Heading for stressful times? Here’s how to get ahead of them

The current economic situation is looking precarious. The impact of events like the pandemic and the war in Ukraine are affecting markets, and has led to predictions of recession. How can IT teams plan ahead for these kinds of trends – are there steps that companies can take to prepare in advance? And is this about the technology, the people, or the process that you work through?

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Reading the news today can be stressful. In the UK, consumer prices rose by 7.8% during April 2022 according to the Office for National Statistics, and inflation may hit 14% by the end of the year. The US Bureau for Labor Statistics saw a similar rise of 8.3% over a twelve-month period.

Why should we care about this in IT? Because these statistics are leading indicators for recession. Deutsche Bank has predicted recession in 2023, while other investment banks also see a huge slowdown in global markets. The Bank of England increased interest rates to 1%, a move which may see recession hit in late 2022.

For IT professionals, this macro-economic data may seem miles away from the day-to-day issues of keeping assets working and supporting the business. But the business side will be affected by all those moves, which will lead to tough choices around IT as well. For IT professionals at around 8% of companies, inflation rises are an ‘existential risk’ to their businesses, based on a research initiative by JumpCloud and Propeller Insights. Just over 31% said that rises in inflation would have a serious impact on their success.

Planning ahead is therefore a necessary step - already, 26% of IT professionals say their companies are taking part in recession planning, according to our research, while 33% are considering their next steps.

What does recession planning look like?

For those actively thinking about potential future economic changes, IT is an area where decisions have to be made. For example, many IT projects aim to improve company efficiency and support greater productivity, yet at the same time the IT department can be a significant line item on the budget. Any department with staff and capital commitments will naturally attract attention for cuts in the budget.

IT is under increasing stress to deliver too. All the work during the pandemic is catching up with teams, as nearly 60% of IT professionals stated that they were somewhat or very overwhelmed according to our research. There are problems with finding staff too, which puts even more pressure on teams that are in place. The risk of losing talented people is something that should not be underestimated.

In response to this, planning ahead is important to make it through difficult times. While finding the right staff to fill gaps is essential, teams can consider using automation to take care of tasks that would otherwise take up time.

For example, one of the most common and most important requirements around IT is patching. Every month, a slew of new patches will need to be applied. For systems administrators and IT managers, getting updates tested and implemented is one of those necessary tasks that takes time, effort and internal diplomacy. The impact of a missed patch can be severe - the continued rise of ransomware attacks proves that - but the effort needed to patch well over time is huge. Automating patch management can make it easier for stretched internal teams to get the job done, and to report on how well those processes are being followed.

Similarly, automating some of the processes around security using zero touch can help. With more remote and hybrid working in place, applying the right security rules and managing user identities requires more work. Previously, 63% of IT professionals thought their companies were overspending on tools to make remote work secure. Reducing this cost while keeping the right level of security in place will involve looking at consolidation to reduce the number of tools involved, and how to cut the amount of time spent on managing these implementations.

Another area for savings can come through improving reporting on what needs to be done. There will always be a backlog of tasks to carry out, so prioritising what is necessary versus what can be postponed or solved later can help the IT team manage workload more effectively. This is not a substitute for getting those tasks done, and they should not be put off indefinitely. Instead, better reporting on things like security status, patch updates, fixes needed, and the like can provide a whole picture of what is on the internal IT team’s plate.

Helping the team, not just cutting costs

In these stressful times, it is not just about finding the next opportunity to cut costs on individual tasks. The other challenge is how to use IT staff time more effectively, and not just as an excuse to take on more work. Planning ahead and looking at processes should be an opportunity to improve the whole approach, rather than a piecemeal exercise to save small amounts of time or budget.

Improving the situation means talking to each other about what results are needed and what is most important to the business, but also around smarter ways to achieve those goals over time. A good example of this is service consolidation. Using multiple different tools to accomplish different tasks separately can rack up more spending for separate licenses, compared to using a smaller number of tools or a single platform to accomplish the same goals.

This can provide an opportunity to cut down on overall licensing spend, and then use that same budget to support the team. This approach should also benefit from more integration and automation, compared to relying on your team to do that work manually.

Another approach is to take on a managed service provider (MSP) to back up the team. For companies that have previously shied away from using external services, finding a good MSP for support resources on a ‘pay for what you need’ model can be appealing. This can add more of a safety net for your internal staff, as long as this is seen as supporting them rather than as potential replacement. Any sense of competition between internal and external staff is more likely to lead to resentment and defensiveness, leading to more cost spent over time rather than less.

The most important consideration here is not just how to cut costs out of your team, which is usually a euphemism for getting rid of staff. Instead, the main goal should be how to understand business needs and priorities for the future. Should you keep the same model in place to deliver on those needs, or should you redesign your process to get the same result in a different way? What can make your budget go further and display more of a return on investment, either through more productivity or cutting costs elsewhere?

Thinking ahead on these issues is essential if you want to be prepared. There may be tough times around the corner. By looking at your goals as part of a wider business context, you can defend your decisions and help the rest of the business meet their aims too.

Tom Bridge is Principal Product Manager at JumpCloud where he leads development around Apple-focused technologies. He is also a Producer of the Mac Admins Podcast and Co-Chair of the Mac Admins Foundation. Prior to joining JumpCloud, Tom led service delivery for managed service providers working with customers on their technology and IT strategies.