How we harnessed technology to get through the pandemic

A retrospective, optimistic look back at the year we won't forget.
14 July 2021 by
How we harnessed technology to get through the pandemic
Open User Systems Ltd, Chris Mann

As we return to some form of normality, it feels like we are hedgehogs waking from a long hibernation. What have we learnt amidst the struggle, what value came from the accelerated digital transformation and rapid innovation? As the saying goes, "Necessity is the mother of invention"

January 2020 seems like an age away.
It began with some significant international news stories including; Forest fires ravaging Australia, Prince Harry and Megan stepping back from royal duties and in the USA, Trump's impeachment trials.

February came and we started to hear news about a certain "corona virus". Some joked about it infecting our computers, it was clear nobody worried too much. 
Where I worked we had trouble with interruptions to internet access and network problems. With help I worked to install new equipment which solved the issue, internet access and our network was working well again.
Recently we had been trialling Microsoft Teams with our customers and the response was positive. We had also been working on a huge project to migrate the company to a web-based ERP system. Little did we know how critical this would suddenly become.

Roll on March - News of COVID-19 in the UK government was beginning to be taken seriously, and finally a decision was made on 18th March we must all work from home until further notice.
For a small business that I worked at as Business Systems Manager, this was a huge blow. Theoretically it could be done, but it had never been tested and was a gamble.
We had a couple of people who worked remotely, using laptops and a VPN, but nobody knew if the systems could cope with 28 remote staff at once. Something needed to happen and fast...

Myself and a colleague set about rapidly refurbishing and setting up every spare laptop we had, training users how to forward calls to their mobiles, how to access company systems remotely, providing headsets to all and most importantly reassuring people that we can do this (although knowing it would be a huge challenge with some luck needed).

Like many small businesses, our systems were a mix of old and new. On-premise servers and cloud systems including Office 365. Particularly what needed to change immediately was remote access to all desktop computers and anything still depending on paper, EVERYTHING POSSIBLE had to go paperless within days! 

The first weeks of remote work were very busy for IT. We were challenged with resolving problems never before considered including home-broadband issues, remote connectivity trouble, power cuts etc. I had to adapt quickly to teaching people to share their screen and use Microsoft Teams as much as possible, the luxury of sitting around their desk and helping them was no longer an option. Thankfully, people were patient and used our ticket system to great effect for helpdesk support.

It was great to witness everyone coming together, united in the same position. We learned to manage our workload remotely and communicate in new ways, as if it was second nature, everyone helped each other and there was a great community spirit.

Fact: Zoom was valued at $100 billion during the pandemic, a 383% increase on its value in January 2020!

Over the coming months, I watched as the world began to catch up and soon everyone was using Zoom, Teams, Skype etc. Particularly challenging was how teachers were going to apply this to remote learning, however many schools did a fantastic job of embracing this for the sake of the children and generous members of the public donated computer hardware to help the less fortunate families.

As time moved on, increasingly we saw the world begin to harness technology for everything it could bring us. We were separated from family, but that wasn't going to stop us. Creativity saw us doing quizzes, birthday celebrations and all manner of things.

Medical advancements soon picked up pace, QR codes came back into use in a major way, being used by track-and-trace COVID apps, AI and machine learning was being utilised along with High-Performance-Computing (HPC) such as Folding@home project, to help scientists perform biomedical research.
The prospect of a vaccine was a pipe-dream to begin with, but it is a testament to the sheer determination and innovation of mankind, to achieve what we did in such as short space of time.

It goes to prove that we are capable of using technology for its best purposes, serving those in need, keeping us connected with loved ones, and collaborating to bring about positive change. It's a shame it took a pandemic to drive the inevitable move forward, but history has taught us that the greatest achievements have always been in the face of tremendous adversity.

The question remains, now we know what is possible when we work together, how will we use technology to make a better future?
Thanks for reading, welcome to Open User Systems, feel free to subscribe to our blog for more tech ramblings, or get in touch if you'd like to chat about your software challenges :-)
How we harnessed technology to get through the pandemic
Open User Systems Ltd, Chris Mann 14 July 2021
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