In 2020 more so than other years, companies across the world invested heavily in shoring up their digital infrastructure as a result of the sudden shift to remote work. This is not to say that digital infrastructure projects were not being undertaken in prior years, but the pandemic steamrolled them forward. With all this investment done and an end to the pandemic in sight, the focus should shift to leveraging the investments companies made.
While the internet and digital payment methods have been widely used for decades, they were seen as tools rather than the primary infrastructure. They could be called upon and leveraged, but weren’t completely depended upon. Lockdowns changed that.
Organizations around the world had to make hasty investments into digital technologies that many have never used before. Prior to the pandemic, there was much less need for companies to use services like Zoom, which have since become a lifeline for professional and personal purposes alike. Such a rapid transition to video conferencing threw everyone off, including Zoom. Users then experienced security breaches known as “Zoom bombing”, in which hackers take over a Zoom conference. Zoom has since made headway in preventing this from happening, but this is just one of many examples. Others include ransomware, cyberattacks, and phishing schemes, all of which have become more sophisticated and prevalent. Organizations that made such rapid investments into new digital infrastructure have struggled against an onslaught of attacks.
But with time and dedication, investments into cybersecurity and digital communications are beginning to pay off. Security is becoming stronger. Organizations are learning how to effectively leverage technology in ways they hadn't before. So while the social distancing measures are beginning to ease, the need for quality digital infrastructure is not subsiding.
According to Fast Company, the future of work is not remote or in-office. Instead it is a hybrid approach, somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. Chief HR Officer Nickle LaMoreaux of IBM and her team conducted a global online brainstorm for all IBMers last year and concluded that a majority of them preferred to be in the office at least one to three days per week. They missed the social interaction, spontaneous collaboration, and the learning and networking opportunities that came from being in the office. Recently, Uber also announced that they will be moving to a hybrid workplace approach from September of this year.
Although this future way of working is relatively untested for many companies, getting this right will depend on the leadership accepting the uncertainties, experimenting and iterating as you go. As pointed out by Nickle LaMoreaux, any near term risks arising as a result of this decentralized approach are more the short-term growing pains. This hybrid model will bring opportunities for greater diversity in the workforce by increasing accessibility to marginalized groups such as new parents, single parents, and those with disabilities; and result in more empowered and happier employees. Additionally, companies by shifting their focus on rethinking their tools and processes will pioneer new approaches for an entirely new way of working.
As Markus Albert, the Managing Director at Eat First put it, the focus on reorienting their business model towards the increased use of AI, has been instrumental in Eat First not being caught flat footed by the disruption of the pandemic. These shifts have however made it even more imperative to improve efforts to deal with increased cybersecurity risks. Given the investment in new softwares and IoT hardware that became part of the remote work and automation shifts over the last year, the risk of ransomware attacks have increased and therefore cybersecurity has to be high on every company's list. According to Angelo Marcotullio and Josh Moulin of CIS, protecting your network from intruders should be a top priority for any organization. Organizations need to focus on implementing security controls, mitigating vulnerabilities, documenting configurations, and ensuring proper monitoring. While reviewing their long-term remote security strategies, organizations should consider implementing solutions such as Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) or Security Access Service Edge (SASE) to further improve and secure network access.
The strides made in adopting a more digitized business model over the last year have also unlocked multiple opportunities to create and harness new revenue streams. According to Sammy Belose of Sage Software, moving to an e-commerce platform has been a great enabler for them. The technology coupled with a more nimble mindset has played a substantial role in helping them stay relevant, doubled their profits, tripled revenues, and quadrupled their customer base. As Ann Martin of CreditDonkey has said, "Digital infrastructure is the new normal. Businesses should be marketing their digitized platforms and services as convenient, stress-free, instantaneous alternatives to traditional face-to-face services." And one of the paramount ways to do this is by ensuring that organizations remain agile. The boost given to digitization and automation is only the beginning. Organizations need to commit to continuously developing capabilities and staying on or ahead of the innovation curve in order to ensure they do not become mired in the current trends and thinking. This includes looking into operational processes, remote access and mobility, leveraging big data, and refining and improving customer experience.
Just as roads, railways, and power lines have become cornerstones of our physical infrastructure, so too are the internet, telecommunications, and cybersecurity pivotal to our digital infrastructure. 2021 has shown that these technologies have become a fundamental part of our daily lives. By understanding how the digital world and physical world blend together to form the fabric of our lives, organizations can become stronger and more prosperous in the post COVID world. Organizations would be wise to evaluate their investments into digital infrastructure, and think creatively about how they can be leveraged moving forward.