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COVID-19 and Remote Working – 5 Essential Factors for Companies to Consider

A month ago, the economy was rolling along. Enter COVID-19 and suddenly everything seems to be grinding to a halt, with organizations scrambling to stay afloat and avoid disruption as much as possible. One primary way this is being accomplished is by enabling employees to work remotely. That being said, many companies were not adequately prepared to roll out work-from-home policies and, as such, are now trying to address the complex challenges that come with navigating unchartered territory. Here’s what business leaders should consider to make the transition safer, smoother and more seamless.

Identify and prioritize which processes will be impacted most.

Certain processes will be easier than others to transition from onsite to remote. The first step should involve evaluating how all of your organizational processes work, paying specific attention to the following:

  • Processes that are most mission-critical
  • Processes that mandate physical presence and/or are most challenging to carry out remotely
  • Processes that may be difficult to move online, such as paper-based processes
  • Any existing lockdowns or access limitations on systems, programs or applications

By gathering this data, you can more effectively develop process flow maps and – more importantly – prepare and plan for those processes which will have the highest impact on your organization’s business continuity.

Determine what logistical provisions must be made from a hardware perspective.

What equipment will your employees need in order to carry out their day-to-day duties from home? These provisions may include, but are not limited to:

  • Strong internet access
  • Telephones
  • Computers
  • Scanners/printers/shredders
  • Security keys/authentication devices

It’s essential that access to necessary equipment be assessed and addressed as quickly as possible. Equally as important is accounting for data protection so you can proactively manage risk and prevent potential security breaches.

And, of course, you need to determine what impact all of this will have on your IT team’s ability to provide support to remote workers. (Here’s where technology can help – more on that below.)

Figure out who should have access to which information.

A big part of ensuring secure business continuity is determining who should have access to information and exactly what that information entails. This step can become more challenging in a remote work scenario because people working from home will inevitably share their space with others. For instance, some remote workers may need to utilize equipment that is shared with other family members. It’s important to identify the potential risks and determine whether additional protections, limitations, equipment or training would be warranted.

Utilize advanced technology to your fullest advantage.

A lot goes into facilitating remote work, and given the current situation – where the entire staff of an organization (including IT) may be required to stay home – leveraging the technology that’s available to us has never been more important. Whether it’s video conferencing to keep meetings on schedule virtually or setting up and provisioning VPNs for all remote workers.

In these instances, artificial intelligence can be a real game-changer. For example, intelligent chatbots can be deployed to enable self-service IT support and automated workflows can be used to free up IT so they can focus on more critical business needs. If there’s ever been a time to consider implementing these technologies, it’s now.

Develop a strategy for managing remote workers.

The last piece of the puzzle is the people aspect. Many leaders find it difficult to manage employees and teams who are not situated in close proximity. Getting comfortable with the idea of remote work may take time. To fast track things and improve the odds of a smooth and uneventful transition, consider the following best practices:

  • Create a communication strategy
  • Define, set and reinforce expectations
  • Be accessible and check in regularly
  • Focus on outcomes rather than activity
  • Arm employees with the tools and technology they need to be successful

Making the move to remote work has been put on the fast track for many organizations. Thankfully, with the right approach and proper strategizing, it doesn’t have to be a painful or disruptive transition. In fact, you may just find this new way of working to be a viable long-term solution for your business.

Get started today by downloading your free trial of Ayehu NG and empower your IT team (and your entire workforce) to be productive from anywhere.

5 Ways IT Automation Can Help Your Organization Survive the Coronavirus

5 Ways Automation Can Help Your Organization Survive the Coronavirus

With the number of people infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19) nearing a hundred thousand worldwide and the death toll steadily rising, there’s no question that we’ve got a pandemic situation on our hands. In the face of fear and uncertainty, more and more organizations are curbing corporate travel and turning to remote work arrangements in order to minimize impact and prevent potential business disruption.

The importance of preparing for what is quickly developing into a world health crisis simply cannot be understated. And with these sudden and substantial changes that are occurring in the workplace as a result, there are additional challenges to consider. In particular, there are the logistics of facilitating remote work (provisioning more VPNs, providing remote access to files, etc.), which means more work for the IT team – effectively pulling them away from their normal daily duties.

Addressing these serious and impactful concerns – and quickly – has become a top priority for business leaders across every industry. The good news is, it starts with the right technology. In light of this, we’ve pulled together the top 5 use cases every organization should be prepared to automate and how to pull it off as seamlessly as possible:

VPN Access

With so many employees now getting the green light to work from home, the demand for VPN is going up substantially. Subsequently, VPN access issues for both employees and contractors are also on the rise, such as resetting, opening, closing, VPN certificate updates etc. This places a tremendous burden on IT personnel, many of whom are already overworked and lacking appropriate staff and/or resources. By automating this workflow, remote workers can be up and running quickly without adding to the IT team’s already overloaded schedule.

Permissions and Password Related Issues

The requests for systems permissions and password resets don’t go away just because employees aren’t working in the office. In fact, with remote access, these issues tend to increase in frequency, which means the IT team should expect an uptick in these types of tickets. Unfortunately, as any IT support agent knows all too well, requests like these are time consuming, pulling skilled workers away from other, more important tasks. Again, this is where automation can have a tremendous impact, providing self-service options for end-users and alleviating the pressure on IT.

Extend More Resources

One of the biggest IT challenges with a remote workforce is resource management. Manually monitoring and allocating resources is not the best use of your IT team’s time. With IT process automation, however, resource provisioning requests that would otherwise bog down the service desk can be turned into automated workflows, including those that end-users trigger on their own with just a few simple mouse clicks. This results in a much more satisfactory experience for both the end-user as well as the busy IT team.

Day-to-Day Server and App Maintenance

Just because the office is empty doesn’t mean IT isn’t still responsible for meeting their day-to-day expectations. Things like service restarts, app pool rotation, log cleanup, disk space, memory and CPU utilization, etc. must all still be completed in order to prevent, or at least minimize, business disruption. With automation, you can set up workflows that are either scheduled or automatically triggered via an event. Best of all, this can even be done when IT agents are working remotely as well.

On-boarding / Off-boarding

The spread of the Coronavirus may be most ill-timed for incoming or exiting employees, but life goes on, regardless of whether these team members are in the office or working from home. The problem is, onboarding and off-boarding employees is a time consuming process, and as we’ve already established, IT has enough on their plate as it is. Thankfully, the entire onboarding and/or off-boarding workflow can be automatically initiated and completed quickly, eliminating delays and ensuring a more optimized allocation of resources.

Additional pandemic preparedness tips for IT teams:

  • Evaluate the IT supply chain to determine preparedness
  • Implement remote data center management solutions
  • Review and/or implement remote work policies, especially issues regarding BYOD, company-issued equipment, prioritized access and Internet bandwidth capacity
  • If possible, leverage the cloud to mitigate risk
  • Investigate and utilize alternative communications channels (voice, chat, etc.)
  • Leverage web-based video conferencing
  • Decide which business operations requiring heavy resource usage must continue, and which can be postponed
  • Delay/reschedule non-essential IT ops activities
  • Stagger hours of operation and staffing allocation to ease bandwidth demand
  • Reorient IT budget and projects accordingly

Unfortunately, this latest catastrophic health crisis serves as a sobering reminder of just how vulnerable businesses can be to external circumstances. By leveraging the latest technology, like intelligent IT process automation, organizations can keep employees safe and minimize potential impact. And since enabling remote work has been shown to improve productivity, reduce employee turnover and slash operating expenses, companies implementing these policies may find they come out even stronger on the other side.

Ready to strengthen your position and arm yourself for battle against this and future pandemic situations? Start your free 30 day trial of Ayehu NG today!

Your Top Artificial Intelligence Adoption Questions, Answered

According to Gartner, the number of organizations implementing some type of artificial intelligence (i.e. machine learning, deep learning and automation) has grown by 270% over the past four years. One big reason for this boost is the fact that executives and decision makers are beginning to recognize the value that these innovative technologies present.

That’s not to say they’re all on board. Are CEOs getting savvier about AI? Yes. Do they still have questions? Also yes – particularly as it relates to the adoption/deployment process. Let’s take a look at a few of the top questions and answers surrounding the topic of artificial intelligence below, along with some practical advice for getting started.

Is a business case necessary for AI?

Most AI projects are viewed as a success when they further an overarching, predefined goal, when they support the existing culture, when they produce something that the competition hasn’t and when they are rolled out in increments. At the end of the day, it’s really all about perspective. For some, AI is viewed as disruptive and innovative. For others, it might represent the culmination of previous efforts that have laid a foundation.

To answer this question, examine other strategic projects within the company. Did they require business cases? If so, determine whether your AI initiative should follow suit or whether it should be standalone. Likewise, if business cases are typically necessary in order to justify capital expenditure, one may be necessary for AI. Ultimately, you should determine exactly what will happen in the absence of a business case. Will there be a delay in funding? Will there be certain sacrifices?

Should we adopt an external solution or should we code from scratch?

For some companies, artificial intelligence adoption came at the hands of dedicated developers and engineers tirelessly writing custom code. These days, such an effort isn’t really necessary. The problem is, many executives romanticize the process, conveniently forgetting that working from scratch also involves other time-intensive activities, like market research, development planning, data knowledge and training (just to name a few). All of these things can actually delay AI delivery.

Utilizing a pre-packaged solution, on the other hand, can shave weeks or even months off the development timeline, accelerating productivity and boosting time-to-value. To determine which option is right for your organization, start by defining budget and success metrics. You should also carefully assess the current skill level of your IT staff. If human resources are scarce or if time is of the essence, opting for a ready-made solution probably makes the most sense (as it does in most cases).

What kind of reporting structure are we looking at for the AI team?

Another thing that’s always top-of-mind with executives is organizational issues, specifically as they relate to driving growth and maximizing efficiencies. But while this question may not be new, the answer just might be. Some managers may advocate for a formal data science team while others may expect AI to fall under the umbrella of the existing data center-of-excellence (COE).

The truth is, the positioning of AI will ultimately depend on current practices as well as overarching needs and goals. For example, one company might designate a small group of customer service agents to spearhead a chatbot project while another organization might consider AI more of an enterprise service and, as such, designate machine learning developers and statisticians into a separate team that reports directly to the CIO. It all comes down to what works for your business.

To determine the answer to this question, first figure out how competitively differentiating the expected outcome should be. In other words, if the AI effort is viewed as strategic, it might make sense to form a team of developers and subject matter experts with its own headcount and budget. On a lesser scale, siphoning resources from existing teams and projects might suffice. You should also ask what internal skills are currently available and whether it would be wiser to hire externally.

Practical advice for organizations just getting started with AI:

Being successful with AI requires a bit of a balancing act. On one hand, if you are new to artificial intelligence, you want to be cautious about deviating from the status quo. On the other hand, positioning the technology as evolutionary and disruptive (which it certainly is) can be a true game-changer.

In either case, the most critical measures for AI success include setting appropriate and accurate expectations, communicating them continuously and addressing questions and concerns with swiftness and transparency.

A few more considerations:

  • Develop a high-level delivery schedule and do your best to adhere to it.
  • Execution matters, so be sure you’re actually building something and be clear about your plan of delivery.
  • Help others envision the benefits. Does AI promise significant cost reductions? Competitive advantage? Greater brand awareness? Figure out those hot buttons and press them. Often.
  • Explain enough to illustrate in the goal. Avoid vagueness and ambiguity.

Today’s organizations are getting serious about AI in a way we’ve never seen before. The better your team of decision makers understands about how and why it will be rolled out and leveraged, the better your chances of successfully delivering on that value, both now and in the future.

5 Things to Avoid for a Successful Intelligent Automation Rollout

For all the talk we do here at Ayehu about how to make intelligent automation work for your organization, one area we don’t usually cover is how and why these types of projects often fail. Sometimes even though the reason for adopting automation is on target, the outcome isn’t quite what one had hoped for. This can lead to costly double-work and the frustration of having to start over again. To improve the chances of your automation project going off without a hitch, here are the 5 most common mistakes so you’ll know exactly what to avoid.

Focusing on tools and tasks instead of people.

It may seem ironic, particularly given the widespread opinion that artificial intelligence is somehow out to replace humans, but one of the biggest reasons an automation project fails is because it was designed around a task or tool instead of the people who it was ultimately designed to help. The fact is, intelligent automation is meant to streamline operations and make the lives of your IT team better, not worse. Focus on how the project will benefit your human workers and the results will be much greater.

Failing to adequately calculate and communicate ROI.

For an automation project to be carried out successfully, the projected benefits and long-term gains must be determined and demonstrated upfront. This includes taking into account the early costs associated with adopting a platform and helping decision makers understand the time-frame for seeing positive returns. Without this, you risk upper management pulling the plug too early due to lack of results. (If you’re not sure how to calculate ROI on an IT automation project, here’s a helpful guideline.)

Not setting appropriate expectations.

Sometimes an intelligent automation project is deemed a “failure” simply because it did not meet the (often unrealistic) expectations of certain stakeholders. That’s why it’s so important that those in charge of planning, testing and implementing any AI project include communication of the expected time-frame as well as the potential for issues and delays that may inevitably arise. When “the powers-that-be” know what to expect ahead of time, there are no surprises to have to deal with during the process.

Automating broken processes.

Another common cause of an automation project failure occurs when those in charge attempt to automate a process that isn’t working properly in the first place. Not only is this a huge waste of time and resources, but it simply won’t work, which means backtracking, adjustments and a whole host of other delays will ultimately occur. Before starting any automation project, be certain everything you’re planning to automate is relevant and ready.

Not using the right platform.

Just like most things in IT, not every automation platform is created equal. Some organizations fall into the trap of purchasing the cheapest tool they can find only to learn that, as usual, you get what you pay for. Others make the mistake of investing in a product that they think is top-of-the-line, only to discover that it has way more features than they really need, making it a complex waste of money. The key to successfully carrying out an intelligent automation project is to do your research and select a platform that is robust but easy to use and scalable to fit your specific needs.

Thinking about trying automation but not sure where to begin?

Check out these common tasks and processes that can and should be automated and then download your free 30 day trial of Ayehu NG to experience it for yourself.

eBook: 10 time consuming tasks you should automate

ITOps: Best practices to improve performance and service quality

ITOps best practicesThere’s no doubt about it. Intelligent automation is the biggest driver for increasing the overall performance of ITOps and service quality for businesses today. It allows IT management and personnel to streamline their workflows by automating the time consuming day to day tasks that bog them down, allowing technology to do the heavy lifting so they can focus on more important business-critical issues.

Intelligent automation can be applied to almost any pain point your organization may face, from frequent password resets to service restarts to disk space cleanups and much, much more. The key is to begin with a few small things so that the value can be easily identified and then work up to include more complex projects and workflows to utilize automation to its fullest potential.

Best Practices for Systems and IT Operations Managers:

As with anything else in business, there are certain “best practices” that have been established and should be implemented to achieve optimum results with automation. Here is a brief list of guidelines for system and ITOps managers to follow:

  • Pick one or two pain points with value. What simple processes or small tasks are important to your organization but are bogging your team down? Pick points that you can quickly and easily measure the value of once you’re up and running.
  • Once you’ve got your list of pain points, it’s time to sell the value of your automation project to the key decision makers within the organization. Go over the benefits in detail and be prepared to counter any objections and show evidence of projected ROI (try our free ROI calculator). The more prepared you are ahead of time, the better your chances of winning over the “powers that be”.
  • Carefully evaluate available intelligent automation tools to help you choose the right product and then learn as much as you can about the one you choose so that you can truly convey the benefits that it will have for your business operations.
  • Foster IT automation skills within your team. Make it clear to IT personnel that automation isn’t something to fear. That it’s not there to eliminate their jobs, but rather to make them more efficient and productive, and to provide the opportunity to enhance their skills, become more marketable and achieve more growth in their careers.
  • Encourage communication between IT teams and business people. Devops and automation go hand in hand, with the shared goal of bridging the gap between IT personnel and those on the operational end of the technology. For optimum results, a solid relationship built on trust and open communication should be developed and fostered.
  • Develop key performance indicators and measure results. Once you’re up and running with automation, it’s critical that progress is continuously monitored, measured, analyzed and modified accordingly. Develop a list of which performance indicators are most important to your organization and then measure regularly to ensure optimum results.

In summary, organizations that follow these practices will not only increase agility and reliability, but they will also have a more productive, happier staff. ITOps teams that know how to utilize these tools will have more opportunities for growth, both within the workplace and beyond, as demand for these skills continues to grow.

In the end, it’s a triple win: employees, your business and your customers all benefit in multiple ways through automation. So, the question then becomes not “should you automate”, but rather, “why haven’t you started yet?”

eBook: 10 time consuming tasks you should automate

The 7 Secrets of Effective Digital Transformation

If you’ve ever read the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, you’re familiar with the concept of “beginning with the end in mind.” Putting that into context in terms of digital transformation means organizations must determine what their goals are before they begin adopting a ton of shiny new technologies. Unfortunately, many otherwise intelligent business leaders make the mistake of focusing so much on technological innovation that they miss the mark altogether.

This is not to say that technology isn’t a key driver of digital transformation. The problem often lies in a misunderstanding of what digital transformation actually is. According to a recent report by Altimeter, despite the fact that a growing number of enterprises are investing in innovative technologies, the majority of them are still lacking in terms of meeting customer expectations due in large part to a lack of digital literacy. The report also concludes that the main obstacles to achieving the solidarity and collaboration necessary for true, effective and lasting digital change are ego, politics and fear.

When an organization begins with a tech-first approach, it risks missing the point about what digital transformation is truly all about. In many instances, company leaders – CIOs in particular – fall into the trap of attempting to build new technology atop an old and crumbling legacy foundation. There’s an erroneous belief that all it takes to keep up with disruption is continuously adopting the latest and greatest apps and programs. New tech is great, but it must be adopted as a component of the digital transformation process, rather than its fundamental basis.

To demystify the whole digital transformation concept and improve your chances of success, here are a few expert tips to keep in mind.

The human element should be front and center.

Yes, the term is “digital” transformation, but in reality, it’s more about human transformation than anything else. That’s really what’s at the heart of any successful change. Technology is essential, yes, but it’s equally, if not more important that your people are all on the same page and moving together at the right speed. One of the biggest challenges to transforming a business is bringing its workforce up to speed, in particular, getting them current with the skills needed to facilitate change.

Experts unilaterally agree that the key to achieving true digital transformation is having a team of individuals who are curious, motivated by and passionate about the mission. Only then can you successfully usher in the innovative technologies you need to move forward.

A great example of this is Pitney Bowes. Several years ago, the company began initiating a shift to align itself with the changing world of tech. Specifically, they focused on evolving in 10 key areas such as machine learning, analytics, mobile, SaaS and APIs. But while leadership recognized the critical need for a strong technical strategy, they also prioritized the development and implementation of a solid people strategy as well.

The company organized curriculum for each of the 10 key areas of disruption and every one of the 1,200 employees was tasked with immersing themselves in one of those 10 topic areas for a period of one full year. The results have been beneficial to both sides – the company, by enhancing its workforce, and the employees, who have enriched their skills and improved their personal value proposition. Additionally, with staffers becoming subject matter experts in their chosen topics and subsequently collaborating together, many new and valuable relationships have been forged. This is advantageous to everyone involved.

Take the time to really understand your customers.

Ask any business leader what they believe the biggest driver of digital transformation is and they’ll probably cite the evolving behaviors and preferences of their clientele. Yet, according to the Altimeter report, a remarkable few (less than half) actually bother to truly understand their digital customers.

The few that are actually getting it right have done so by taking an outside-in approach. In other words, they take the time to determine what’s missing or broken that can solve a need and then focus their efforts on doing just that, tying in key performance indicators (KPIs) and ROI to demonstrate success. Rather than looking at internal processes, these innovators examine the customer experience first to identify opportunities to add value.

The key takeaway? If you aren’t meeting what your customers want or need, your efforts to achieve digital transformation will inevitably fall short and you will risk being left behind. The best technology, the best policies and procedures, the best laid plans – none of that will matter if the end result doesn’t make the lives of your clientele easier. That’s the end result that should be your focus from day one.

Establish new teams.

Spearheading digital transformation shouldn’t be a side project. If you want it done right, you need to have a team of individuals who are 100% dedicated to the cause. Teams should be made up of various people with different strengths and diverse backgrounds. For instance, you might have a project manager, a lead developer and someone who is focused on the customer experience. You could then supplement this with members from other roles, such as QA, development, ops and finance.

When an idea for a new initiative arises, the team’s job should be bringing it to fruition – at least to some degree – as quickly as possible. It’s not about achieving perfection right away. Digital transformation involves evolution, which means your team should be ready to go through a cycle of development – try things out, assess how they work and then adapt and improve accordingly. This agile methodology may require a paradigm shift, which is why it’s so important to have a dedicated team.

Cultivate collaboration as you deploy technology.

As mentioned, digital transformation isn’t entirely about technology. Yes, technology is a critical component, but it takes people to really achieve successful change, and that requires ongoing collaboration. Trailblazing ideas, sharing best practices, building a community – these things drive innovation and continuous improvement.

Use Pitney Bowes as an example once again. While they were designing their curricula around their 10 targeted technology areas, leadership also hosted global innovation roundtables to enhance collaboration efforts. As a result, they were able to identify cases in which there were common problems with their integration, delivery and operational practices. This enabled a fast and effective resolution across the board. Furthermore, because of the improved collaboration, workers acknowledged feeling much more engaged, as opposed to being just another “cog in the wheel.”

Don’t give in to the resistance.

It’s human nature to fear change, and that fear often manifests itself as resistance amongst workers. Logically speaking, the larger the enterprise, the greater the push back is likely to be. If you want to successfully shift to a digital ecosystem, you simply cannot let the naysayers get you down.

That’s not to say you should steamroll over them and ignore their concern. It’s more about your approach. Over communication and clear articulation, not just about what is happening, but how and most importantly, why, is key. It’s also important to develop a group of early adopters and innovators – those who embrace the proposed changes, as they can become your champions.

At the end of the day, digital transformation is really about people transformation.

Think like a startup.

As organizations become larger, greater divides between various groups and departments begin to occur. This results in silos of information, which can hinder communication and the ability to collaborate effectively.

To avoid this, try to adopt more of a startup mentality – one that focuses on operating nimbly and making sure that projects are being carried out in the correct way. Be cognizant of any walls and barriers that exist and focus on eliminating those and encouraging unilateral communication across the board. Encourage teams, departments and divisions to work closely together with a goal of making strategic decisions more quickly and rolling out smaller changes faster.

Take a bottoms up approach.

According to the aforementioned Altimeter survey, only 40% of the companies polled say their digital transformation initiative is overseen by an executive-mandated steering committee. Getting buy-in from the C-suite is certainly important, but how you go about doing so can make all the difference in the world.

Many organizations have had tremendous success by flipping the typical top-down narrative to more of a bottoms up approach. In other words, they focus on obtaining buy-in from all levels of hierarchy within, bringing together a diverse group of workers to collaborate together to create a digital transformation strategy.

This provides the opportunity to go through checks and balances to determine what makes the most sense and is directionally appropriate. Only when every ‘I’ is dotted and every ‘T’ crossed is the strategy presented to the C-suite for approval.

Conclusion

Is technology an important part of digital transformation? Of course. But if that’s all you’re focused on, you will inevitably come up short. Instead, focus on the people and policies that matter most, get all your ducks in a row and start with the end in mind. Do so and your organization can be counted among the success stories.

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