Technology delivered with the support of partners that understand your business and take the time to learn about your specific needs, will ensure productivity and security are balanced and delivered.

Anthony Caruana Anthony Caruana Professional Writer
Anthony Caruana

Microsoft Fast Study – Post-COVID working environment

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing restrictions and lockdowns some businesses were better prepared for remote and distributed workforces than others. Staff were equipped with laptops and many systems were remotely accessible allowing teams to remain productive when unable to access the main office.

But that doesn’t mean there weren’t challenges. There’s a marked difference between occasionally working remotely and being ready to work outside the main office for weeks or months at a time. That meant businesses needed to

look at everything from security and support to system and network architecture in order to ensure that workers could be productive without compromising business operations.

The post-COVID world has prompted businesses to challenge old assumptions as they adapt to the world in 2021 and beyond.

Ben Johnson, General Manager at Dicker Data, leading value-added distributor of hardware, software, cloud, and emerging technologies, says the pace of digital transformation driven by the COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented – something Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says resulted in two years of digital transformation taking place over just two months.

“Systems and apps that had not been updated were quickly virtualised,” says Johnson. “External access was bolstered and the increased use of public cloud platforms like Azure gave businesses more scalability.”

That rapid transition required businesses to sometimes put aside plans and ideas that were long held. In some cases, the (Standard Operating Environment) SOE was sidelined as productivity became the new focus. Businesses were forced to re-evaluate their infrastructure strategies as they reconsidered on-prem, cloud and hybrid options. Centralised systems were moved or re-architected to the edge to facilitate access and even where internal security was strong, there’s been a need to bolster external security.

The digital renaissance 

That transition was not purely about the systems and security that underpin enterprise systems. Businesses are facing a new world where face to face and direct experiences are being usurped. Digital is now the default with almost all employee and client interactions requiring both real world and digital options.

“There’s no replacement for human interaction and face to face engagement; as humans we crave constant interaction. While lockdowns, boarder restrictions and community transmission uncertainty continue to impede the ability to physically meet, there’s a greater emphasis on the role of technology to facilitate those connections”, Johnson says. “It’s not about eliminating face-to-face interactions but to focus on enhancing how we virtually collaborate and build unified and inclusive experiences.”

Face to face is still important but meetings will have complementary physical and virtual opportunities for attendance and contribution.

While this renaissance has progressed, many businesses have struggled to keep up. Research from Valoir 1 found that while almost two thirds of the workforce has transitioned to remotely working, barely a quarter of workers have been provided with new or improved technology since the onset of COVID-19.

As businesses invest in the tools needed to get the greatest value from their human capital, they will reap the benefits of an engaged workforce. This is critical for fostering a sense of belonging in the workforce – a critical factor for success.

While all those changes, businesses have had to adapt their security strategies.

The security question

Even those that thought they had their internal security in order, had to make changes. Public cloud services from reputable providers offer strong security – even up to levels that are endorsed by government agencies. Perceptions about the security of cloud services have given way to reality.

Cloud providers typically have access to more security expertise than many private companies. This means that businesses are able to outsource security activities to a trusted cloud provider which allows internal personnel to focus on high-value internal activities.

Through the pandemic the cybersecurity threat level facing businesses has increased. Research from CheckPoint 2 found that criminals have been executing phishing campaigns discovered impersonating the WHO and popular conferencing platforms to steal sensitive information.

“Success will depend on how well people are equipped with technology that is agile, robust and secure. Our digital capability needs to support easy connection and accessibility.”

The building blocks of the digital renaissance

“Digital is the default in the post-COVID world,” says Johnson. “Success will depend on how well people are equipped

with technology that is agile, robust and secure. Our digital capability needs to support easy connection and accessibility.”

The first half of 2020 wasn’t just about the rapid uptake and transformation of systems within businesses. New features were and continue to be added to digital platforms faster than ever before. For example, Microsoft Teams has seen dozens of new features added to support the new world faster than we’ve ever seen.

Alongside the addition of new features and expanded functionality to enable distributed teams to work together businesses have also been focussed on ensuring their security posture is strengthened. As the remote work revolution evolves, two-factor authentication has expanded and increased use of single sign-on applications has taken a leap forward enabling organisations to improve accessibility and as reduce the support overhead typically associated with remote access.

People are the key

The digital renaissance might have been supported by technology, but its success has been dependent on people. The adaptability of people has been the foundation of the work from home revolution’s success. But that success relies on equipping people with the right tools.

“Remote work is here to stay which means remote devices like laptops are for everyone. They are no longer ‘special’ with the desktop to laptop transition now in full swing,” says Johnson.

Laptop shipments increased during the pandemic and that increase shows no sign of abating according to recent data from IDC. A big factor in that, according to Mr Johnson, is an acceleration in the shift to Windows 10 from Windows 7.

But the requirement for well-equipped home offices is now expected. As well as monitors and easy docking solutions for that growing fleet of laptops, businesses need to invest in high quality headsets and webcams now that online collaboration is the default.

Although people are getting better at using the technology, support remains critical. Mr Johnson says as much as 3-5% of employee time is spent dealing with technology issues. This is why businesses need to invest in remote support tools as well as remote deployment technology, such as Windows Autopilot, as well as newer, more reliable technology.

Businesses were pushed, during the early days of the pandemic, to get people working productively as quickly as possible. BYOD became part of that new normal as people used the tools they had at home to connect and work. This, in turn, pushed businesses to improve security. The concept of the SOE changed with businesses forced to abandon old notions and confront the new reality.

Mr Johnson says there has also been significant growth in virtualised solutions such as Citrix and Windows Virtual Desktop.

What will 2021 bring? 

With the rapid uptake of new technology in 2020, 2021 will be about catchup.

“Security will be key,” says Johnson. “VPNs will continue to be critical so teams can connect to legacy applications. Not all workloads can be moved to the cloud because of regulatory challenges so businesses will continuously to adapt and upgrade their security posture.”

Storage needs will continue to accelerate he adds. The line between the cost of physical and virtual storage will be blurred with some storage, such as static data returning to on premises solutions with more dynamic data going to the cloud.

The focus is not on IT – it’s about outcomes. The continued rapid evolution of collaboration platforms and deployment of new technology has been important. But the most successful transitions have been the one where the business outcomes have been the most significant priority.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then we’ve seen the massive disruption of 2020 give rise to a new way of not just working, but considering what work is. 

Work is no longer a place we go - it's now, more than ever, a thing we do. Technology, delivered with the support of partners that understand your business and take the time to learn about your specific needs, will ensure productivity and security are balanced and delivered. 

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