Points of View

COVID-19: CIOs must balance the need for immediate remote access and chaotic cloud environments

Mar 23, 2020 Ollie O’Donoghue

As I write this, countless CIOs will be locked in boardrooms as executives figure out how to adapt their business to handle the peak in demand for remote working since the COVID-19 pandemic. Right now, the same challenge they have faced for decades is still present—speed over quality. Except on this occasion, the urgency and intensity of the challenge have reached new levels as businesses hastily migrate applications and data to the cloud in a bid to keep operations running as smoothly as possible. Simply put, CIOs must make sure they balance the immediate need for remote access and the complex and chaotic tangle of cloud instances they will need to deal with once things return to normal.


IT teams are working in unprecedented circumstances to migrate business-critical applications and data to the cloud


As we’ve spoken to industry executives and project managers over the past few weeks, they’ve told us only one question has been on their mind: How do we deploy and scale solutions in the shortest possible timeframes to allow the company to keep running? This challenge is compounded by an uncertain geopolitical environment in some nations and an unprecedented shift from centralized hubs to decentralized home working across industries and geographies.


To support this major shift in business dynamics, core infrastructure must adapt, requiring the rapid deployment of cloud and SaaS solutions. According to some executives, deployments are temporary; a widely cited example is the expansion of access to core SaaS solutions that enable decentralized collaboration. Others are relaxing corporate policies on system access and enabling teams more freedom and choice to pick temporary solutions that allow them to continue business. But the majority are speeding along existing cloud migration projects to get as much into the cloud as they can now. The challenge, of course, will be balancing the quality of deployment with the need for speed. Candidly, one executive advised that it was a great way to speed along transformation activities, as business unit and process owners had dispensed with their usual lower appetite for change and disruption in exchange for an immediate desire to upgrade systems to enable their teams to continue functioning.


While the situation remains somewhat unclear, we’re hearing from the service provider community that they are coming under pressure from existing clients both to help them in their hour of need and to prioritize deployments that enable their businesses to function as effectively as possible. But, while providers are less than enthused to discuss internal issues they are grappling with in the current environment, it seems there is also an urgent internal balancing act between fresh client demand and vital business-continuity efforts to ensure they can also service business-as-usual engagements.


Cloud maturity across verticals varies considerably – with Manufacturing and Healthcare lagging behind at a time when moving workloads to the cloud is desperately needed


The harsh reality is that many enterprises now need to jump into the cloud to help keep their businesses functioning, and many will be woefully underprepared as cloud maturity waned even in less-pressing circumstances. And some verticals with comparatively lower cloud maturity face a greater impact than those who have invested in previous years (see exhibit 1).



Exhibit 1: High-tech, Telecom, and Media companies are far better prepared for an emergency rush to the cloud than manufacturing, government, and – more worryingly given the circumstances, Healthcare and Life Sciences businesses.



Source: HFS Analysis from buyer conversations and survey analysis, 2019



Enterprises without hybrid cloud strategies that enable them to swiftly identify high-priority services and move them to environments that accommodate remote access will be the real losers in the business space. And while the benefits of cloud are rarely touted as a route to avoid apocalyptic business circumstances, the fact remains that organizations who have invested over the last few years on a coherent strategy will undoubtedly be in a better position than others.


Market dynamics also raise several interesting questions that, as of yet, remain unanswered. We have heard from enterprises and providers alike that laptops are becoming an increasingly sought-after commodity as staff decamp from their trusty office-based terminals. But what about cloud capacity? Of course, the hyperscale giants reassure us that they have buckets of capacity and are resilient even in the worst of times. But if this trend continues and businesses hastily migrate more to the cloud—often in far from efficient build outs—then surely there must be a point when capacity runs out without the need for major capital expenditure from the hyperscalers.


In any case, in a world where today’s problems obscure tomorrow’s by some considerable margin, worrying about hyperscalers’ ability to keep up with unprecedented demand seems fruitless when today, finance executives struggle to access legacy ERP systems from their new office in the shed.


The Bottom Line: While tackling the unprecedented short-term problems is key, CIOs must look to the state of their cloud estate and plan to rebuild.


While, of course, our attention is deservingly focused on the medical professionals and essential workers that are tirelessly working to keep us all safe and healthy, we do dedicate a small part to the CIOs and IT teams that are rushing to build a new IT estate that business users can access in a fashion never seen before in some enterprises and verticals. Many have the full knowledge that soon after this work is done, the task will fall to them to unpick the cloud chaos they have created in a bid to return to serviceable normality.