The Covid-19 effect
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected Ameren much the same way it affected other large, Fortune 500 companies. We too have experienced a sudden need to facilitate work-from-home (WFH) conditions for a significant number of our staff; we’ve seen a spike in the number of people that require access to VPN, to videoconferencing capabilities; we’ve even gone through hiring and onboarding new employees exclusively online.
As a critical services provider we’ve had to do all these things since we have a huge number of people depending on us for essentials like power and heating. It’s safe to say that this whole period has been very challenging, and we’ve had to do a lot of learning on the go in order to be able to ensure business goes on as usual. The pandemic has been called an unprecedented event and I agree. It is not something for which we’d planned extensively. Certainly, we run tabletop exercises regularly and have a good understanding of what to do when some segment of our energy network goes down. After all, we deal with disruptions all the time as a utilities company.
But these events are usually temporary, whereas now the crisis had become the state of affairs. It’s like a thunderstorm that’s been going on for a couple of months, at this point. So it was this change in the duration variable that challenged us to the top of our ability, and I am happy to say we managed to successfully ensure the same level of engagement and productivity even within this new WFH paradigm. I’d mention here that timely investments running up to the breakout of the pandemic and well-designed processes played a key role in this.
The future post-Covid-19
So what does the future post-Covid-19 hold for organizations and the EA teams that help to steer them during both calm and crisis times? Personally, I look at recent events as a very important driver for future changes in the core preoccupations of management teams and, implicitly, of architects too. I believe once overlooked areas will now be given proper attention. Some of these rising topics are:
Work from home
This one is really obvious. It used to be right up until very recently that you had to be in the same room with other people in order to work on something, to be productive. Well, look at the world now. So many employees are going about their business – developing, testing, talking to colleagues, talking to clients etc. – from their own homes. I don’t know whether they all like it or not, some probably do, some don’t, and some don’t mind it either way. But the point is business is still carried out, even if it originates in a small office, living room, or kitchen, what have you. My thinking is that at least some of these people will wish to carry on working from home when all of this is over and their companies might find that it’s not such a bad thing, actually. Therefore, I definitely see WFH growing in popularity.
Resilience, business continuity and high availability
Furthermore, I also see the role of architecture increasing as the lessons of Covid-19 settle in and business leaders start to take more seriously such low probability, high impact events. A big takeaway that I think will be engraved into people’s minds will be the need for resilience, which will place a spotlight on business continuity, high availability and fault tolerance as part of everyday planning. You can think of this as before-the-fact planning, as opposed to after the fact. Does this mean that preparation lacked in the past? No, but before Covid-19 it was rather commonplace to encounter lax attitudes around this, i.e. “We’ll take care of that planning when we have more time and resources, it’s not a pressing matter anyway”. I foresee this not being the case anymore.
Performance management is yet another element of the story going forward. As digital is becoming the main medium for interacting, buying, prospecting and so on, its performance (both on the maintenance and development sides) will garner higher scrutiny. Think about it. Digital has become the main medium, one could say. Call centers can’t hope to compete with it at the very least in terms of scaling; other business capabilities too may be hindered due to resources allocation, or downright physical limitations (think of in-store scenarios).
Digital offers the best path forward, overall. But what happens to our digital experience when we see a huge spike in traffic? How do our applications and services handle this traffic? Or, more down to earth, how does our digital customer experience look like? Look at society now, at the moment this is more important than ever. So organizations need to design apps for high availability and high performance as a mainstream practice. Make it a point to design, build and tune our systems for high load.
Other things come to mind as well. For instance, automation, understanding technical debt, or even self-support. I personally expect that these will all become a more frequent topic of discussion, so to speak. They have to. They all have a role to play in effective crisis management. I talk about all of these in the recent BiZZdesign podcast, go ahead and have a listen if you missed it.
Covid-19 was a wake-up call. It showed what happens when you are (not) prepared and the market will undoubtedly take notice. The bottom line is that work practices will change with organizations likely becoming more accommodating towards employees interested in working from home. What’s more, with digital becoming a critical component of doing business, we can expect broader and more in-depth planning to occur around it.
I think across all industries people will be looking into integrating more and more of their business into the digital realm. This will automatically generate extra attention being paid to how an organization’s systems and processes are geared towards supporting business continuity during crises. We’ve likely not seen the end of such globally disruptive events, so high quality planning and intelligent investments are key.