In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, there was a big emphasis on stress testing major banks to determine if they have the reserves and processes to withstand such an event again. The 2020 pandemic had much the same outcome but applied to and affected every industry. And unlike the predictable pre-planned exercises of the post-2008 stress tests, this was an unpredictable live-fire test.
Businesses found all their systems and processes tested to the limit, including their ability to maintain continuity, supply chain integrity and customer satisfaction.
Nevertheless, those organizations that were able to make it through are now armed with a wealth of data on which elements of their operations held up, and which will now need reinforcing and reinventing as they look to the future.
For the majority of firms, the most critical stress point was their ability to adapt their operations for the sudden pivot to remote working. Many organizations have concluded that flexible remote working will be a mainstay for the foreseeable future, but even those that can’t or won’t embrace a remote or hybrid strategy will need to ensure they can weather a storm like the COVID-19 pandemic again.
Levelling the playing field
Whether an organization is embracing a more hybrid approach or prefers to get staff back into the office as much as possible, the biggest priority is to ensure that all locations have the same quality of experience and connection capability. While most organizations are progressing through cloud migration, many still rely on older legacy VPN solutions for remote network access. This can result in a wildly uneven level of accessibility and security between office and remote workers.
Regardless of if they are at their office desk, dining room table, or offsite somewhere else, all personnel need to be able to reliably and securely access network applications and resources to maintain the same level of productivity. This is perhaps doubly important for customer-facing roles, as remote working without the right support can have a very detrimental impact on customer relations.
For example, during the main lockdown of 2020 I had a truly abysmal customer support call. I was kept waiting for nearly an hour, and the resulting call had very poor connection quality compounded by the loud sounds of family activity and a barking dog very clear in the background. As most firms were still getting to grips with the lockdown and were fielding emergency provisions, I was willing to cut this company some slack.
By now, though, businesses have had more than enough time to get their systems and processes in order. Any firm still presenting that level of quality to its customers in 2021 will be losing them extremely quickly.
Security has also become a pressing issue as threat actors took advantage of businesses left in disarray by the pandemic. While things are more ordered now, remote workers are much more vulnerable to attack if a company is still relying on a perimeter-centric strategy that relies on workers being on location.
Time to look ahead
Rather than looking for a way to get back to where they were at the start of last year, organizations should be focusing on how they can change and evolve.
IT decision makers need to step back and ask themselves what the best approach is to accomplish a new model that incorporates a heavy mix of future remote working. Further, they should be taking a long-term view and making strategic decisions that will cover their bases for at least five years as well as helping them to resist the impact of any other serious external issues.
Businesses that have been able to make the best of this crisis and turn it into an opportunity will have a serious competitive advantage over those that saw the pandemic as a one-off and have been keen to return to their old status quo. Those firms that refuse to take the leap and make the transformation now are destined to feature in business textbooks as examples of how not to do things.
The right technology for the job
Having the right technology in place is perhaps the most important part of adapting to a remote or hybrid working future.
VoIP is one of the most effective ways of ensuring that workers can make high quality calls regardless of their location. This may come as a surprise as the technology has been around for some time, but it has advanced rapidly over the years. Indeed, VoIP is now at the point where it can exceed the quality of an actual phone connection in the office.
Organizations should also be looking to shed old legacy technology as much as possible. While many businesses still have assets that require a VPN, ideally, they should be moving towards a fully cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model.
Looking to the future, one of the best approaches is Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), which simplifies things by bundling multiple software-defined networking and network security functions into a single cloud-based provision.
As a variety of networking and security solutions such as zero trust and Firewall-as-a-Service (FWaaS) are integrated into a single service, implementing SASE will create a more streamlined network infrastructure that is more cost effective and easier to manage.
Using a SASE approach creates a single point of control that can deliver the same level of capabilities to every user, regardless of their location and which server they are using. This means small branches and home workers can have the same service level as large office locations, delivered through the cloud with no on-prem installation required. For businesses fielding a large remote workforce or naturally spread across many smaller locations, this creates significant savings through economies of scale.
This is particularly beneficial when it comes to security, as it counters the threat of cyber attackers going after isolated home workers that they expect to have a weaker level of security. Combined with other efforts such as security training, this can significantly mitigate the security risks posed by a remote workforce.
What does the future hold for the security of remote working?
It is essential for organizations to take the pandemic as an opportunity to grow and move forwards if they want to remain competitive. However, while they must move quickly to keep up, they should be taking a logical, data-driven approach. This requires looking back over the last year to determine which systems need replacing or refining, but also looking forward to consider what capabilities they want to have in the next few years and beyond.
By evaluating requirements from a blank slate perspective rather than being tied to existing legacy technology, firms can move on from reacting to the pandemic and look forward to creating a flexible and resilient remote working operation that will support them for years to come.