7 Holiday Season Survival Tips for IT
Empty shelves. Employee shortages. Clogged ports. Delivery delays. Long waits. Thanks, in part, to the effects of a lingering pandemic, it’s going to be another “interesting” holiday season. IT teams won’t be immune.
End-of-Year IT Burdens
It’s been discussed before, but the end-of-the-year holidays typically put a strain on IT systems and staff. Website traffic surges as consumers clamor for online deals, schedule holiday travel plans and use online systems to take advantage of end-of-year tax deductions.
Logistics systems go into overdrive keeping inventory, fulfillment, shipping, and other processes up-to-date, accurate and reliable. As IT resource usage accelerates, IT staffs struggle to keep systems up and running and customer experiences exceptional.
They also find themselves juggling responsibilities even more as their colleagues try to take off unused vacation before the end of the year or squeeze in time with family and friends over the holidays. That’s in addition to dealing with staff shortages that have plagued the IT industry for some time and are getting worse due to early retirements, increased competition for specific IT skills, and other factors.
Of course, cybercriminals are eager to take advantage of the situation with more ransomware attacks, social engineering tactics, and attempts to take advantage of unpatched vulnerabilities that are on IT teams’ to-do lists but sometimes get put on the back burner due to competing priorities.
Let’s not forget the additional security and resource issues that IT staff must contend with as more employees are working remotely than ever before. That’s all on top of pressure from the C-suite for IT teams to drive digital transformation to ensure their organizations remain viable in what continues to be an ever-changing world.
And those supply chain issues we mentioned initially? IT will endure many of the same problems as other industries, including staff shortages and delays in receiving critical parts and equipment. Throw in unexpected severe weather events that often occur during the fourth quarter of the year and into the next year, and IT professionals could also be dealing with downed IT systems.
7 Tips for Easing Holiday-induced IT Strain
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom for IT professionals during the end-of-year holidays ─ even in the face of potential staff and supply shortages. Preparation and planning can mitigate many of the potential issues and help minimize potential business disruptions.
Here are some suggestions that can help:
1. Prepare Your Internal Resources
Your IT staff will likely want some much-deserved time off over the holidays. Figure out schedules now. Make sure that mission-critical information is shared among all team members. If someone is covering for someone else over the holidays, you want that person to have all the information needed to do the job, and the person who is not working to not be interrupted while off the clock. Have team members “shadow” each other for a day or at least for a few hours. Good, recently verified documentation is also essential. Just in case, have up-to-date contact information and a call tree available for all team members.
In terms of equipment and supplies, you may have limited control over them due to supply chain issues. Work closely with your procurement and logistics departments, as well as vendors, to stay on top of schedules and potential delays. Prepare for workarounds in the event of delays that can affect key initiatives. Communicate frequently to all affected parties.
2. Prioritize and Communicate Critical Tasks
Between staff shortages and holiday schedules, there’s a distinct possibility that not everything that needs to be done can be done – at least right away. Determine what tasks and initiatives are most critical to day-to-day operations, as well as those essential to keeping key initiatives moving ahead. Make sure they receive top priority and schedule them accordingly for how they’ll be handled over the holiday season.
Security should be at the top of the list. Make sure all staff members are aware of the priorities and what their responsibilities are. Set expectations and communicate these priorities to management as well as to all end users.
3. Take Advantage of Managed and Professional Services
If your IT department is understaffed, over-worked, and stretched thin, things could get worse over the holidays. Tip #1 above will likely not be enough. Management also might not be willing to let some initiatives or tasks take a back seat.
It may be a good time to take advantage of third-party managed services and outsource some of the day-to-day IT responsibilities and functions to a service provider. If you have a major IT project starting up, such as DR planning, a data migration, any kind of digital transformation initiative, or just need to temporarily augment your staff, hiring a professional services team that specializes in those specific project types and services could free up your internal resources, save your company money, and keep your internal customers happy.
4. Get Ready for the Surge
If your organization maintains a website that handles e-commerce of any kind — gifts, special event ticketing, travel arrangements, etc. — make sure it’s ready for heavier than normal web traffic. Do you have access to resources that allow you to scale up to handle traffic spikes and scale back down when traffic subsides? If not, consider a public cloud service, like US Signal’s flexible resource pools. You select the memory, storage, and compute resources that best meet your requirements. Then, dynamically allocate your resources by creating and destroying any number of VMs to fit your applications and needs.
Another option: use a load balancer, available from your cloud services provider, to evenly distribute your traffic across multiple web servers, preventing any single one from overloading. If a server does fail, the load balancer will redistribute the traffic across other servers. Re-distributing web traffic also helps reduce overall latency for your website visitors.
5. Test Your Disaster Recovery Plan
Expect the unexpected. Make sure you have a tested DR plan in place to handle any kind of business-disrupting event. And, importantly, make sure you have the resources needed to execute it. If you don’t have a DR plan, talk to a cloud provider like US Signal. You may be able to test drive a Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) solution, enabling you to get a DR plan in place quickly.
Also, ask your vendors about their DR plans and operational redundancies as well. It’s in your company’s best interest to hold its technology partners accountable.
6. Change Your Approach to Remote Work
Simplify deployment and management of resources to support remote work operations with a hosted desktop solution.
Hosted VDI is a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) service that enables you to host the VMware Horizon platform in US Signal’s Hosted Private Cloud. You can use your own VMware Horizon license or purchase one from US Signal.
Both enable you to provide users with an experience that matches or exceeds what they’d get in a traditional in-person environment. Plus, you’ll benefit from reduced infrastructure and management costs, higher levels of security, and more.
7. Bolster Your IT Security
Cyber-attacks are not limited to a season, which is why IT security is a 24/7/365 endeavor. However, the holidays are a tempting time for cyber thieves. To make sure your security profile is as strong as possible, consider the following:
- Invest in an external security assessment. If gaps are discovered, immediately take care of them.
- Regularly scan your IT systems for vulnerabilities. If you don’t have internal resources to handle it, take advantage of vulnerability management as a service (VMaaS). Add on a SOC analysis service to get recommended actions, prioritized to help you address the most serious issues while making optimal use of your resources.
- Implement an endpoint detection and response (EDR) solution to monitor, detect and remediate even the most advanced threats. If you don’t have staff to handle the required tasks, seek out a managed detection and response (MDR) solution in which a third-party Security Operations Center team handles all security alerts.
- Avoid storing sensitive data. If you must store sensitive data, make sure it is encrypted. Also, review your data access and authorization tools and policies to ensure the right people access the right data at the right time.
- Take advantage of managed security services. Third-party managed security providers maintain the most up-to-date technologies, tools, and expertise to combat malware and other types of cybercrime.
- Make sure all patches are up to date. If you lack the internal resources to stay on top of this, go with a patch management service. This will free up internal resources and ensure you get the benefits of the most up-to-date services and resources.)
- Educate everyone in your organization on the various threats and how to respond to them.
Make Your List. Check It Twice.
The end of this year promises to present IT teams with numerous challenges ─ those commonly associated with the holidays and a few new ones emanating from the continuing pandemic. Be ready for them. Make a to-do list for ensuring your IT resources are ready for the end-of-the-year holidays. Double-check it. Take action.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to US Signal if you need assistance. We can help you overcome many of the challenges, whether it's through the provision of managed security services, a comprehensive disaster recovery plan, or a combination of services. Find out what US Signal can do for you. Call us at 866.2.SIGNAL or email: [email protected].