After initial business continuity ‘hiccups,’ cloud collaboration tools bounce back with surprising resilience; they focus on core functions, letting peripheral functions lag.

Key Points:

  • Millions of new remote workers swarm onto cloud collaboration tools, testing those organizations’ business continuity.
  • Microsoft Teams meeting solution doubles its user base, to 44 million as of March 18.
  • But most organizations’ business continuity plans couldn’t anticipate the global pandemic.

As the Western world began its rapid, COVID-19-induced transition to remote work in recent days, business continuity experts were not shocked when suddenly stressed cloud collaboration systems began to fail. What may be surprising, though, is how quickly most bounced back, and how resilient they appear to be—so far.

We can only hope the business continuity plans of small, midsize and larger businesses help their organizations achieve similar resilience in the tough times ahead.

Microsoft Teams meeting solution, for example, had initial business continuity issues, particularly in Europe[1], a reality reflected by the experience of a European communications company that moved its entire workforce to Microsoft Office 365, Teams, and OneDrive solutions.

According to one senior exec in the European communications industry: “On our first day with the whole team of 200+ working remotely, (Microsoft) Teams failed on many fronts and repeatedly, including document access and collaboration, video calls, and the mobile app. The blow to confidence is perhaps the biggest danger at a time we need to maintain business as usual. But if we invite workarounds, we worry about security, especially when teammates are working remotely from any direct IT support.”

Microsoft Teams Users Double, Despite Initial Hiccup

But Microsoft Teams wasn’t down and out for long: Shortly after the outage, the Downdetector site consistently reported “No problems at Office 365.”[2] Late last week, Reuters reported that Teams added 12 million daily users from March 11 to March 18, 2020, a 37.5% one-week spike[3]— without any apparent business continuity hiccups. In all, Reuters said, Microsoft Teams had 44 million users as of March 18, 2020, more than double the 20 million Microsoft reported in November 2019. At the same time, both Microsoft and rival Slack said they were helping hospitals and other organizations who are directly responding to the coronavirus by providing rapid, and sometimes free, set-up of their video conferencing tools.

Peter Banham, Senior Manager, Business Continuity at Mimecast, urged businesses of all sizes to be ever-vigilant about the security risks that come with remote work—especially when the workers involved are new to it and under the severe stress of a global pandemic.

Phishing and vishing will have higher success when a sense of fear or urgency to act are encouraged,” said Banham. “Businesses should remain vigilant and reinforce best security practices, through both systems and end user education.”

Most Business Continuity Plans Didn’t Anticipate COVID-19

While he noted that, “smart companies would be executing their pre-prepared disaster plans,” Banham also pointed out that many organizations may find it difficult to correlate their current situations with the scenarios developed in those business continuity plans.

“COVID-19 is certainly one where before the discovery, a major pandemic would be considered low risk and discarded as a black swan event,” Banham said.

That’s why the vast majority of organizations were caught unprepared for COVID-19, according to business continuity guru Ross Jackson, Mimecast’s VP, Organizational Resilience.

While the full scale and duration of COVID-19’s impact on business is still fairly unknown, it’s clear that for businesses to continue operations, they will need to heavily lean on their IT teams for remote working.

“Those with sound business continuity plans will be thanking their IT teams for providing and load testing their video conferencing, email, and connectivity solutions,” said Banham. “And they (IT teams) will also be paying particular attention to the opportunity this provides a malicious actor,” he added.

Key Business Continuity Strategy: Let Non-Core Functions Lag

Jackson noted that one business continuity strategy he’s seen collaboration tool makers employ is to focus on maintaining the strength of core functions while allowing secondary functions to lag.

“We’re going to see more conferencing companies restricting some of their secondary functions,” Jackson said. “Some are already seeing issues with lag, such as on reporting. Where they used to offer real-time stats and real-time reporting when you’re running the conferencing calls, we’re now seeing that reporting only 24 hours later.”

Coronavirus-related supply chain issues appear to be hampering those companies’ efforts to keep pace with the wave of remote working growth.

“They’re actually hustling to try and catch up, but they’re also facing supply chain issues—they may not necessarily be able to get additional hardware as soon as they could’ve done a month ago,” said Jackson.

The Bottom Line

COVID-19 precipitated a sudden transition to remote work among businesses of all sizes in developed economies. Organizations will need to depend on sound business continuity plans to persevere in the difficult times to come. Most organizations will also be heavily depending on cloud collaboration tools—and those appear to be up to the task.

 

[1]Microsoft Teams goes down as Europe starts working from home,” Graham Cluley

[2]No Problems at Office 365,” Downdetector

[3]Remote work during coronavirus outbreak puts millions more on Microsoft Teams, Slack,” Reuters

 

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