When the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act was passed in March, the Small Business Administration (SBA) was suddenly in charge of ten times the amount of usual funds to distribute to small businesses.
“We are trying to push about $349 billion through the program in about 10 days or less,” said Sanjay Gupta, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of SBA. Two of the main programs through which the agency supports small businesses during the pandemic are the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), which offers financial relief to businesses hit by a disaster, and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which helps companies cover payroll for eight weeks.
“You can imagine from a scaling standpoint, this is a humongous challenge,” Gupta said at GovLoop’s online training Wednesday.
The agency has been working around the clock to get aid into small businesses’ hands as quickly as possible. The $349 billion limit for small business loans was reached April 15, multiple news outlets reported, which means that it took less than two weeks for the cap to be exhausted. Gupta said the agency’s planning and deployment schedule has quickened from days to hours.
“Our planning is not done in days and weeks, as you would imagine. It’s done in hours. Two hours, we’ll be here; six hours, we’ll be here; 17 hours, we’ll be here; and 36 hours from now, we’ll be launching something,” Gupta said. “We’ve changed the metric of time in which we are operating and working.”
Although one of the key enablers that keeps the agency’s operations running during the pandemic is innovative, improvisational thinking, another is the technology modernization efforts that had laid a foundation to allow the agency to scale up.
These modernization initiatives are namely network updating and cloud migration, Gupta said. With an upgraded network, the agency had the foundation to scale its infrastructure up to the volume it needed to handle the massive loan distribution and remote workforce. Transitioning to the cloud also enabled the agency to scale up and prepared the workforce to be telework-ready. Cloud-based tools such as Office 365, as well as the provision of laptops for staff and contractors, led to a fairly smooth transition to telework, Gupta said.
It’s no surprise that telework is a critical component to continuity of operations during this particular crisis.
There are many steps to a continuity plan, but Ken Liska, Systems Engineering Manager at Citrix, offers a few key elements for agencies to keep in mind.
First, he suggests that agencies determine which applications, files and systems need access from a remote location, as well as who needs access to these things.
“You may discover not every system needs to be accessible to everyone the same way,” Liska noted.
With this tiered approach, the right solution can be designed or determined to enable secure workflows and less latency for employees transitioning from the office to a remote location.
Then, agencies should validate the continuity plan by testing it. Can the workforce access the workload they need? Testing the systems and applications with the end user in mind can solidify continuity efforts and telework during a crisis.
“The more comfortable your employees are with a remote-working scenario, the better it’s going to be. The more intuitive tools you can give them, the easier it can become,” Liska said.
Increasingly, business leaders are recognizing that technology has been, is and will be the underlying foundational element that supports business outcomes, Gupta said. “Today, I don’t think there’s any organization that can exist without using technology as a strategic and foundational element,” he added.
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