Written by Jeff Elliott
As the more immediate impact of mandated shutdowns, employee layoffs and shelter-in-place orders begin to shift to the longer-term goals of recovering from the economic impact, companies will be forced to re-evaluate the role of Information Technology (IT).
For many companies, that means a reevaluation of IT priorities, budget expenditures and also a drive to adopt new technologies to mitigate the impact of future viruses. Cybersecurity also remains a concern, given that it is an ever-present risk, and a disruption due to being hacked on top of the current coronavirus impact could be fatal for even the largest corporations.
The one thing that is certain is the coronavirus pandemic will permanently change consumer behavior and corporate decision-making, says Eric Brackett, president of BTI Communications Group, a technology convergence provider serving the health care, logistics and aerospace sectors.
“Companies previously focused on IT projects that were strategic to their business will now be looking more to automate existing processes, reduce infrastructure costs and protect against future disruptions,” says Brackett.
Not only that, but they will have to improve the reliability, security and quality of network and cloud services, while also reducing costs to offset declining revenue and margins and to free up budget for innovation.
“Even if demand increases in the coming months, it may only be 70% of what it was so there will be pressure to lower prices and cut costs,” explains Brackett. “At the same time, customers will still expect 100% quality in service.”
Given the challenges, Brackett says he foresees the following trends in 2020 for IT once the worst of the crisis has passed:
Move to IT Managed Services
To start, Brackett expects that cutbacks in spending will impact in-house IT and infrastructure. As a result, more companies will be inclined to explore outsourced IT services from technology integrators that can install and manage a combination of phone (VoIP), physical security and network systems.
“For a reasonable cost, IT managed services can immediately step in and provide a solution that will allow a company to maintain operations, help desks and even the infrastructure if needed,” says Brackett.
This approach adds a layer of security at a time in which companies feel very vulnerable — making changes to IT departments. “Most companies are very insecure about changing IT staff or providers because they don’t have a clear idea exactly what their staff was doing, what was installed and how secure the system is,” says Brackett.
Failing to secure IT systems immediately can have severe consequences, as well. For example, if a customer list is accidentally erased or cannot be accessed, proprietary information is not protected against hacking or the company is unable to process credit cards.
Cyber security also remains a top-level concern and can be improved with the help of a top-shelf IT managed service to protect against hacking, fraudulent transfers, malware and ransomware demands, as well as concerns related to certain hardware made in China such as security cameras and phones.
“Active monitoring and response to potential cybersecurity breaches and abnormal behavior powered by artificial intelligence is available from third party technology providers now for a fraction of the cost of monitoring it internally,” says Brackett.
Infection Control at Commercial Facilities
Infection Control — even at corporate offices — may become part of the “new normal” in corporate environments and other commercial operations such as universities, logistics centers and the like.
According to Brackett, this will be driven by an inevitable wave of new federal and state regulations post-coronavirus. “When the current crisis is over, politicians are going to enact all types of regulations to ensure this won’t happen again,” explains Brackett.
The good news is much of the technology required already exists and is being implemented in heavily regulated industries where security, infection control, visitor controls and access control systems are currently installed.
Aerospace and defense, for example, already audit the comings and goings of visitors: infection and biocontamination controls are utilized in hospitals and clinics; and sanitation precautions are demanded by the FDA in food processing plants.
“Technology integrators already provide the technology for those facilities and it can be installed in an office too,” says Brackett. “For our customers that already had these types of systems, it literally took a few keystrokes to make adjustments and change the protocols for the coronavirus.”
Restricting Flow of Traffic
Corporate offices and other facilities that once allowed free movement of personnel, visitors and facility maintenance/construction personnel may opt to enact much tighter restrictions on access to the building or specific areas to prevent the spread of future viruses or guard against a return of the coronavirus. In many ways, this would mirror the infection control practices in the same manner as hospitals and clinics.
“That kind of technology is already prevalent in hospitals,” says Brackett. “There are established rules about how employees and patients can move through the facility. In hospitals, there are medication rooms that only approved personnel can access. There are infectious disease wards where access is restricted.”
To screen visitors and facility maintenance personnel prior to entry to ensure they are not actively carrying a virus, spot temperature monitoring devices such as infrared thermal cameras could be installed.
“Industry standard thermal cameras already exist that can measure a person’s temperature. If a human being has a temperature of 101 or higher, for example, security could be notified and that person would be escorted from the entrance and denied access. This could apply to anyone entering, including employees, visitors, contractors and delivery people.”
Once inside, place like conference rooms could be equipped with high definition security cameras and access control systems to limit the number of people, whether for social distancing, compliance or security.
For example, a system could be designed to utilize access control readers and door locks to track the number of people that have entered the room. A notification by text or e-mail along with a screenshot of the images of the person entering would be sent to a compliance desk. If more than the prescribed number of people were in the room, access would be denied until others left.
Price Transparency, Lower Costs
Given the expected cutbacks, IT technology integrators will also have to offer these services at a much lower cost than in-house staff and infrastructure, with full transparency of all fees and charges. In other words, a much higher level of overall accountability will be required when it comes to pricing.
The good news is that although technology integrators sound like a high-end service with a commensurate price tag, that is not the case. An integrated approach with the best-of-breed solutions on the market delivers economies of efficiency and scale that are often passed on to the customer.
When engaging with a managed IT service provider, customers need to know what they are paying for with contracts that clearly spell out each installed product, feature, and support item or service they are purchasing.
“Technology integrators should bear the cost of providing an initial assessment of the company’s needs,” says Brackett. “The bid should itemize the costs for equipment and support. It should also anticipate future upgrade paths in order to provide transparency to future expenses. In this way, a customer knows their initial, ongoing and upgrade costs and can budget accordingly.”
For more information on BTI Communications Group, please call 1-800-HELPBTI
Jeff Elliott is a Torrance, Calif.-based technical writer. He has researched and written about industrial technologies and issues for the past 20 years.