have seen an actual upswing in trading during this period.

Overall, though, this has resulted in a massive drop in IT spending, as organisations are forced into survival mode and urgently need to generate cashflow at a time when trading is constrained, but overheads still have to be paid. For many, this has meant putting large IT projects on the backburner and focusing on areas that enable business continuity.

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), worldwide IT spending is forecast to decline by 2.7% this year due to the economic impact of the worldwide pandemic, with some industries reducing their IT spending more than others.

Digital transformation is key

At a time when connectivity, the ability to work remotely and securely, as well as business continuity are paramount, many companies are forced to deploy digital communication channels to reach customers, offer self-service online features, or altogether change their product sets. Many are also giving due consideration to whether they actually need a physical presence or dedicated IT infrastructure at all.

Yet, while digital transformation is key for many enterprises to continue trading under the “new normal” – as the post-pandemic future has been dubbed – there are several challenges that organisations have to overcome along their digitisation journey.

Some of these challenges include current IT contracts that force enterprises to be locked into specific solutions or infrastructure and prevent them from being as innovative as they would want to be. Asset investment can be another hurdle, where companies have made investments in buildings, IT assets, or might be locked into legacy applications that cannot be moved to the cloud, or not ready to be Internet-facing. Technology lock-in can be a big factor, as companies often make huge investments in applications or other technology that hinder or create barriers to moving to more agile solutions.

Generally speaking, organisations that have a lesser on-premises reliance and can work from anywhere, with systems that are internet-facing, or applications in the cloud, can more easily engage with customers and continue doing business.

Greater agility

Those that have a greater on-premises reliance should seek the assistance of vendors to achieve greater agility in the areas of connectivity and business flexibility. For example, for connectivity requirements, enterprises should consider solutions such as SD WAN, which is Internet-facing, provides capacity elasticity and allows business and customer accessibility to staff working remotely.

In terms of collaboration, many organisations are currently utilising Internet-based collaboration tools, including freeware and have abandoned stringent security controls in the interim. Again, vendors are key to assisting organisations deploy secure access to business applications and unified communications solutions in the cloud, such as PABX and contact centre in the cloud.

Many CIOs admit that their business continuity strategy is focuses mainly on DR plans with the ability to restore IT services at a specific DR site.  The global pandemic has brought about a realisation and understanding that business and IT continuity has to be more comprehensive and include a digital transformation focus.

Although most businesses today are still highly reliant on dedicated on-premises IT infrastructure, this is now changing. Agility is the answer to business continuity and having infrastructure that supports a workforce to work from any location and trading to occur at any time from anywhere. We expect agility to become a central theme that will be discussed extensively in the future, as it is a crucial aspect that allows organisations to move forward, but not at excessive costs.

By Hein Witte, Specialised Sales Executive, Telecommunication Services at T-Systems South Africa