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Open for business (just working from home)

Justin Langford

More than one third of the World’s population is under lockdown.  We’re living through extraordinary times, with a severe threat to global health, leading to extreme pressure on our healthcare system and we haven't yet started to understand the economic impact.

We're experiencing wartime-like measures – all restaurants and most shops are closed;  flights are grounded and movement restricted to essential travel only.  While we don’t yet have ration books, the effect is similar as customers queue to enter supermarkets and purchases of certain items are limited.  Not only are retailers limiting flow of customers into their stores, demand is so high they’re also forcing customers to queue online using virtual concierge to restrict website admission.

The measures were brought close to home this week as many of us should have been speaking, exhibiting and attending SQLBits, the largest Microsoft data conference outside the USA.  The conference was scheduled to be hosted at the ExCel centre in London, which has recently been adapted to a 4,000 bed hospital specifically to tackle Coronavirus.

Modern business happens anywhere

We are fortunate at Coeo in being a modern cloud-based business, therefore we were able to swiftly transition to fulltime home working, with zero impact to our clients and service delivery.  We knew our technology and approach works because we use this approach to deliver projects and support our clients every day.

We decided to transition our whole team to remote working more than one week earlier than required by the UK Government.  We felt this was important to protect our team, their families and our clients.  For many of our clients, we provide a necessary function and our commitment to service continuity drove our early decision to work from home.

Culture eats strategy

There’s a famous quote by Peter Drucker that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.  The importance of culture has never been more pertinent than at a time of change.  As part of our ISO27001 certification, we carry out business continuity exercises and have simulated our office being unavailable.  Everyone has worked from home successfully, however, it’s quite a different proposition for the entire organisation to work from home, week after week. 

What we do hasn’t changed,

we’ve just adapted how we do it.

I am really proud of the Coeo team and their response by adapting and innovating.  Many of our team find themselves with young children at home; they’re working flexibly, managing family needs and Coeo activities, side by side.  Everyone is understanding, supportive and has adjusted as needed.  We have regular "afternoon tea" catch-ups with quizzes and challenges, online games nights and regular all-hands meetings.  We’ve celebrated birthdays of our teammates children and on-boarded a new member of staff remotely.  While it is different from usual, we’ve made it work, made it fun and most of all, everyone is safe. 

Better shape for future

Together with many of our clients, we’re determined to use this opportunity to our advantage by developing new skills, progressing initiatives that didn’t have focus and ensuring we exit this period in better shape than we entered.  We all have the same number of hours every day; how we use this time varies and now is an opportunity to grow.  Many of us have eliminated our daily commute time, creating a significant opportunity to get fit, spend time with family or learn a new skill.

How we’re helping clients

Microsoft UK has published a great paper on Supporting Resilient Operations which outlines ten solution areas supporting businesses transition to remote operations.  I thought it might be useful to outline five areas where we’re currently helping our clients achieve more:

  1. Maximising people capacity – we have helped IT teams who have capacity, grow their Azure skills, helping them design, optimise and manage a modern cloud data architecture. We’re publishing our own internal training content to our customer Portal, unlocking free training to many Dedicated Support clients.
  2. Optimise your Azure spend – we’re helping organisations analyse their Azure bill, delivering cost savings by buying right as well as right-sizing workloads. Also through tuning and optimisation to ensure the right performance when needed, and the best cost at all times.
  3. PowerApps – whether known or mostly unseen, organisations use paper processes in some areas of their operations. The fragility of these processes surfaces quickly when remote working, and we’re working on projects delivering PowerApps and  Cognitive Services to automate, streamline document handling, enabling remote collaboration.
  4. Operational resilience – we’re increasingly helping organisations deliver service continuity through our specialist expertise. In many cases we do this by providing 24x7 support cover or helping resolve a specific issue through our consultancy services.
  5. PaaS Migration –  on the theme of optimising Azure spend, we regularly help businesses mature their data platform, increasing flexibility and reducing spend by modernising their applications to Platform as a Service (PaaS).

Great lessons endure

I’m hopeful some of the lessons we learn during this event will endure.  We’ve made many adjustments, found new ways of working together and with clients and I’m confident many of these position us well.  We’re excited and looking forward to SQLBits at ExCel in September – our sprit won’t be dampened, in fact our sessions will be better and fancy dress costumes will be brighter!  Whenever we do return to “normal”, we will be stronger and carry forward more knowledge and many new ways of working.

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