If 2020 could be described in one word, it would be agility. While the world was already in the thick of transitioning into Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) even before the global pandemic, it is fair to say that the crisis accelerated the process for businesses everywhere.
Everything we knew about productivity was turned on its head when office-based workers found themselves having to stay at home and balance work with family responsibilities throughout the day.
With a large scale shift towards workers connecting from their home Wi-Fi and connecting to corporate applications and accessing data using personal devices, many IT professionals were left scrambling to meet a sudden demand for secure communication and collaboration tools.
As we head into the new year, the post-COVID workforce will no longer strictly be based on an in-house, 9-to-5, 40-hour work week model. Collaboration, connectivity and telecommuting will remain the status quo going forward.
With increased flexibility, firms looking to expand may look to hire talent from across multiple geographical locations to fill in gaps, thereby transforming the concept of ‘work from home’ to ‘work from anywhere’.
These changes will have implications on traditional brick and mortar businesses too. For example, small food & beverage businesses that once relied on walk-in customers have had to compensate for the lack of footfall by promoting, taking orders and coordinating delivery schedules entirely online – either by partnering with a delivery platform or going it themselves through popular social media channels such as Facebook and Instagram. Many of these business owners actually saw business pick up as a result of this transition, and are likely to continue digital adoption as they assimilate into the new normal.
The rapid pace of digitalisation will have significant implications on network demands and will continue to impact the way network infrastructures are built for businesses in 2021.
With the new year just a few weeks away, here are three IT predictions that will affect how both business leaders and employees approach the future of work:
Cloud and multi-cloud adoptions will increase
Cloud will power how businesses adapt to a new normal as we transition into 2021. As businesses continue to adjust to remote working or implement hybrid work models -- where workers based in offices and home communication and collaborate seamlessly -- the ability to quickly, reliably and securely access company servers and files will be crucial.
Businesses, having learnt their lessons from this year, will also continue laying the foundation for operational agility, so expect to see a sustained and continued transition towards the cloud, with multi-cloud options and the use of smart and automation technologies being thrown into the mix.
Because data is no longer accessed and exchanged within the confines of the corporate environment, the challenge for IT leaders will be to manage data flows between disparate environments to ensure data is not copied or duplicated when it is in transit.
Network robustness vs capacity
Data is the currency of the 4IR, just as steam, electricity and silicon chips were for the prior industrial revolutions. In this new era, businesses can use next-generation applications to capitalise on real-time customer data as well as vast stores of relevant historical data to make decisions with speed and accuracy.
A business’ ability to quickly acquire, analyse and act on data will be a key factor in determining if they will be technology leaders, but the continuous cycle of acquiring, analysing and acting on data requires a certain level of reliability and stability.
Since future applications will require high-bandwidth and ultra-low- latency network performance, connections that are merely ‘good enough’ will no longer do. Instead, a focus on network robustness will become a priority as businesses cope with data-intensive workloads and other kinds of eventualities.
Demand for endpoint protection will increase
The global threat landscape is constantly adapting, evolving and growing. Combine this with the increasing complexities of business IT environments, traditional perimeter-based security approaches are now becoming obsolete. Under today’s circumstances, remote workers identities’ and devices are the new security perimeter.
As such, endpoints will continue to pose a challenge for businesses to protect, as users connect from their home networks, using connected or mobile devices and desktop computers to access corporate applications and data. Because of this, an increased focus around SD-WAN and security add-ons for home networks will also see a surge.
The need for increased endpoint security will not just be limited to corporate environments – almost overnight, brick and mortar businesses became the custodians of huge amounts of customer data such as names and addresses, and will have to not only ensure that all IT safety measures are in place, but that rules centred around compliance and data protection are adhered to, if they wish to continue reaping the benefits that digitalisation has brought onto their business.
The rate of cyberattacks on Operational Technology (OT) infrastructure is also increasing, and these breaches are causing real damage. Attacks that put lives at risk, such as hospital cyberattacks and ransomware, are also becoming more common. Without a strong OT security posture, businesses could see more destructive attacks against industrial control systems, oil, gas or manufacturing plants. Because of the impact a breach could have on human lives, a greater commitment of resources towards OT security can be expected in 2021.
We do not know how long we will continue to work from home and/or have to avoid air travel. What is clear is that becoming more adaptive, agile and responsive than ever is crucial for businesses today.
Businesses that understand this are well-positioned to become market leaders in a post-pandemic world, well beyond the new year.