Predictions are hostages to fortune. I remember at the backend of 2019 having a very positive and rosy conversation with a friend and colleague about my optimism for 2020. Like everyone else I had no idea of the impending nightmare that was to be unleashed upon the world in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While we are not “out of the woods yet”, it’s clear the role IT has played in directly fighting the virus has been nothing short of epic. It has enabled medical science in the fields of vaccine research, tracking, screening, contract tracing, clinical management, production, quality control and distribution. Do not get me wrong, the heroes for me will always be the front-line workers that have given so much, but technology has undoubtedly saved millions of lives.
Indirectly technology has also enabled people and business to remain connected, although not a complete substitute for direct human interaction it has provided a lifeline for those that are isolated and a means to maintain some resemblance of social interaction with family, friends and that of the workplace environment. Remote working for many has also enabled social distancing to be more effectively maintained and enabled many businesses to continue to trade safely through the pandemic.
The technologies that enabled remote working however are not new, remote access, desktop video conferencing, virtual desktops, virtual call centres etc. These have long been part and parcel of enterprise’s service catalogue and business continuity planning; what has changed is their availability to mid-size and small businesses.
This has been enabled by the wide scale adoption of Software as a Service (SaaS) for business applications. Many organisations have embraced SaaS because of its ease of rapid deployment, low capital out lay, reduced need for in house IT skills and accessibility. Most SaaS applications can be accessed from a web browser and or a phone app, without huge investment in enterprise systems, it is possible to run a business from a mobile phone. A bit of an oversimplification, but you get the point!
Which begs the question what if the next virus is not biological but digital. How would we have faired in a digital lockdown. On the macro scale there is probably little businesses can do, protecting critical national infrastructure is the preserve of government agencies. But businesses should consider how to protect themselves from more localised disruptions.
For SaaS this can be challenging, as the application and the data reside with the service provider, so subscribers are more dependent on the availability of their systems. However, for some applications it is possible to maintain offline backups using the vendors tools or 3rd party solutions. Autotomy as well as service availability should be a consideration when reviewing services from online or cloud suppliers.
The rapid spread of the WannaCry virus in 2017 triggered many organisations to sever connections with peers and suppliers in a bid to isolate themselves from the threat of the virus. This caused significant disruption to their operations, perhaps the consequences of digital distancing were not clearly understood.
Organisations will typically work with a single supplier for common types of services, e.g connectivity services, hosting etc. Not only does it make supplier management easier, but it can also have technical benefits. However, this will inevitably introduce risk through common points of failure. The obvious one that springs to mind are technical, however anything that impacts service delivery is a risk to the subscriber.
Often diversity is designed into technical solutions to mitigate singe points of failure, consider whether this can be mixed with supplier diversity. E.g. if your primary Internet connection is with supplier A, use another supplier for the backup circuit or if connecting a large group of users to hosted services use a private data circuit. The same approach could apply to your Data Centre requirements or Business Continuity solution for example. Technically it may not be as simple or seamless as a single provider solution, but it could provide you with a lifeline in the event of the unthinkable.
Clearly risk management and business continuity is fundamental to most businesses, but what I think we can consider is how decisions at the micro level could stand us in good stead. When designing a solution, defining a requirement, structuring a service it pays to ask what the implications are of the unthinkable, because COVID-19 has rewritten what is unthinkable!