Lockdown tech investments: unlocking the long-term benefits
The last few months have been extremely tough for all of us. While most governments are shifting their attention to lockdown exit strategies and getting the economy back on track, it is clear that the way business is done has changed for good. The COVID-19 crisis has forced many industries to adapt quickly, changing attitudes to technology and requiring businesses across sectors to scale new initiatives in a matter of days or weeks.
Most notable among these shifts has been the acceleration of cloud adoption to support a newly remote workforce. In our recent , we tracked a 50% increase in overall enterprise adoption of cloud services between January and April of this year. Collaboration tools such as Cisco WebEx, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack saw even more exponential growth, with an increase in usage of up to 600%.
Of course, this was a trend that was in motion before, but many sectors that had little prior exposure to cloud infrastructure have been forced to adopt this model quickly. Organisations that made these decisions for short-term business continuity will no doubt be looking for ways to ensure these purchases can become secure, long-term investments. The reality is this is a pivotal moment for many businesses: they must consider what kind of construct they should return to in future – rather than how quickly they can go back to the previous status quo.
Securing long-term cloud success
Key among the considerations for cloud success is security. Our research showed a 630% spike in external attacks on cloud accounts from January to April. We’ve also seen a boom in so-called “shadow IT”, where employees adopt and use systems and applications without the explicit approval of the IT team. In some cases, IT is not even aware which cloud services and applications staff are using – making it very difficult to keep track of data and secure it.
In many cases, businesses have ended up adopting a fragmented range of unsanctioned cloud applications, and we’ve even seen some customers using different applications for the exact same task across various departments. This is not only inefficient investment, but it makes it almost impossible for the IT team to gain full visibility of where sensitive data is being shared and for what purpose. For long-term cloud success, organisations need to decide which applications are best for their own needs, based on not only cost but also risk.
The evolution of the office
Recent events will also have permanent implications for organisations’ physical real estate footprint. The return to the office will undoubtedly be a phased process, and many employees have expressed a reluctance to go back to the old ways of working.
This means that businesses now need to have a much more flexible approach. Employees must be empowered to work from home as they require, but this will also necessitate greater flexibility when it comes to commercial real estate environments. Not only will the obligatory safety and social distancing checks need to be in place, but it may be that some organisations don’t actually require physical office space five days a week.
This presents opportunities for commercial real estate companies, who are starting to think about more realistic future usage patterns, such as allowing businesses to partner together in a timeshare-style arrangement where they only pay for the time they need. We’ve seen revolutions in the “sharing economy” through the models employed by the likes of Airbnb and Uber, and the pre-lockdown popularity of shared workspaces through WeWork is surely a precursor to something more permanent.
This new approach to office space and work patterns also demands a more flexible IT infrastructure. Shared office space will mean that you’re unlikely to have high-cost server infrastructure on site, and this may further accelerate the shift from on-premise to the cloud, where businesses can easily scale their usage up or down in a cost effective manner, depending on demand.
Preparing for long-term resilience
Overall, setting up for long-term business continuity and resilience comes down to three key considerations: people, process and technology.
Everything that we do is people-led, because technology needs to follow the way corporate culture changes. We’re seeing that most employees would like to retain some degree of flexibility when we return to offices. The Confederation for British Industry (CBI) about “building back better” after COVID-19, and these new ways of working do provide an opportunity for higher levels of employee satisfaction and retention, better work/life balance and ultimately greater productivity. It’s really a win-win, and I think most organisations are listening to their employees’ concerns and factoring them into planned process changes.
When it comes to the technology, it is imperative to have a flexible IT architecture in place. If you just bolt new purchases onto different parts of the infrastructure, it will be poorly integrated, costly and prone to human error. An IT architecture is almost like an amorphous mass that stretches and morphs in different directions as the digital journey takes its course. Right now, of course, it is very much stretching in the direction of home connectivity and cloud capability. Having a security structure that sits on top of this and flexes as the infrastructure changes is also crucial to ensuring success. With this long-term view in mind, businesses must map and integrate their more recent lockdown-driven emergency technology purchases within their overarching IT architecture to make the most of their investment and drive future business success.
GfK and VMware: Innovating together on hybrid cloud
GfK has been the global leader in data and analytics for more than 85 years, supplying its clients with optimised decision inputs.
In its capacity as a strategic and technical partner, VMware has been walking GfK along its digital transformation path for over a decade.
“We are a demanding and singularly dynamic customer, which is why a close partnership with VMware is integral to the success of everyone involved,” said Joerg Hesselink, Global Head of Infrastructure, GfK IT Services.
Four years ago, the Nuremberg-based researcher expanded its on-premises infrastructure by introducing VMware vRealize Automation. In doing so, it laid a solid foundation, resulting in a self-service hybrid-cloud environment.
By expanding on the basis of VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management, GfK has given itself a secure infrastructure and reliable operations by efficiently operating processes, policies, people and tools in both private and public cloud environments.
One important step for GfK involved migrating from multiple cloud providers to just a single one. The team chose VMware.
“VMware is the market leader for on-premises virtualisation and hybrid-cloud solutions, so it was only logical to tackle the next project for the future together,” says Hesselink.
Migration to the VMware-based environment was integrated into existing hardware simply and smoothly in April 2020. Going forward, GfK’s new hybrid cloud model will establish a harmonised core system complete with VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management and a volume rising from an initial 500 VMs to a total of 4,000 VMs.
“We are modernising, protecting and scaling our applications with the world’s leading hybrid cloud solution: VMware Cloud on AWS, following VMware on Google Cloud Platform,” adds Hesselink.
The hybrid cloud-based infrastructure also empowers GfK to respond to new and future projects with astonishing agility: Resources can now be shifted quickly and easily from the private to the public cloud – without modifying the nature of interaction with the environment.
The gfknewron project is a good example – the company’s latest AI-powered product is based exclusively on public cloud technology. The consistency guaranteed by VMware Cloud on AWS eases the burden on both regular staff and the IT team. Better still, since the teams are already familiar with the VMware environment, the learning curve for upskilling is short.
One very important factor for the GfK was that VMware Cloud on AWS constituted an investment in future-proof technology that will stay relevant.
“The new cloud-based infrastructure comprising VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation forges a successful link between on-premises and cloud-based solutions,” says Hesselink. “That in turn enables GfK to efficiently develop its own modern applications and solutions.
“In market research, everything is data-driven. So, we need the best technological basis to efficiently process large volumes of data and consistently distill them into logical insights that genuinely benefit the client.
“We transform data and information into actionable knowledge that serves as a sustainable driver of business growth. VMware Cloud on AWS is an investment in a platform that helps us be well prepared for whatever the future may hold.”