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Digital agility in COVID 19 times
Deeksha Sehgal Product Manager, Hybrid Cloud Services | June 26, 2020
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Introduction

The impact of COVID 19 continues to aggressively disrupt the business-as-usual and has indefinitely posed potential business challenges to all sectors and organizations regardless of their size and capacity. Furthermore, the outbreak has reflected the inherent need of an organization to become agile much more than ever before. Coping with the challenges to become agile rather quickly, organizations and their immediate partner ecosystem will have to work together strategically and logically to enable remote workforce for delivering operations as well as increase the business’s resiliency. Circumstances like this calls for identifying viable solutions to minimize disruptions, improve productivity, maintain the business partnerships and broaden the customer base while facilitating innovations and agile development. Charter to achieve these aspirations is simple as long as we meticulously and cautiously channel the mundane yet crucial resources that hold a digital workplace together.

Challenges

Many aspects of a typical workplace infrastructure can hold back the process of a swift changeover from working from office to working remotely. This blog talks about three of the most important and the visible ones: - network, cyber-security and collaboration services. First, agile processes and operations is becoming the new normal, due to which exponential growth is visible in the usage pattern of domestic network (internet bandwidth). Leading report has published that the internet traffic has escalated by almost 70% due to remote working. Network challenges and internet traffic have put ISPs under the immense pressure of facilitating more bandwidth in this emergency. Second, data security or data protection stands out to be the most critical factor as the company’s critical data will now be accessed by external endpoints making the corporate network more vulnerable to cyber-security attacks such as ransomware, etc. Third, as communication collaboration platforms are experiencing unprecedented growth in usage, multiple vendors are reporting the cumulative elevation in statistics around WebEx meetings, messaging, calls, and conferences. Many enterprises have asked collaboration services either to increase the volume of meetings or to broaden the user base with access. Provisioning of comprehensive support for managing this demand in resources raises the inevitable question. 

Gearing up for the challenges in network

To meet halfway in tackling the bandwidth surge, streaming services have taken judicious initiatives that involve utilizing optimum bandwidth, Netflix has slightly cut down the picture quality to prevent the congestion over the web, YouTube and Amazon have set the video streaming quality to standard definition globally, to name a few. While the streaming platforms clear part of the network’s bandwidth, additional cutback comes from the reduction in the remote maintenance activities linked to an enterprise IT now leveraging more public cloud infrastructure instead of traditional datacenters. Cloud computing significantly reduces the bottlenecks occurring in terms of data management. For example, cloud-managed databases can be provisioned from anywhere, the architecture is auto-updateable, self-healing, fault-tolerant, easy to manage, and automatically optimizes the network bandwidth utilization by the supporting team for executing day-to-day operations. Therefore, migrating applications from the traditional on-premise hosting model to a SaaS-based model will not only provide business continuity assurance but also contribute to the bigger picture of the overall network’s bandwidth optimization and agile development. “Split tunneling” is also coming as a solution against the congestion issues arising in Office 365 service. To balance the influx of end-users Microsoft has provided the list of URLs and IP addresses as the access points with detailed information on how to route the traffic directly to Office 365. 

Protect your data from cyber-security attacks 

Security policies should be re-examined in the current situation as the majority of the workforce is engaged through digital channels only, the risk for breach will increase due to changes in the consumption patterns of users. Recent ransomware attack on one of the largest IT service providers (CTS) has caused service disruptions to its clients and to get through this, the organization is reacting with all possible steps to contain the incident as soon as possible. Such attacks have made customers more vigilant towards the cyber-security threats around. Sustainability of cyber-security protocols will rely on the enactment and application of the preventive measures undertaken in such a scenario. A standard baseline can help detecting the anomalous activities happening in the environment. Platforms and privacy tools will require corporate credentials and a second factor of authentication as well as facilitating confidentiality and integrity. Along with this, understanding the controls within tools that are being used in this spectrum is important and hence enabling users, using the home devices or networks in a more secure periphery.

To support secure remote access, below practices need to be adhered:

  • Remote desktop access through VDI allows users to authenticate through a gateway and can be routed with a connection broker. Profile management and seamless migration of users from physical desktops to virtual workload becomes easier
  • Setting up the firewalls by creating a barrier between the device and the internet. Most operating system and routers have inbuilt firewalls. Ensure that the firewalls are activated.
  • Traffic emanating outside the firewalls takes a surge as the remote workforce grows.  SIEM products facilitate the service monitoring and can be put to use for alerts, notifications, and solutions to potential security problems
  • VPN is being already leveraged and the focus needs to shift on evaluating the software licenses and the support which is required to fulfill and ensure that there are no VPN connectivity issues
  • Strong security architectures should be used such as NIST and Zero Trust with multi-factor authentication methodology else it will leave us open to vulnerability and credential spraying
  • Antivirus software protects the system from viruses and malware by using good antivirus software
  • UEBA (user and entity behavior analytics) products can be of great utility offering location-based filtering and analytics which helps to detect any kind of suspicious activities happening at the end-point
  • Lastly, password’s strength. Using a strong password is must. Create unique and complex passwords

Collaboration services for remote workforce

A paradigm shift to the virtual world is evident during the lockdown period and collective effervescence is being missed in these difficult times. Working from office brings a sense of belongingness within people, sharing the same space in physical proximity is the way we are wired. In office communication is easy and effortless. One responds to the immediate queries in person instead of emails/calls. For enabling collaboration, conferencing applications, and digital platforms might not just do the magic, a behavioral change in the way we interact with our ecosystem also has to come around. 

A paradigm shift to the virtual world is evident during the lockdown period and collective effervescence is being missed in these difficult times

A collaboration service should focus on the following:

  • It should have easy to deploy/run web links to invite external stakeholders using the direct email. E.g.: Microsoft Teams, Skype, Zoom
  • Both in transit and at rest, the data should stay encrypted
  • To support the plethora of profiles in a typical enterprise such as sales representative always on the move, contractors, vendors, etc. collaboration application should be compatible with all kind of devices without comprising the data integrity and other native functionalities

Microsoft Teams, Skype, Cisco Webex, Zoom, and file-sharing services like Microsoft One-drive, Box are some of the leading and most adopted cloud-based applications to have become the choice for businesses, individuals, and educational institutions. Lastly, as the user base increase, the security risk and critical factors associated with it also increases.

Certain guidelines to keep in mind while using such free and open-source applications for official use:

  • Password protected meetings – Bombing becomes easy when sharing the meeting id and link over any public platforms, link and meeting id must be auto-generated through these apps instead of generating one
  • Avoiding security risks – Ensure that installed versions is always be up-to-date either for mobile apps or desktop applications. This lowers the risk of exposure to hackers or opportunists
  • Phishing emails for meetings – Reporting of phishing emails is a mandate, as attackers might lead people to download malware programs
  • Choosing the comprehensively encrypted platforms – Choose your applications right, depending upon your vertical. The application being used by a retail industry should be PCI/DSS compliant, a health care provider platform should be HIPPA compliant & respectively for other verticals
  • Vetting the vendors- A company must be aware of the risks associated with a platform that they are choosing and must have plans to address them

Re-assessment of licensing agreements should be done to make sure that it meets the adequate capacity if there is growth in number of user accounts in such a situation like COVID 19. OEMs like CISCO Webex have expanded the features available with the software, stack overflow is free until June. Zoom has availed the videoconferencing app for free to many schools in the U.S and many other vendors may be already providing the value-added features at no additional cost in expectation of upcoming opportunity for getting broader services facilitation to their customers in the longer term.

To summarize, transformation is essential for evolution. It is important to twiddle the knob of transformation from time to time to remove unwanted obsolete factors regularly from different fields of life for desirable progress. Therefore, figuring out ways to be efficient, as we were in the office, while working from home is challenging but not impossible. Frequent issuance of guidelines and approaches linked to agile ways of working by the organization will go a long way in preserving the vital resources that we are given to work with i.e. internet, data protection, and communications. This will become a cognitive thinking experience for us to get ready with digital workplace strategy which will not only make employees productive but also prepare ourselves for any such situation with improved employee engagement keeping all the security standards in place. 

 

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