Working Remotely in the Age of COVID-19: How Service Management Makes It Easier—and Safer

Posted by on March 25, 2020

Service Management Makes Remote Work Easier

As everyone now working in their home office or at their kitchen table now knows, everyday life has changed dramatically since the outbreak of COVID-19. One of the most significant changes is the requirement by both companies and governments that most or even all employees work remotely instead of onsite.

We’re talking big numbers here: prior to the outbreak, 43 percent of U.S. employees worked remotely with some frequency and 69 percent of U.S. employers offered remote work to at least some employees. While current data on the extent of remote work isn’t yet available, it’s safe to assume that the numbers have materially risen and likely will continue to go up.

This points both clearly and directly to the need for effective IT service management. But according to Matt Klassen, vice president of product marketing at Cherwell Software, the jump in demand for remote access is a double-edged sword for ITSM.

On one hand, Klassen says, “It exposes the fact that only a small minority of companies—we estimate 10 to 20 percent—are successfully deploying automated ITSM to support their workforces. But on the other hand, we’re seeing automated ITSM platforms thrive under the stress of COVID-19 by enabling these companies to provide cutting-edge remote capabilities.”

It’s All About the User Experience

The first principle of ITSM optimization is to make the user experience as simple and smooth as possible. Since most users in the COVID-19 remote-work scenario are employees, this means designing the platform to deliver both what employees want—and need—and how they’d prefer to receive it. Self-service, automation, and omnichannel accessibility are vital.

It’s incumbent on IT leadership to assume responsibility for the user experience. IT leaders must solicit employee input and use it as the foundation of platform design. The result should facilitate collaboration and innovation even though employees aren’t physically near their colleagues.

An HR Perspective

Kim Osoba is unusually qualified to discuss the benefits of ITSM for remote users. She uses Cherwell’s platform as the company’s director of talent and organizational effectiveness, and she sees how other companies use it in her role as head of marketing to human resources departments.

Osoba knows that an effective platform is built on data—its automated collection, categorization, and analysis—and gives HR teams the information they need to make decisions. In the COVID-19 remote environment, she notes, the platform is especially important because it allows HR to manage not only the establishment of network connectivity at home, but also the internal resources employees need to access, communications about the company’s response to the virus, and the allocation of HR staff to address related issues as they arise.

ITSM can automate the entire process of reporting virus exposure to the company and even track affected employees’ movements in the workplace. This saves HR precious time in the race to notify others who may have encountered an exposed employee, alert all employees, and disseminate relevant protocols and procedures.

One of an ITSM platform’s key HR functions is to serve as a virtual library covering all kinds of company-related topics that employees should, want, or, especially given current circumstances, need to know about. Known as a knowledge portal or knowledge center, this function can be automated to constantly update and upload COVID-19 information and make it available with just a few clicks. Requests for information can be sorted and routed to the right people in seconds, which often results in nearly immediate responses—and satisfied users.

The more advanced knowledge portals allow users to search for information using keywords and customize the responses for departments, business lines, and geographies. Importantly, these portals present search results in order of relevance, unlike those available in the majority of platforms that present results in random order and aren’t designed for ease of use.

Osoba points out that sophisticated platforms tend to offer HR departments—and the rest of the company, for that matter—several other advantages. “They have built-in flexibility for users both to create their own templates and processes and to adjust the platform as necessary to meet their changing requirements,” she says. “They’re codeless, which allows most users to quickly revise the system and can save huge amounts of time because coders and software engineers aren’t needed to make changes. And finally, they’re scalable, meaning that they can easily handle the addition of hundreds or thousands of new remote users.”

In a real-world example of scalability, a leading technical university recently faced a capacity challenge when it told students and most staff to stay away from campus and work remotely to protect against COVID-19 infection. Chris Chagnon, an IT service management architect at the university, says that its ITSM platform more than met the challenge.

As Chagnon describes it, “Our period of highest platform demand is usually the first week of the fall semester, when everyone’s arriving on campus and getting plugged into our system. But in just a few days in March, when the university announced that everyone had to leave campus and work online, we saw unprecedented demand as students, faculty, and staff simultaneously requested remote access. The platform easily absorbed the explosion in service tickets. It was impressive.”

The Security Angle

Security is always a priority for IT networks, and even more so as COVID-19 forces users to work remotely. Not all of those users are internal, though, which underscores the need for strict network security.

Dan DeRosa is chief product officer for BeyondTrust, a provider of access privilege tools that often reside under the umbrella of the Cherwell ITSM platform. He cites three representative security use-cases that arise when companies go remote. The cases vary based on whether users work inside or outside the company.

Inside only. A straightforward case in which an employee switches to remote-only and needs secure access to information and assets on the company’s network. This, of course, is more important now than even before.

Inside to outside. A customer support representative can no longer visit her customers at their locations and must support them remotely. Both parties must use the representative’s network to conduct business with each other, meaning that customers need secure access.

Outside to inside. A field technician for a company’s vendor fixes machines at a company facility. Normally, the technician services the machines in person, but now must do it remotely. He must use the company’s network to gain electronic access to the machines, diagnose and repair them, and communicate with the employees involved—who themselves are remote. As in the preceding scenario, the technician needs secure network access.

In all of these cases, the company’s ITSM platform is the entry point for secure access to its network. DeRosa sees several significant benefits from using the platform remotely. The first is that it fosters greater employee productivity. This aligns with a finding from the State of Remote Work 2019 study that higher productivity is one of the top reasons employees cite for wanting to work remotely.

Additional benefits include cost savings as measured by money and time, efficiencies achieved by leaner work processes. and improved ability to optimize overall management of a company’s business.

When Time Is of the Essence

When a critical event such as a disease outbreak, natural disaster, or network outage occurs, companies must be prepared to respond quickly. Not doing so can be very expensive: research by the Ponemon Institute estimates the average cost of an unplanned outage, for example, at $8,851 per minute, which works out to $531,000 per hour, $12.7 million per day, and so on.

In short, time is of the essence in dealing with COVID-19. An ITSM platform should offer superior rapid-response capability.

This is perhaps most crucial when the event occurs and the affected company must urgently identify and locate the employees with the right skills and expertise to resolve the immediate issue. According to Vincent Geffray, senior director of product marketing for Everbridge (whose software helps companies manage critical events and works on Cherwell’s platform), this also is the most time-consuming step in the response process.

“Finding the right people is often difficult for larger companies, where the people can be separated by geography, time zone, and language, and sometimes they’re simply not physically available,” notes Geffray. “These days, they might even be quarantined by COVID-19. Our research indicates that the average time to find the right people is 45 to 60 minutes under normal conditions. An ITSM platform must be able to dramatically reduce that period not only because time is money, but also because doing so can streamline the event response and accelerate resolution.”

In Sum: A Powerful Tool

A well-designed ITSM platform can be a powerful tool as companies increasingly turn to remote work to grapple with COVID-19. While we’ve discussed the platform’s capabilities specifically with regard to HR functions, network security, and rapid response, it’s clear that the platform can be similarly effective in nearly any other area of a company’s business. In the next blog post, we’ll take a look at the specific experiences some companies are having.

To find out more about how Cherwell can help, please contact us.

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