Connectivity During Crisis: Notes on Resiliency from IT & GTS

Clare Sausen April 2, 2020

Though CallisonRTKL is best known for its work as a global architecture, design and planning practice, the company relies heavily on its firmwide team to maintain its internal infrastructure and allow everyone to do their best work. These are the web developers, the facilities teams, the technology specialists that keep the day-to-day operations of the firm afloat—even in times of crisis. Today, we hear from Ardie Aliandust, CRTKL’s Chief Information Officer and Ken Bayern, leader of the Global Technology Solutions (GTS) group.

Some popular video conferencing and collaboration tools experienced downtime due to the increased demand– halting remote work for many. What can we learn from that?

Ardie Aliandust: As a result of shifting workflows, many cloud-based services– like video collaboration– have been stressed in ways never really tested in real-world production environments at this massive scale.  Understanding the diversity of the technology landscape and planning with redundancy options in mind is one of the best takeaways from this and other times of crisis. Earlier last week, for example, we used video collaboration with Kelly [Farrell, CallisonRTKL President and CEO] to give a firmwide announcement and unfortunately ran into a capacity issue. Under normal circumstances, the platform would be able to handle a conference of this size and larger without any problem. Fortunately, we were able to rely on our in-house, everyday collaboration tool, Microsoft Teams, in order to carry on.  Along with diversifying our technologies, we are prepared to adapt quickly to the shifting requirements of our workforce and disruptions that are inevitable during these times due to the high demand.

Ken Bayern: It’s also important to standardize your plan of action. Multiple choices for software or platform won’t overload your network and will allow flexibility if something fails. Every platform has different strengths and weaknesses, so I recommend creating a list of preferences for different types of calls and start running through the alternates if you run into something. An all-hands meeting, for example, should probably just be a stream—the quality is better, people can’t interrupt, etc. This is the kind of preemptive positioning of restructure and global flexibility we need during such an uncertain time.

How can we leverage our IT and GTS experience to foster a resilient workplace?

AA: We have been preparing a more flexible IT infrastructure over the past several years to accommodate greater collaboration across offices and geographies.  Our strategy to move our data to Azure both addressed this business requirement and ensured the type of redundancy and continuity we need to address this crisis.  Since this impacted our Chinese offices first, we were able to deploy and validate our technology solutions there before scaling to the rest of our global offices.  We had to get several hundred people set up with remote capability as quickly and safely as possible. But this certainly isn’t the only crisis we’ve weathered. After 9/11 and the Great Recession, there has been a greater need for flexibility and accessibility to remain productive outside our offices. This demand only continues to increase and we need to develop solutions we can confidently rely on.

KB: One of the biggest differences from past crises to now is everything is stored on “the cloud” instead of on-premise physical servers. Obviously, this offers a lot more flexibility, scalability and security for remote work—and allows one to solve a connection issue in Dubai, say, from your living room in Seattle. But this issue also has us looking to tried-and-true software giants that have been globally tested and troubleshot– like Microsoft and Cisco Webex– instead of the shiny new tech we’re often enticed by.

How do you ensure the implementation of appropriate training for those who need it?

AA: By now, most organizations agree that taking a proactive approach to training is both necessary and challenging.  This crisis should be a wake-up call, for all of us, as to the importance of training and technological literacy. Providing a multi-channel approach to learning and training is imperative to reach the most people and address the generational differences regarding how people learn.  It’s also on us to communicate to the business the importance of proactive training in order to make our teams as effective as possible– inside and outside the offices.  We all need to be ready for unforeseen and unimaginable circumstances.

KB: We also prioritize training in CallisonRTKL’s company culture. All our employees have access to thousands of on-demand training videos through LinkedIn Learning and Roadmaps powered by Saba—our internal career development platform. This way, the information is always available to them even if they forget what they learned in a training session.

What are some helpful tips to ensure teams can stay connected no matter the circumstance?

AA: Since many CRTKL employees are usually traveling all over the world to secure clients and deliver design services, we’ve had our remote infrastructure in place for a while. The main systems we rely on now– Microsoft Teams (formerly Skype for Business), VPN, Citrix solutions, remote and virtual desktop, BIM 360– have all been tested and scaled. I would advise relying on these systems as much as possible—especially for architects and designers working with large and complex design files.

KB: I would recommend that people download the app version of the computer software you use most often on your phone. For me, that’s Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex—I have it on my computer, phone and smartwatch to ensure I won’t miss a message no matter what I’m doing.

Ardie Aliandust

Senior Vice President; Chief Information Officer

Ardie Aliandust began his career at the firm in 1989 and helped develop the road map for fully computerizing the practice. Since the late ‘90s, he has served as Chief Information Officer; successfully shaping and leading the global information technology program. Aliandust has been instrumental in driving new collaboration technologies, design technology applications and the early adoption of Building Information Modeling (BIM) throughout the firm– where CallisonRTKL is now a recognized leader.

Ken Bayern

Vice President, Global Technology Solutions

Ken Bayern joined CRTKL in November 2019 to build the Global Technology Solutions group with the team.  He brings a national network of clients in almost all of our practice areas– showing that technology is integral to nearly everything we do. He is a longtime champion for collaboration and based out of Seattle.


Author Spotlight

Clare Sausen
Clare Sausen is a Content Writer for CallisonRTKL. Based in Washington, D.C., she leverages her personal and professional experience in journalism, radio, and nonprofit communication to serve as a valuable member of the global firmwide team. Since attaining her Bachelor of Arts degree from George Washington University in Communication and American Studies, she has honed her craft of architectural storytelling across multiple platforms.