Keep society moving during COVID-19. Lionel Jayasinghe, MBCS, MBA, an IT consultant with over 15 years of experience in IT audit and governance, looks at the role of IT governance during the global pandemic.

COVID-19 is the most devastating pandemic that we have experienced in the recent past. Its adverse effects are being felt around the world and will continue to be for a long time to come. As it was reported, the virus started spreading in November 2019, originating from Wuhan province in China.

Many deaths were reported from all over the world. According to the situation report of World Health Organisation (WHO), the number of deaths exceeds 155,124 and confirmed cases has reached up to 2,285,210 with 213 countries / territories affected at the time of publishing this article (April 20, 2020).

Global response to COVID-19

As the seriousness of the disease was gradually realised by the world, governments have faced many new challenges. Whereas some countries responded efficiently, most countries struggled with a lack of resources and information.

By the time the WHO declared a pandemic, many lives were lost and others in intensive care. Certain world leaders who were infected by the virus, started working from home using available technology to meet responsibilities of governance.

The world has changed. Depending on where you live, you might face new challenges and experiences such as: the effects of panic buying; social distancing; partial lockdown and total lockdown.

With the health of its citizens as the prime focus, most businesses had to close their doors indefinitely. With a whole new range of workers starting to work from home and businesses now relying on online ordering systems. Elsewhere, governments are pushing essential services to maximise their online presence. Against this backdrop, the need for complete IT solutions has reached its peak.

Because of the criticality of the disease - and the impending economic and social consequences - we are at the centre of new government policies and legislations.

The new normal

We started using all available communication methods including social media and apps to communicate news and messages about the pandemic. Some messages were more harmful than beneficial and finding actual facts among a stream of misinformation has become a real challenge. This a typical example of the uncontrollable use of technology in an extraordinary situation.

While private organisations and governments requested people to work from home to ‘flatten the curve’, business was conducted on survival mode. With everyone depending heavily on IT and their smart devices, nothing was usual about this ‘new normal’.

Bringing IT governance into play

Information technology became one of the most vital tools to support essential services and the needs of the society. Governments, private sector institutions and individuals continued to use available technologies to act effectively and keep the momentum of activities going.

Continuing IT services and maintaining IT infrastructure in a disaster situation to support public services is part of Business Continuity Planning (BCP) and it’s within the scope of the IT governance process at a national level. Capacity management, continuity and Information security are major processes in globally accepted IT governance frameworks.

Demand for web services and resources escalated and grew. Many websites implementing online ordering (some for the very first time) and distribution of grocery items suffered due to heavy traffic caused by high demand. Websites that supported distressed communities were subjected to distributed denial of service attacks.

These incidents are inevitable when IT activities are not performing under a single framework built with necessary laws and policies. IT governance can be the best solution to deal with all IT related activities during a national and global level crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.

IT governance processes have already been implemented at the organisational level in many countries, though there is not enough information available to find implementation at a national level. Implementing IT governance at the national level might deliver better benefits to the society. Hence, it is worthwhile to look at definitions of IT governance and its frameworks:

  • ‘IT governance (ITG) is defined as the processes that ensure the effective and efficient use of IT in enabling an organisation to achieve its goals.’ - Gartner
  • ‘IT governance is the form of leadership, organisational structures and processes that ensure an organisation's IT sustains and extends the organisation's strategies and objectives.’ - IT Governance Institute (ITGI)

Information technology governance framework (or IT governance framework) is a type of framework that defines the ways and methods through which an organisation can implement, manage and monitor IT governance.

It provides guidelines and measures to effectively utilise IT resources and processes within an organisation. Adopting IT Governance at a national level will provide guidelines and measures to utilise IT effectively to deal with major disaster situations.

IT governance in unprecedented times

Implementation of IT governance at a national and global level will create a positive impact. IT experts could work with healthcare and other essential industry experts to streamline and guide services. There are many examples across the world.

Contact tracing and monitoring is essential to manage the quarantine process and to restrict movements of infected people. Mobile technology with GPS tracking is highly developed and can fulfil this requirement. We already use many mobile applications with GPS tracking. The same technology can be effectively used for contact tracing too.

There are, however, profound privacy, ethical and security implications. Tracking should be used only for the stated purpose by governments. Data leakage can be misused by individuals or organisations for unauthorised activities. Hence, necessary laws and policies should be implemented and enforced by governments - particularly around the ethical use of data.

Mobile technology can be effectively used in self-diagnosis and reporting purposes. This effort will be successful only if the public support such applications and understand how to use them.

The whole process of testing and detecting infected people is hindered by limited test facilities. AI may be able to assist. Data points could be drawn from cameras, body heat detectors and devices that track behaviour and movement.

Data collected on similar epidemics is available from various institutions around the world. Similarly, there is a great deal of new data about COVID-19 being shared continually by respected global organisations.

When it comes to creating strategies to eradicate the virus, big data analysis and AI technologies may prove invaluable. Big data analysis technique can also be used to support prevention measures. Some of the above applications and technologies are already, to varying degrees, in operation and many are working well.

There are, however, risks and social implications. These times, by their nature, are hazardous and groups are working in haphazard ways. So, again, governance is important. The best solution may be for all stakeholders in the public and private sectors to work under the direction of a single body.

Essential enhancements to IT governance

This is the time to redefine and enhance the IT governance process. To ensure a healthy and economically prosperous future we must ensure ethics and legal compliance are placed at the heart of our activities.