Lockdown tech investments: unlocking the long-term benefits

By Adam Philpott
Adam Philpott, EMEA president, McAfee, on how organisations can turn ‘panic buy’ lockdown tech purchases into investments for long-term business suc...

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 Cloud Adoption and Risk Report: Work from Home Edition, 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) talks 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.

For more information on business topics in Europe, Middle East and Africa please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief EMEA.

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