Shorter week no obstacle to IT performance

Careful planning ensures organizations that are embarking on a four-day work week can continue to enjoy optimum IT performance.
Written by Sol E. Solomon, Contributor

One way some organizations today are reducing costs is by shortening their work week. However, as more businesses find technology indispensable, having procedures in place can ensure that a four-day work week is not in the way of providing round-the-clock operations.

According to Jack Chiam, CIO of MediaCorp which has taken the four-day week route, the shortened work week does not pose a barrier to its IT organization's ability to support the company's critical systems.

As a national broadcaster, newspaper and online publisher, the company is expected to provide services seven days a week, Chiam noted in an e-mail interview. "Because of this nature of [the company's] business, IT has all along been required to, and has provided prompt and fast resolution to problems."

One company that "needs to 'be there' for our customers" is logistics business YCH. However, James Loo, CIO of YCH Group, highlighted that if a company is one that already runs 24-by-7, its IT operations would have been set up to perform continuously. In such environments, the effect on the IT operations of a scaled-down work week would be marginal, he added.

IT steps to a shorter work week

Moving to a four-day week will require careful planning and consideration so that availability of an organization's business systems is maintained.
Ho Wah Lee, head of IT advisory at KPMG in Singapore, said key areas to consider in regard to IT management/administration include:
  • IT support: When business users raise issues and problems, IT must be capable of responding to these and address any critical issue. This means there must be a service management process in place that will log, route, resolve and close each issue raised.
  • Resource availability: Make sure there is adequate staff available at any given time to respond and deal with IT issues and requests. Careful resource scheduling is key.
  • Data and systems backup: To avoid any loss of data due to system errors and failures, regular data and system backups are a must.
  • Monitoring and IT system management: Proactive IT management will play an important part to detect and reduce potential IT failures and poor system performance. Monitoring software tools let IT administrators monitor the areas that require attention and thus prevent system failures.

YCH is currently not on a shorter work week, but the IT department is ready to go operational on a four-day work mode anytime it's necessary as the current setup already supports its 24-by-7 business operations.

As Loo pointed out in an e-mail, business continuity procedures would have catered to "always on" requirements. "The team already has the ability to work remotely and does not have to be on-site to attend to support issues other than actual physical hardware failure," he said.

That said, having the right systems and service strategy is critical for companies like MediaCorp and YCH, said Ho Wah Lee, head of IT advisory at KPMG in Singapore. He noted that IT heads of such companies need to address these issues both from a people and a technology perspective.

Although KPMG has implemented a four-day work week in the United Kingdom, it is not doing so in Asia. However, it does assist clients in the region on how to put in place technical and system architectures that support the "IT always on" concept.

For a start, Ho advised organizations planning to shorten their work week to ensure that they have the correctly skilled IT staff available to cover the needs of the business. If the organization provides a 24-by-7 service, it should appropriately roster the IT support staff, making them available to address potential issues, he added.

Toward this end, MediaCorp's Chiam said his company's IT domain leads are mindful of the different skills--including soft skills--of their team members and appropriately apply these to the rosters. This way, there are the sufficient skill sets capable of resolving a spectrum of technical issues at any one time.

"The key areas to observe and manage are having properly defined processes and procedures, adequate and well-managed infrastructure and a properly documented escalation procedure for emergencies," he said.

Automation and a robust system
David Simpfendorfer, infrastructure technology outsourcing product marketing manager at EDS, Asia Pacific & Japan, said successful IT management and administration during a shortened work week also require a focus on automation and remote access.

Simpfendorfer said that automating routine administration tasks such as backup will eliminate the need for someone to physically be present, while remote access enables them to rectify problems quickly and without any physical intervention.

"In some cases, this could enable potential problems to be addressed before there is any unplanned downtime," he said in an e-mail response. In addition, systems monitoring software with automated alerts can notify IT staff on call when a problem is detected while the company is closed, Simpfendorfer added.

Again, Ho said that having the right systems which are both robust and with high availability will enable the continuance of the service even in the event of a system failure. "High system availability should be part of the system architecture design and not an afterthought. Making all this happen will require careful design and consideration."

As for MediaCorp, Chiam said his company advocates "near-zero down time".

"Over and above investment on IT management tools, we have invested in fast restore to ensure that the issues are fixed within a [specified] period. At the same time, all our critical systems are on high availability with full redundancy."

MediaCorp also closely monitors the contracts and service levels with IT vendors to ensure this.

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