IT Teams: The Unsung Heroes of Retail During COVID-19
The COVID-19 outbreak is turning out to be the biggest unprecedented event in modern times. But we all can agree that we're at a better place than we were in the 1920s when the last pandemic broke out. Today, information technology (IT) has enabled businesses to operate despite closing their physical doors. Thanks to IT support teams, most businesses were able to mobilize their workforce for remote work in a matter of days.
For retailers, which has arguably been one of the industries hit the hardest in this pandemic, IT teams have been a saving grace, as brands pivot to digital and e-commerce strategies to ensure happy customers and business continuity post-COVID-19. Many retailers were already expanding their e-commerce offerings and shifting to a digital mind-set, however, the global crisis created greater urgency and put pressure on IT departments to get websites up and running quickly and effectively, put security protocols in place, and ensure that employee remote work tools and communication channels were ready for business.
So, what exactly are these retail IT teams doing to ensure global e-commerce brands are staying afloat?
Enabling Digital Efficiency by Ensuring Websites Are Glitch-Free and Up-to-Speed
As stores shut down during the global pandemic, many retailers experienced a surge in traffic to their e-commerce sites. On the particularly panic-filled days of March 12 and March 13, online sales at full-assortment grocery stores increased by a whopping 325 percent. Whenever this level of unexpected traffic hits retailers' websites, it's imperative that they're able to maintain application uptime and keep customers satisfied — or else risk losing them to the competition. To mitigate any downtime, IT teams have stepped in to monitor site performance across many regions and frequently stress test websites. In addition, IT teams rely on machine learning and predictive analysis tools to monitor user behavior, set alerts for anomalous activity, and provide analytics in real time, ensuring that customer demands are being met and that there's business continuity from the point of sale, to supply chain logistics, to end delivery.
Empower and Teach Employees to Resolve Issues
Remote work comes with different sets of recurring issues for employees, such as the inability to access applications due to firewall issues, the inability to connect to a virtual private network (VPN), file access denial, and more. As distributed employees become more self-reliant, IT teams have begun to offer more support and guidance to enable employees to seek online resources to solve their issues themselves before enlisting their help, which allows IT teams to focus on pressing issues, and employees to become more tech savvy.
Continue Supporting Business, But With More Security
Consider the following steps to ensure business operations aren't disrupted, while also bolstering security:
Securing Company Data and Endpoints
With retailers and employees having to react quickly to shelter-in-place restrictions, many employees had to leave their desktop computers behind and start using personal devices to work at home. Unlike company-provided devices, personal devices are less secure with unpatched operating systems, legacy antivirus and malware, relaxed firewall settings, etc. As these personal devices now include customer transactions and personal information, such as names, home addresses and financial information, as well as company information on inventory and feedback, it makes these endpoints the weakest link in the IT security chain — and brings a multitude of risks for retailers.
IT teams have had to secure these endpoints by establishing self-enrollment programs in unified endpoint management (UEM) tools. UEM tools can then push policies for password protection, data encryption, VPNs, networks, etc., and even silently update patches, ensuring secure and compliant endpoints.
Doubling Down on Cyber Surveillance and Insider Threats
With less secure endpoints and networks, retailers have become more vulnerable to cyber threats than ever. Recently, the FBI reported that cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities have quadrupled since the beginning of COVID-19 (and the mass shift to remote work). A compromised employee account from unmanaged devices could be accessing and exporting confidential customer data from company applications. Or, a small change in the firewall could open the flood gates to DDoS attacks. At this point in time, IT teams must keep a closer eye on network monitoring systems and event monitoring tools, such as User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA), which are good at catching anomalies and preempting threats. As many retailers operate around the world, IT teams must be on alert 24/7, as business is always taking place and one breach has the potential to do a lot of damage to that company's reputation and future business.
Use This Time to Sharpen and Improve IT Tools and Methods for a More Productive Future
Most of what’s discussed above isn't new to the IT community. The only difference is they're unavoidable now with the shift to e-commerce as the only way of doing business for many brands. The role of IT will only grow larger as we move towards more connected and collaborative means of doing business, and this outbreak is indeed a wake-up call to iron out those discrepancies we've let into our system. Now is the best time to test and re-test the policies and tools your organization has in place. If they work now, a time when the entire world’s workforce is remote, they're sure to work in any unprecedented situation that could occur in the future.
Therefore, the next time you need help logging back into an application, are working on a glitchy computer, or have trouble placing an online order, remember to be patient and thankful above all else, as these IT professionals are the reason many businesses are still open.
Aparna TA is a product manager at ManageEngine, the IT management division of Zoho Corporation.
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Aparna TA is a product manager at ManageEngine, the IT management division of Zoho Corporation. Her role involves regular interaction with customers and prospects to understand how IT is managed in various industries. She studies the impact of IT in digital transformation and how ManageEngine products can evolve to address the dynamically changing business environments. Aparna is an avid reader of non-fiction books and has a special interest in startups, behavior psychology, and business.