In responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses across the world have had to make rapid changes to their working processes, rolling out capacity for remote work, online collaboration, and access to essential data and tools to whole workforces. We are still, of course, in unpredictable times, and we don’t know how long it will be before businesses have the option of opening their offices globally and returning to their accustomed way of working.
Even so, with lockdown measures being partially lifted in many areas, businesses are beginning to look at the results of remote working and ask some serious questions about whether returning to ‘business as normal’ is necessary or even desirable. It’s clear that modern IT solutions have come into their own over this period and, even for businesses which experienced teething problems in the initial shift to mass remote working, many will have found the changes to be less disruptive to productivity than anticipated.
Remote working comes with its own list of potential benefits, giving employees scope for flexibility, fitting work around their responsibilities and lifestyles, and in many cases delivering a happier, more-productive workforce as a result. We are already seeing signs that some businesses will view extensive office real estate from a different perspective when effective and beneficial alternatives are available. To make remote working successful in the long term, however, a different proposition may be required and IT teams may have to shift their thinking once again as businesses adapt to existence beyond the walls of the office over an extended period of time.
Stress-tested networks and infrastructures
Tools like VPNs and cloud-based software have seen significantly more usage over recent months, and IT teams’ focus has rightly been on provisioning for the right-now. When conditions change overnight, a system that works is enough. If these levels of usage are sustained, however, then the next unforeseen disruption is likely to hit businesses very differently.
Transitioning from reactive, emergency measures to a proactive, resilient approach to infrastructure means stress testing your systems beyond your current needs. Using the right tools to do so will also provide insight into where systems need to be streamlined and simplified; as with in-office working, there is ample room for evolution and efficiency-finding with remote working technology.
These steps go hand-in-hand with a mature approach to digital transformation, in which businesses build out DevOps approaches, IT management capabilities, security systems, and analytics capacity across the whole business, rather than taking on complex, site-specific solutions for each business need.
Fully secured identities, applications, and data
For every story about the unexpected benefits of remote working in recent months, there has been another about potential security implications – whether in terms of an uptick in phishing
attempts, questions about encrypted communications, or challenges with data management and oversight.
In the long term of remote working, these problems won’t go away by themselves. Even as staff become more familiar with the tools and challenges, the distributed and unpredictable nature of a remote workforce demands specific, tailored responses. First among these should be a policy for multi-factor authentication, clarifying who is accessing data and systems as well as preventing malicious access. Data security is also coming to the fore as more employees access corporate systems from unknown network endpoints with potential security gaps.
Perhaps most important, organizations will want to move in the direction of the next-generation Security Operation Centre (SOC) to understand, and take action on, unexpected risks. By leveraging advanced analytics such as machine learning, organizations will be able to flag unusual behaviours and identify attack methods that haven’t been seen before, which will be even more critical in a period of unprecedented change.
Approved apps and data access solutions
Alternatives to face-to-face communication have, of course, been available for a long time. Email was itself a revolution in how businesses operate and communicate, making communication across offices and between continents instant and nearly free – and sophisticated collaboration tools have been commonplace for years. With direct interaction becoming more difficult and sharing of data even more important, however, a further step change in the approach to IT will be needed.
This will require thorough auditing of data and tasks to make sure that the tools being made available operate across all functions of the organization, and ensuring that those tools are scalable as and when usage spikes. The need for convenient cross-device file access is also increasing significantly, as employees expect to be able to adapt their working processes to their shifting day-to-day needs. Increasingly sophisticated secure, browser-based tools offer one way of providing this functionality without shouldering the burden of multiple per-platform applications.
Accelerated digital transformation
Ultimately, these requirements – infrastructural stability, security, and data access – all point towards the fact that the business response to recent changes in working patterns should be to accelerate digital transformation. It is possible – as we have seen – to patch together ways of working remotely on an ad-hoc basis. We should not, however, expect disruption to slow down – even if, as we all hope, the next wave is driven by technological progress rather than crisis. Digital transformation initiatives can shift these kinds of changes from being merely possible to being proactive, resilient, baked-in features of a company’s IT strategy.
At the start of the year, Micro Focus conducted research showing that over half of all IT spending will be on digital transformation by 2023. As industry adapts to a new reality of flexible, dynamic, remote workforces, we may see that trend accelerate even more. Now is the time to prepare.