Montgomery County, PA implemented virtual desktops prior to COVID-19 easing the transition for people working from home during the pandemic.
It’d be hard to find another phenomenon besides the global COVID-19 pandemic that changed the face of how business gets done literally overnight. Organizations everywhere have been blindsided with a new world order that encourages, and in many instances, mandates social distancing to help contain the spread of the coronavirus and keep people healthy and safe. The resulting implications have been staggering.
A rush of challenges accompanying social distancing have hit organizations like a tidal wave – How will we make sure our employees are productive? How will we be able to service our customers and maintain those relationships? How will we conduct business as usual?
We at Pomeroy have one client who was thinking about a remote workforce well before COVID-19 even appeared. We had established a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) for Montgomery County (PA) long before the pandemic hit providing a high level of business continuity and emergency preparedness that no one could have anticipated needing. They had the foresight though to provide their diverse workforce of social workers, law enforcement and justice system employees with the devices and connectivity to work and remain productive indefinitely. And when COVID-19 hit, they were able to react immediately.
Anthony Olivieri, Montgomery County Chief Information Officer led the workforce initiative and had these observations:“People already had access to this system and those running with our VDI platform were literally able to go home and continue to work…that same day. They didn’t miss a beat!
We had about 1700 people at the height of this and now we’re getting more requests for the rest of our users as our courts, domestic relations and other departments come back online. We’ll be closer to 2700 users in the next few weeks.
The next phase is how do we keep all this going…to get to what will be the new normal. We’re looking at the next layers of virtual infrastructure to further enable people to work from home.”
There is much to be learned from the actions Montgomery County took to protect the organization and keep the county running without interruption during tough times and to dramatically transform the user experience providing their employees with a true Digital Workplace.
With COVID-19, organizations were forced to implement Work from Home solutions to thousands of employees, in many cases in less than a week. Think of what had to be considered as part of that process. Their employees would need the right devices (e.g., desktops, laptops, tablets) that allowed them to get to the applications they needed to do their jobs and collaborate with their colleagues. Their connectivity also had to be reliable and their environment secure. And all of that had to happen with the flip of a switch.
While many organizations have found short-term success, it’s been in the context of business continuity as opposed to the “new norm” so the question becomes how sustainable are these temporary, often make-shift solutions?
You’ll see different predictions from global health organizations on how long coronavirus is going to last or at least get to a manageable level. There are a variety of opinions and data analyses, but they share a common theme – coronavirus isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and we could still be managing the effects of it on our daily lives through the end of 2021 and even into 2022.
As a result, IT industry experts are predicting a substantial increase in the number of remote workers in the future. For example, Gartner predicted pre-COVID that the percentage of people working remotely would rise to 30% within the next few years, however it has since revised that number (post-COVID) upward to 48%.
The logic stands to reason. Many employees are becoming used to a Work from Home environment and are proving they can be just as productive as they were in the office. Also with the workforce reductions resulting from COVID new staffing models will leverage alternative solutions like contingent workers and temporary contractors at least until organizations are able to return to optimal full-time employee levels.
All of these things will allow organizations to take advantage of associated cost optimizations like reductions in physical office space which will be critical for their financial recovery. Also, this new operating model will directly support Digital Workplace strategies which by definition provide a more flexible “consumerized” workstyle driven by an anytime, anyplace, any device dynamic which is what employees are demanding these days.
With this new paradigm looming, organizations should be preparing long-term solutions now like virtual desktop technologies. These solutions provide an agile foundation that directly address the challenges faced by organizations setting up a permanent remote workforce like:
- Devices: virtual desktop technologies allow users to access their workspace using anything they want including desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile devices.This is a huge advantage because it allows organizations to deploy existing equipment with flexibility and supports the use of personal devices by contingent and temporary resources
- Applications: users can access enterprise applications from anywhere including being able to interact and collaborate with their co-workers with the same ease as if they were in the office together
- Security: access to the environment can be strictly managed and secured against breaches to weak home office networks.
The key is starting now and not waiting for the next surprise to come should things take an unexpected turn. Organizations should be planning for the long haul and acting sooner than later.
Nobody truly knows at this time how the next couple of years will play out, but what’s certain is it’s unlikely things will return 100% to the way they were. New challenges will continue to crop up down the road, and it’s imperative that your employees be setup for success. Providing a solid virtual desktop foundation that can be built upon over the years should be the first step in that journey.
About Montgomery County Montgomery County is the third largest county in Pennsylvania covering 500 square miles with over 800,000 suburban Philadelphia residents. With a budget of appx. $385 million the county employs 3,000 people. Led by its forward-thinking Information and Technology Solutions department, CIO Anthony Olivieri, Deputy CTO, Gordon McGowan and their team have driven innovative IT deployment to ensure workforce productivity, disaster recovery and business continuity for county government.
Its latest success has been weathering challenges to workforce continuity through deployment of a broad Work from Home initiative to quickly enable field employees to work remotely and securely through virtual desktop technology.
Always willing to network with his peers, Olivieri said in our recent interview he is always happy to discuss technology, and the successes and challenges Montgomery Country has seen. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.