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Clearing the way for transformation: Five infrastructure considerations

(Image credit: Image Credit: Shutterstock/Sergey Nivens)

The UK’s love affair with technology has morphed from consumer preference to business need. Never have the benefits to digital transformation been more evident than in recent months.

The pandemic has forced the reinvention of traditional processes. It’s shown how resistance to change can negatively impact you later down the line. Companies that have enabled mass remote working may have faced challenges, but those that were prepared had a far smoother transition.

It’s time to shift to long-term thinking. We’re at a tipping point, one which is certain to lead to many permanent changes once the immediate health threat passes.

But successful moves don’t happen overnight. As you make the journey towards digital growth, what infrastructure considerations do you need to make to ensure your safety and financial stability?

1 - Place security at the heart of transformation

As employees are exposed to new systems, the number one priority for any migration should be security. Digital transformation has to be done securely without exposing systems or data to unnecessary risk. Data is the most valuable asset that you have. Yet, a recent IDC report found that only 30 per cent of respondents using sensitive data were using tools to keep it secure.

All digital transformation projects need to have a thorough security assessment. Existing or planned infrastructure should have this at the heart of the design, including the ability to monitor employee activity, where necessary, and measures to enact upon employees exiting.

2 - Employee devices

The powerful devices we own have morphed into big players in the professional area of our lives. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is present in most organisations in the UK, with Ovum finding nearly 70 per cent of employees who own a smartphone or tablet choose to use it to access corporate data.  In recent weeks, as the country has quickly moved to mobilise its workforce, this figure has likely increased.

BYOD has many benefits, including productivity and job satisfaction. But it also requires work-around solutions to punch holes through security layers. Enforced security protocols are a must when it’s difficult to police what an employee does with their own device. There also needs to be minimum specifications for BYOD permitted devices, to avoid issues with compatibility with existing infrastructure and software.

Personal devices are often not protected by firewalls, increasing the risk of data loss, theft and leakage. Virtual Private Networks (VPN) can provide a secure, encrypted tunnel for all employees to access your corporate network. Knowledge is an invaluable asset. Increase company-wide learning on how to manage data and ensure employees have software installed from your trusted source, not unapproved sites.

Use Single Sign-On (SSO) to enable smart user authentication and segregation and protection of all apps. If the device is stolen, Mobile Device Management (MDM) can enable your entire IT team to remotely wipe a device’s data, to ensure that your company’s data is not exposed.

3 - Modernise legacy technology

Delays in hardware upgrades can lead to productivity obstacles and make you easy prey to hackers. Outdated items will eventually become obsolete and no longer supported by your device, operating systems (OS) or software manufacturers. The simple fact that the failure rate of hardware increases as it ages can frustrate employees and increase IT support demand, diverting resources away from other important projects. As your systems run slower, and other applications become more advanced, you’ll face incompatibility whereby the device is unable to run the latest versions.

And unpatched software has been the cause of many of the biggest security breaches of the last ten years, including the WannaCry ransomware attack on the NHS in 2017.  Physical security can also be compromised. Many newer devices now feature enhanced biometric security like Windows Hello, with facial recognition or fingerprint ID to unlock devices, rather than a PIN or password.

A short refresh cycle can simplify your device management and ensure you keep your competitive edge.

4 - Cost-saving tools

SMEs are facing a Catch 22 situation. As competitors flex, you need to stay on the same wavelength, but it’s hard to get sign-off for any financial investment right now.

Check for Government grants and other financial assistance which may be available for small businesses. Consider buying refurbished hardware and devices, and look towards Device as a Service (DaaS) which can help spread costs over 24/36/48 months and pushes this cost from capital expenditure to operating expenses.

Those failing to enable their employees to work remotely risk losing control. There are a number of free options for keeping in touch effectively.  The free version of Microsoft Teams is available for anybody signing up with a personal email address and supports up to 300 members, one-to-one and group video calls  If your business is running a Business or Enterprise version of Office 365, team members can collaborate on documents, share up to 1TB of files per user and administrators have got security/compliance and management tools.

5 - Get company buy-in

There needs to be a wider acceptance from your employees on any major changes - not least for job satisfaction, but also for security reasons. Your employees are the biggest security threat to your business. If they’re not listening to changes, or aren’t on board, they’re more likely to fall victim to malware.

It doesn’t need to be a one-size-fits-all approach. Employee happiness can be increased by working with each of them to identify not just the right equipment for the needs of their role, but also for their own individual environment. Not everybody has the luxury of a home office and for some, the kitchen table is now a place of work as well as a kid’s activity centre and somewhere to eat meals.  Space can be at a premium. Companies that fail to accommodate and communicate properly, risk losing staff to more progressive businesses.

For businesses that have been able to adapt under the enforced lock-down, now is the time to analyse the positive changes that have been realised by having a distributed, mobile workforce and ensure IT and security policies are capable of supporting this moving forward. Situations like this don’t happen often, but it’s a wake-up call to those who haven’t adjusted to do so now. Technology shouldn’t be an afterthought - it needs to be the priority.

Peter Braithwaite, Chief Operating Officer, Kit Online

Peter Braithwaite is Chief Operating Officer at Kit Online, a new digital platform for knowledgeable IT buyers.