As we face the ongoing challenges presented by the Covid- 19 pandemic as a society, there have been significant challenges for both employers and employees adapting to the unprecedented changes across most organisations.
Microsoft research revealed that over 58 per cent of managers felt they have not yet effectively learned how to delegate and empower virtual teams. Employees admitted their biggest challenges were maintaining company culture, team cohesion and coping with increased silos. Now, organisations must ensure people feel connected to their teammates and to clearly see how the work they do as a team contributes to realising their organisation's vision. Successful teams will be characterised by how productive they are as well as the sense of camaraderie, empathy and trust each team member feels. Key to this is ensuring a smooth transition to new technologies, and empowering and enabling teams through the process.
Organisations that were already using the cloud for their IT infrastructure and services before the pandemic, found the shift to remote working models was better supported.
“The cloud is already optimised for remote working,” says Microsoft Ireland’s national technology officer Kieran McCorry. “Organisations that had their systems on-premises faced difficulties as these systems were often neither configured nor optimised for home-working. The security wasn’t there, and they weren’t able to scale to meet the new requirements.
“They faced a position where around 80 per cent of traffic came from inside the network to one where around 80 per cent was coming from outside, and the systems just couldn't handle that. Our customers who had already moved from on-premises to Office 365 cloud-based solutions before the pandemic found the switch to remote working smoother.”
Dermot Williams, managing director of IT security specialist Threatscape, agrees. “The pandemic has flipped the old model on its head. Instead of having lots of people inside a network, organisations now have most of their people outside it, and many didn’t have the power and resources to handle that if they were using on-premises solutions.”
One of the cloud’s chief advantages, according to Williams, is the fact that it is location agnostic as far as the user is concerned.
“You just take your laptop and go home and continue working as you were,” he says.
“Everything is already in the cloud. For people in that situation, it was as if nothing ever happened. The cloud has really proved its mettle during the pandemic. It's the perfect IT setup for a hyper-distributed world, where content is hosted in, or accessed from, many different locations. You still need to ensure that your endpoints and applications are appropriately secured, but that's much easier to achieve if you are starting with a solid and scalable foundation for your core infrastructure.”
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that over half of the Irish employers who participated in a recent Microsoft-commissioned survey said they will move more of their organisation to the cloud post-pandemic.
Carried out by Amárach Research, the study surveyed 500 Irish employees and 200 senior decision-makers across private and public sector organisations in Ireland in September 2020 about their new working and digital security habits, and concerns they now face.
The study found that a majority of employers (58 per cent) expect to maintain a hybrid workforce that will blend home and office working in future. From an employee perspective, 57 per cent said their attitude towards the use of cloud-based services had changed positively because of Covid-19.
The research also highlighted some serious security failings.
"Organisations had to pivot swiftly from a controlled office environment and that exposed some weaknesses".
Over one in four (26 per cent) remote workers have experienced a cyber-attack personally, while a quarter of them worry about the security of confidential or sensitive data that they share with colleagues.
One in five employees feel their data is more vulnerable when working from home in the absence of normal IT supports.
“Organisations had to pivot swiftly from a controlled office environment and that exposed some weaknesses,” says McCorry. “There should be no compromises on security. That should be a no-go area. Many remote workers are using systems that are not well suited to providing security in the new environment.”
This is reinforced by the survey results which found that 45 per cent of employers have asked their employees to use their personal devices for work since the start of the pandemic, with 42 per cent of employers yet to secure those devices. Furthermore, nearly a third of remote employees have unrestricted access to sensitive documents and information.
“The large number of employers asking employees to use personal devices demonstrates a lack of preparedness for the shift to remote working,” McCorry adds. “They are also asking them to use those devices to share data and information without knowing if they are secure. The potential for data leakage is huge.”
"Migration to the cloud is the solution to a huge number of problems organisations are facing when it comes to the shift to remote working".
Cloud for security
That has led to many organisations scrambling to fill the security gaps.
“Thirty-six per cent of the employers in our survey said they are retrofitting security measures,” says McCorry.
“These measures should have been in place already, and if they had used a public cloud service, these would have been addressed. Migration to the cloud is the solution to a huge number of problems organisations are facing when it comes to the shift to remote working.”
McCorry points to the HSE’s success early in 2020 in the development of cloud-based solutions to aid in the fight against Covid-19.
“Within weeks of the first cases of Covid-19 being detected in Ireland, the HSE had developed the cloud-based Covid Care Tracker in partnership with Microsoft and a number of other partners. It also developed a chatbot to relieve the strain on the Covid helpline workers as well as a data lake to provide statistics to Nphet and the Department of Health. It was able to do these things in weeks rather than months or years thanks to cloud technology.”
The key advantages of the cloud in this regard are scalability, availability and security. Organisations do not have to invest in new hardware as their needs grow as the cloud has the capacity to scale with their needs almost infinitely.
A sudden power outage or other event will not bring the system down due to the cloud’s in-built resilience. And the cloud provides access to the very best in class when it comes to security.
“Microsoft invests $1 billion a year in security,” says McCorry says. “And our cloud services deal with 6.5 trillion security events every day. When you analyse that, if you were to process one event every second it would take over 200,000 years to process that number. That’s the scale of our security event processing, and we offer that capability to our customers in the cloud.”
The migration to the cloud is gathering pace, according to Threatscape's Dermot Williams.
“The move towards the cloud was well underway pre-pandemic with organisations using it for its scalability, elastic cost model and security, among other things. There are lots of good reasons that lead people to look at the cloud. With on-premises systems, care and maintenance have to continue. With the cloud, the provider looks after all of that which allows you to focus on other priorities.”
Security optimisation is a key driver in the move too, Williams adds. “Ten years ago CIOs could just draw a circle around their network, outside of which they said ‘there be dragons’. Good luck to anyone trying to do that now – there are no simple perimeters anymore.
“It’s at times of great upheaval that chinks appear in the armour, and that’s what we’re seeing now. Effective security must perform at scale and adapt at speed – and cloud providers have the resources to achieve both.”