We all acknowledge 2020 has been an unprecedented year, largely due to the emergence of the novel coronavirus, Covid-19.
Here in New Zealand, residents went into lockdown to slow the spread of the virus and move to eliminate community transmission. This meant new ways of working for many of us – remotely from home, with a heavy reliance on consumer-grade.
Covid-19 reveals limits of legacy IT systems
Capable NZ’s senior IT lecturer and facilitator, Henk Roodt, says Covid-19 cast a bright spotlight on the failings of legacy IT systems within New Zealand organisations.
“Many organisations have older systems that have been updated to the bare minimum just to keep things going,’ he says, explaining that this is usually through no fault of IT staff.
“For example, an organisation may ask its IT manager to calculate the cost of revitalising hardware or software for the next five years,” he says. “Say the manager comes back with two options, costing $10 and $8 respectively. If the executive team says it will only spend $4, the IT manager has to make do with the resources allocated.”
It’s a scenario Dr Roodt likens to patching something up with band aids or duct tape: “You know that it’s never going to last, and because these constraints often continue into the future, you end up with duct tape on top of duct tape.”
In an ordinary scenario, the strain on these systems may not be that high, so they continue working okay. However, Covid-19 revealed the risks of this approach.
“Systems struggled to cope,” he notes, “and while we haven’t heard about any major system failures in the New Zealand news media, I think it’s likely some happened.”
Part of the problem is the increased strain on hardware and software systems as the bulk of the country’s workforce worked from home.
“Everyone was using video conferencing programmes to communicate, and these require huge bandwidth and processing power,” says Dr Roodt. “This ages hardware rapidly – the machines run hotter, use way more power and place strain on chip sets. The technology is stress-tested beyond its design parameters.”
And, in the ‘new normal’ post-lockdown, more people are opting for flexible work arrangements which include more remote working. Hardware such as laptops, phones and tablets are taking the strain.
‘Newer machines have modern hardware designed for such heavy demands,” says Mr Roodt. “Older machines really struggle to keep up. Organisations need to consider this as they assess their current and future IT needs.”
Compounding matters, technicians were also working from home during lockdown, where they managed problems away from the machines themselves. “It is reported globally that the supply lines that kept the band aids and duct tape in place were failing because the right people weren’t there to maintain them.”
Part of this issue relates to the age of the systems and the age of the IT workforce. Younger technicians are well-versed in modern technology, but may be lacking knowledge and experience with the older, patched-up systems that many organisations use.
“It’s the older workforce that knows all about these systems and how to tweak them,” explains Mr Roodt. “Because this older workforce is considered more vulnerable to Covid-19, this has added another layer of complexity, particularly overseas where the virus has been widespread in the community.”
Networks have also been affected. Most commercial routers that deliver WiFi connectivity are only designed for short bursts of high stress, while video calls place the system under high strain for longer periods of time.
All of this has meant that IT staff here and abroad are responsible for keeping systems operational, working long, stressful hours.
Covid-19 brings challenges and opportunities for IT sector
Henk Roodt says his Capable NZ Bachelor of Information Technology learners – who are employed in the industry and undertaking work-based study – are under “extreme pressure. They are working very long hours to keep their systems at work going.”
These new ways of working, however, present opportunities for current and prospective IT learners and workers.
“We may see hardware and software change rapidly in response to these increased demands, and learners will be skilled in these new systems,” he says. “Increased capacity requirements mean more jobs in network infrastructure to keep it functional. Software systems written in older languages, such as Cobol, are not supported now, unlike modern systems like C++, Python and SQL. There is a lot of old database infrastructure that requires updating, and our learners are well-prepared to make that happen.”
Here in New Zealand, small businesses are very common. If they do have IT support, it may be provided by just one staff member, a contractor, or even a friend of the family. This may be inadequate in the months and years to come.
“Into the future, small businesses and other organisations will need people with experience in workplace online security – we’re now using so many new and different online systems to connect so there is a critical need for this.’
Workers will also be needed to roll out a wireless network to support all new devices, as remote and mobile working sees more laptops and devices being used now than ever before. For example, technologies such as mesh extenders are in the consumer domain but still require savvy tech support to get them going.
Postgraduate-level professionals undertaking Master or Doctorate degrees through Capable NZ will be well-positioned to seek managerial roles within larger organisations, such as Chief Technology Officer or Chief Information Officer. “Strategic thinking and design thinking capabilities are critical for positions at this level,” says Mr Roodt, “and there are growing opportunities in this space.”
Capable NZ offers project-based learning, work-based learning and open-ended study plans in IT at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Capable NZ also provides professional development training within businesses and organisations on the latest in IT innovations and practices. Contact us to learn more
Senior Lecturer and facilitator Dr Henk Roodt is registered with the Institute of IT Professionals New Zealand