World crises – whether they’re inflicted by war, nature, economic turbulence or the current pandemic – often catalyze new ways of doing business. With the COVID-19 crisis, businesses’ working patterns are evolving to accommodate social-distancing requirements, with many signs pointing to an elongated shift to remote work.
A recent Gartner survey reveals 82% of businesses will allow employees to continue working remotely even when they open their offices back up for business, and 47% will allow employees to work remotely full-time going forward.
This workplace upheaval has called into question the role of traditional on-premise IT support. We’re hearing our clients ask two pertinent questions: Should we downsize the team and adopt remote IT support models? Or is there an alternative to doing so?
The fact is, with enhanced health concerns and social distancing norms, the IT support vehicles that gained popularity in the last decade, like walk-in help desks and tech bars, are now giving way to remote support for work-from-home employees (even new hires) and a contactless workplace model for the physical workspace.
In a contactless workplace, businesses employ desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) models, moving critical computing activities and data storage to cloud-enabled platforms and capitalizing on bring-your-own/choose-your-own device models. End-user device provisioning is being simplified via automated, cloud-based setup and pre-configuration, using tools such as Microsoft Autopilot. Businesses are also streamlining device management through direct shipments from the factory to the end user. Needed peripherals are being provided through safe dispensers like vending machines and digital lockers. In such an environment, only a few vital support personnel would be needed.
The Proliferation of IoT
In our view, however, this shouldn’t mean the demise of the on-site IT support staff. These workers can play a key role in implementing and supporting the safe workspaces being created as part of a return-to-work strategy. With the need to comply with safe building practices and Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) regulations, businesses are turning to Internet of Things (IoT) to implement everything from thermal screening devices at building entrances, to contact-tracing apps for safe zoning, to assessing occupancy density and enabling real-time crowd management and alerts. In the near future, organizations will establish dashboards for CXOs, human resources and facilities management workers to detect anomalies and reveal other insights for a successful return-to-work strategy.
Such solutions can be created by adapting existing smart-building platforms to integrate data from various building management systems, integrated workplace management systems, service management and enterprise systems. This integrated view of facilities and assets enables organizations to efficiently monitor critical insights and respond to risks based on data related to human body temperature, occupancy sensors, physical distancing, hand sanitization compliance and air quality tracking.
A Pragmatic and Balanced Approach
On-site IT support personnel are the employees who are best positioned to support these newly implemented safe-building and IoT-enabled solutions. Desktop support personnel can be retrained and realigned to manage these solutions and ensure the health and monitoring of on-premise IoT devices. Key areas for reskilling include the usage and management of smart sensors, data flows, remote monitoring, firmware upgrades and various cloud services such as Azure and AWS.
Post-pandemic, there will continue to be an immense need for today’s IT support personnel to continue functioning as IoT-specialized professionals, from installing, tracking and managing sensors to fixing malfunctioning IoT devices. Opportunities abound in retail IoT, medical devices IoT and industrial IoT areas, all of which share the basic fundamentals of the needed work.
We urge organizations to do the following to prepare for this scenario:
- Plan for contactless workplace technologies for a safer end-user experience.
- Invest in IoT-enabled safe buildings to plan for employees’ return to the workplace.
- Strategize on upskilling IT personnel to seamlessly manage this transformation.
By doing so, many of the IT support personnel who have long served the organization can be redeployed to new and vital roles.
Amid the devastation caused by the pandemic, it is a bright spot to see how the trends toward contactless workplaces and safe buildings will intertwine, presenting an opportunity for people by transforming their jobs and supporting a new way to work.
Prashanth Sathu, Solutions Architect, DWP, contributed to this blog.
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