Over the last three months, we have had many discussions on business continuity with thousands of customers and partners. If we were to run a survey on the number of webinars IT professionals have attended business continuity or remote working, I wouldn’t be surprised if it exceeds five each.
The good news is that over the last few months tech companies across the board have acted quickly to help support organizations to navigate new ways of working and operating IT through this difficult time. In a nutshell, the advancement of digital technology in the last few years has been fundamental in making this shift possible. While every industry is facing challenges, many have also been able to transition to a different work environment. At VMware, we had about 97% of our staff working transition to remote working seamlessly and helped many of our customers do the same.
There is a universal consensus that ‘business as usual’ will no longer be an option. Several global organizations, including Twitter, Google and Facebook have announced they will operate with remote working until at least the end of the year. Others will be performing with low staff strength in offices. For the first time, it is possible to mount a good business case for having 60-70% of staff working remotely.
However, for most companies, remote working capabilities were built out of sudden demand without the expectation of a long-term plan. What we’ve seen is that organizations that did not have digital foundations built, from an infrastructure, networking, security and device perspective have felt challenged as they turned-on and expanded a new workspace for a longer time. Almost every organization now is being forced to think like a digital organization, where every executive on the board wants to know how technology can help them stay afloat and accelerate to innovate.
I see four key steps in this process of making the change from knee-jerk business continuity success to long term resiliency of an organization.
Step One: Embrace cloud computing
Cloud-native organizations and those that have been ahead in their multi-cloud approach have already demonstrated they are more agile in this crisis. Adopting the cloud solution that works for you, whether you are a company that stores the majority of your applications on-premise or in the cloud, is the first step. To be able to adapt to the current environment, you need to ensure you have well-developed strategies for using the right mix of private, hybrid and public cloud for your business. As the requirements evolve with the changing social and health developments in countries where you have operations, you need to look at how to operate both in the office and remotely.. The advantages of a cloud way of working is its designed to be flexible and not dependent on being in your office or your building to operate.
The tools and skills available and in use today enable you to meet new customer and new employee demands. We had one of our telecommunications customers that had 90% of their customers “top up” their pre-paid mobile phone through a huge distribution network of retailers. Overnight, due to lockdown, this was no longer possible. They had an online capability, it grew at 600%! Overnight, and fortunately they had built an agile cloud infrastructure, there was no impact to the end customer, no impact to the business revenue and this really shows how Cloud tools, technologies are meeting customer and business needs.
The opportunity for all organizations is to embrace an external cloud service that is integrated into their existing environment by creating a multi-cloud environment. This enabled organizations avoid having a single point of failure and leverage the new capabilities in these hyperscale cloud providers. As an example, when one of the state governments in Australia had created an architecture with us a year earlier to use their applications in an on-premise and off-premise mode using one of the large cloud providers. As COVID-19 restrictions hit, they were tasked with moving 8,000 government employees to a work from home environment within a week.
The flexibility of their multi-cloud environment allowed them to scale up capacity very quickly to accommodate the huge influx of users in just two days. Staff were also on boarded by the end of the week, keeping disruption to government services to a minimum. And when the demand for remote access reduces as government employees return to physical offices, cloud capacity can be scaled down to suit needs. This seamless multi-cloud capacity allows IT to support the business in ways that are agile, at speed and at scale.
Step Two: Implement a secure and responsive network
Remote working has put additional demands on the capacity, security and traffic patterns of corporate networks. No longer can IT support 5 large buildings of workers, suddenly they have to support 5000 end locations.
Software-defined wide area networks, known simply as SD-WAN, enable network configuration and capacity to be controlled from a single location to meet these changing demands.
In Ohio, one of the largest state healthcare systems built pop-up COVID-19 testing clinics throughout remote parts of the state, using VMware SD-WAN services to scale and deliver rapidly.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center transformed an empty parking garage into a much-needed COVID-19 screening area for their adult hospital. Medical staff in the triage centre provided undisrupted live updates to their colleagues within the hospital. This will continue to inform the hospital’s response strategy and resource utilisation in the hours, days and months ahead.
Step Three: Build in security intrinsically
According to a report Cyber Smart: enabling APAC businesses prepared by VMware and Deloitte Access Economics, three in five companies in the Asia Pacific region have put off digitisation out of fear of cyber attacks. This is perhaps not surprising. Deloitte has also estimated a large organization in APAC could lose US$30 million in the event of a cyber breach. As companies and government agencies have moved to many end locations including people’s homes, suddenly the attack surface available for security attacks has multiplied.
When I say security should be intrinsic, I mean it should be intrinsic to your infrastructure. Security solutions should be built into the environment that needs protection, not applied as a layer on top. Also, they should use contextual information to help prevent attacks. And they should help simplify management, unifying administrative tools and bringing together disparate security teams.
Cyber hygiene is the first line of defence. It is essential to follow the necessary steps to cyber health. These include - Least Privilege, where Users and system components are allowed only the minimum access and necessary function needed to perform their purpose; Micro- segmentation, for IT environment to be divided into small parts to contain the damage if one part of the network is compromised, Encryption, Multi-factor Authentication – for the identity of users and system components should be verified using multiple factor, Patching, Systems should be kept up to date and consistently maintained.
Step Four: Prepare the workforce for the future
The human factor in remote working is critical. Organizations need a clear strategy for remote working, with clear guidance, rules and policies. Managers and employees need to understand the individual needs of employees, their home environments and provide support for different needs. This example of a Japanese retailer selling a personal privacy tent and workspace for people who may not have this space at home has been quite popular.
At VMware, we have openly discussed many topics between managers and the executive leadership team, ranging from mental health support through to the physical needs of our employees at home. We have actively surveyed our global workforce to make sure we are quickly adapting to employee work from home requirements. Some of the examples are 1:1 counselling services for employees and their families, a stipend for furniture, monitors and ergonomic desks. Regular communication directly with executive leadership to share updates and casual individual team check-ins has become best practice.
Finally, we must leverage the opportunity created by remote working towards an equal workplace for all. Remote working can significantly increase the pool of people who can participate in the workforce. It creates more opportunities for part-time workers and for people unable to be physically present in the workplace, for various reasons.
VMinclusion Taara, our return to work program for women in India, we have seen a significant increase in the number of women who have opted for online learning. Across new graduate programs, we’re also seeing an encouraging trend in greater representation of women applications. I see this as an early sign of the possibility of making the workplace more inclusive at every front. Leaders need to identify this cause and act quickly to focus on the methodology and results of their hiring programs. Remote learning and remote working could become the biggest enabler to make an equal world.
The longest journey starts with a single step. All organizations need to now recognise this shift to remote working was but the first step in a long journey. It is now time to identify, plan for and execute the subsequent actions on that journey.