Next Slide Please: The challenge of providing IT Support in 2020
‘Pandemic’ may be the Oxford-Webster word of the year, but IT teams will probably have several alternatives. Candidates include Microsoft Teams and Zoom, also acronyms such as VPN and WFH (Work from Home) and phrases such as “Next Slide Please” (we did wonder why they wouldn’t trust Chris Whitty and others with a clicker?)
January and February seem like a lifetime ago but back then we were in the final phases of planning to replace a clients Windows 7 Desktops and another client was deploying laptops to all of its users. We would get the laptop deployment finished by the end of February (how prescient was that) and then start on the desktops to move onto the Server upgrade at the end of March/April. But then Coronavirus hit. We started working from home on March 16th (a week before Boris went on TV to tell us all to stay at home), I remember it well as it was my birthday! I got in, I got presented with a cupcake and then told we were working from home. We’d all seen the pictures on TV of Italy and Spain and it seemed only a matter of time until it came to our shores.
We’d had hints of what was coming in terms of IT equipment, stocks of webcams and headsets were already low through our normal suppliers and distributors (and even now aren’t back to normal it seems). My sister wanted a second monitor for her home office and I remember walking into PC World walking past a guy carrying about 6 walking the other way.
So we picked up our desk phones and headed home – we’d meant to have had new laptops by then, but with China so affected early in January that had impacted our normal supply lines so I was relying on my trusty MacBook to remote onto my desktop machine and doing support from there. The Desktop phone was plugged into my home network, and it was just as if it was back in the office. We’d been using Teams just before this hit, but suddenly it was our primary means of communication.
Those first two weeks our time mostly consisted of setting up new Teams tenants whilst learning and using the software ourselves. Zoom also entered our orbit as some clients wanted assistance in installing and using that. We’d seen Teams start to pick up towards the end of 2019 and moving into 2020. It had started to accelerate even since Microsoft announced Skype for Business was being phased out in the middle of 2021. It didn’t help matters when it promptly went down in a series of blackouts across Europe (in a process that would occur again).
Zoom was a new one on us professionally, but I would become more used to as I started to play more and more remote escape rooms. Having used various remote video platforms, Zoom impressed again and again. Its take-up was used far and wide, even appearing in a picture of a conference call for MP’s (with some compromising information that was soon taken down). It’s been interesting to see Teams and Zoom both try and copy and improve on each other’s best features.
The first couple of weeks of working from home were frenetic and then hush descended… April passed by with barely a murmur; we’d totally paused our ongoing project work, and were mainly handling day-to-day support calls which was a lot of how to install and use VPN, and helping users adjust to life at home (quite a few users we know just picked up their desktop PC’s and took them home). Data Centres were locked down unless in case of extreme need.
All of our roadmap for 2020 was suddenly thrown into the trash as we would all watch the nightly press briefings from Downing Street. April would turn into May would turn into June and then July and then August. We would still carry on working from home whilst we worked through the guidelines that would enable us to work from the office once more. With the first relaxation of the lockdown, we were then able to return to the office and look at site visits once more to try and carry on project-based work we’d started back in February.
Looking back, with all of the tools at our disposal (such as Teams, Zoom, Sharepoint, Dropbox, OneDrive, RDP (Remote Desktop), etc.) we often mused how difficult this would have been even 5 years ago. One of our clients had recently ditched their physical phones and everyone had a softphone on their new laptops, and this seemed to work incredibly well in practice.
There’s been a lot of comment about how things won’t go back to how they were and I think there is some truth in that. There’s no denying Working From Home has been embraced by some people, no commute, fewer distractions but arguably you do lose something by a lack of colleague interaction. Even now, having easy to use video conferencing feels like something from science fiction, and we can even do it on our phones! It also made businesses (including SME’s) look at their business continuity plans, and see where the flaws were that might not have been discovered before this.
2020 was the year that shook the world, but it was resilient infrastructure and IT that kept it going. Remember that the next time you curse the IT guy for not getting your printer working…
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