Three recommendations for surviving (and thriving) in the post-pandemic IT wilderness

With COVID-19 as the backdrop, the last two years have been both scary and exhilarating for IT teams as they delivered innovation at previously unimaginable speeds.

During this time, CIOs have overseen the enablement of remote working for millions of employees and shifted numerous legacy systems to the cloud. But as we emerge from the IT battlefield of COVID-19, what does the post-pandemic landscape look like? What new challenges will the coming months pose, and how can IT departments prepare themselves for the next wave of disruption? Below are three recommendations for where to focus IT efforts in the near term while continuing to drive business value by leveraging the speed and power of modern innovations. Let’s begin by looking backwards.

Plug the Pandemic-Induced Gaps

Prior to the pandemic, IT procurement and deployment was a rigorous process that ran like clockwork. The tightly-controlled environment left very little room for error -- but also offered limited room for creativity. The pandemic forced a definite change in these procedures as organizations were forced to roll-out new software solutions, and often without the previous levels of selection rigor and risk assessment around deployment.

As a result, these hastily-deployed solutions have produced some less than secure and compliant environments that need to be addressed. The first task for any CIO as we move into the post-pandemic world should be to pragmatically evaluate the IT landscape that has been altered by COVID. For some, this might seem like a post-apocalyptic wasteland of random systems and potential security holes, but for others it won’t be the IT dystopia they anticipated. While there will be risks that have been introduced, overall, the level of benefit that has been achieved because of the rapid innovation since the onset of COVID far outweighs the risks that have been introduced.

There are several ways to plug these pandemic-fueled gaps, but one is drawing more attention than others -- the sunsetting of legacy applications. To be fair, organizations that replaced legacy applications as soon as remote-working kicked in did face some initial challenges. It took some companies a bit longer to reap the benefits because users were now working with unfamiliar new systems, while others experienced some hiccups with data migration between the source and destination solutions. But the value and benefit of modernizing a company’s IT stack (agility, scalability, lower risk, etc) replaced this initial pain very quickly.

The companies still tethered to legacy applications in pseudo-cloud mode (via virtual machines or clunky containerization) now face the largest array of security and compliance gaps. Sunsetting these dated applications may entail some initial bumps and bruises, but it is a necessary part of the journey while on the road to a secure and agile modern IT infrastructure.

Treat Your Staff Like Customers

A familiar mantra to IT professionals since well before COVID is that customer experience is vital to the success of an organization. Mobile apps, responsive websites, and so-called omnichannel experiences where customers receive a personalized user experience and range of products across their devices and environments are all results of this drive to empower and enable the customer. But with so much focus on the customer experience, many organizations have forgotten the need to deliver the same approach to employees.

Many employees in areas such as accounts processing, human resources, and customer support still use systems that require manual entry and copying and pasting of data between applications. As we all know, it’s incredibly frustrating when you have to work with outdated and clunky systems and processes that are prone to not working as they should.

For many of these people, their working environment became less productive when they transitioned to remote working because the systems they use every day could not move to the cloud. Instead, they struggled to connect to on-premise systems through clunky VPNs. Many of these legacy business tools were bad enough in the office, and over a VPN, they became even worse.

Customers are demanding more intuitive, user-friendly, and streamlined systems, and it’s time organizations started providing them for staff too. The rollout of internal solutions that focus on delivering an intuitive user experience, embedded within the productivity tools employees are familiar with such as MS Office and Outlook, is a great starting point. This integrated approach reduces the amount of system training employees require to access new features, and delivers impressive return on investment in very short time periods.

Intelligently Automate Everything

Plugging the security and compliance gaps caused by rushed system rollouts and enhancing user experiences for employees delivers massive value to organizations (reduced risk, increased worker productivity, and better staff engagement). Once these areas have been addressed, it’s time to move on to the fun part -- to intelligently automate everything you possibly can.

CIOs and IT professionals are familiar with the potential benefits of automation -- tools such as optical character recognition (OCR) and workflow engines have been around for many years. But recent innovations in artificial intelligence (AI), ML, and RPA have taken automation capabilities to new heights.

Using tools such as Machine Learning (ML) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in parallel with existing systems can drive improvements in areas such as reduced manual entry of data that subsequently has a significant effect on process productivity, reduce error rates, and allows staff to focus on higher value tasks.

From the intelligent extraction of data from incoming documents, emails, customer support calls to pattern matching and fraud detection across millions of transactions, AI now has the power to match its potential. The key for the enterprise to get the best value out of AI is to integrate it with other existing tools and technologies such as OCR, RPA, and workflow engines to drive new ways to solve old problems. Intelligent document processing (IDP) platforms bring these components together to offer IT professionals configurable and user-friendly environments to rapidly prototype and develop solutions to genuine business problems that up until now have rarely been solved.

And If We Are Not Yet Post-Pandemic?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have already seen several false dawns -- where we saw light at the end of the tunnel, only for infection rates and new strains to rise again. There is no guarantee that we won’t see more of these. But the reassuring thing for CIOs is that all the work performed during the pandemic and the best practices described above have equal value in a remote-only work environment as they do in the post-pandemic world. For those who have done the hard work already, they can pause for a second to enjoy the benefits. But only briefly, as those who are still working towards their digital remote-working nirvana will catch up quickly.

In the post-pandemic world, the only sure thing is that more change is on the way -- and the strategic use of IT is a darn good way to deal with it.

Photo Credit: StaniG / Shutterstock

Since KnowledgeLake’s inception in 1999, Ron Cameron, president and co-founder has taken great pride in creating a positive company culture where employee and customer satisfaction are the highest priority.  KnowledgeLake is a cloud-native solution for document processing that enables organizations to capture, process, and manage their content in a single platform. The company combines intelligent document capture and robotic process automation (RPA) to increase productivity. Two million users worldwide employ KnowledgeLake to work faster and more efficiently.

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