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Has coronavirus ended ‘business as usual’ forever? - Digital identity will be key to success in the new normal

(Image credit: Image Credit: Dom J / Pexels)

The sudden and comprehensive changes that the Covid-19 pandemic required of citizens, businesses and governments have been incredibly far-reaching, affecting all aspects of the way that we live, work, socialize and consume.

As lockdowns came into effect across much of the world, businesses had to suddenly come to terms with the fact that many of the old ways of working had to go, and fast. Even today, as lockdown restrictions are slowly lifted around the world, the idea of a return to ‘business as usual’ as we knew it before seems far from likely.

Some companies have adjusted to this new normal very impressively. Others are still struggling to come to terms with it. Having seen first-hand how businesses across the UK and Europe - from a wide range of sectors - have responded to these changes, one consistent factor among those that adapted well has been a robust, futureproof approach to digital identity.

Why has digital identity been so important? To understand this, we need to examine the big changes that have been triggered by Covid-19.

1. A dramatic change in working patterns happened overnight

One of the most immediate effects of lockdown was to require organizations to suddenly shift to a majority, or entirely, remote workforce. The size of that shift has been extraordinary: 88 percent of respondents to a global Gartner survey said they have encouraged or required employees to work from home. This massive shift meant that organizations had to not only scale a remote workforce overnight, but also provide their employees with the appropriate digital applications that they needed to do their job productively and efficiently. 

These changes also presented a major security challenge for businesses. Take home workers: the sudden move to mass remote working has involved a proliferation of insecure home set-ups and left many IT departments struggling to scale and adapt. Fraudsters, cyberattackers, and malicious hackers have been quick to spot an opportunity, and the result has been a 38 percent increase in cyberattacks, including malware attacks, malicious apps, and phishing attempts.

This is why digital identity has been so important. Those employers that had a strong identity and access management (IAM) system in place before the lockdown already had the foundations in place to manage workforce identity and access safely and securely through the transition to remote working. An effective IAM system means that businesses can manage and track governance and decisions over which access employees have access to which applications and data centrally, reducing exposure to the risk of data breaches or costly regulatory failings. IAM also makes it easier for security gaps to be plugged by introducing modern upgrades to username/password authentication - be it biometric, context-based or multi-factor. This all made it far easier to quickly deploy the digital applications that employees needed to stay safe, productive and efficient as they worked from home.

Even post-lockdown, the majority of workers are expected to continue to work from home. While this won’t present a major challenge to those companies who already invested in a modern digital identity solution, it means that those companies yet to put one in place cannot afford to simply wait for lockdown measures to be eased to tackle any lingering challenges they are experiencing when it comes to their remote workforce.

2. Customers switched to digital channels en masse

The second major shift that took place when lockdown hit, was a massive shift in consumer behavior. In a blink of an eye, online channels became the sole avenue for consumers to buy a huge number of products and services, from grocery shopping to banking. At ForgeRock, we saw customers reported an overnight increase in customer activity on digital channels of as much as 300 percent.

While this level of demand is fantastic for business, it created a major challenge on a technical level: companies had to ensure that every customer came away with a positive experience, or risk losing their business to a competitor. And time and again, what we saw was that it was the companies with an ‘identity-first’ approach who surpassed these hurdles and adapted successfully to the challenges and opportunities that came with skyrocketing digital demand.

Why does it matter? Put simply an integrated IAM system means that you can more easily understand who each customer is, what they want and match that up with what your organization already knows about them. It also means that you can adjust digital capacity upwards when digital demand surges, without worrying about trade-offs between customer experience and safety; because intelligent authentication makes it possible to deliver both seamless experiences across all digital channels and water-tight data security.

This is in sharp contrast to the organizations who entered lockdown with a disjointed and fragmented IAM system, who both struggled to cope with unprecedented levels of demand and were unable to get a single, unified view of their customers. This now means that they don’t have the ability to as effectively cross-sell products and services to different customers, nor provide them with a seamless, frictionless, and intuitive customer journey.  

3. Identity is an enabler of innovation

Dealing with such rapid changes to workforce and consumer behavior has inevitably put IT teams under pressure. However, those organizations with strong foundations in place, in the form of a modern, integrated digital identity platform, were able to adapt much faster. 

This is because, in an era of digital transformation, identity underpins all aspects of a business.  From home deliveries where the driver never comes into contact with the person who purchased the order, to empowering your employees to work as productively from home as they could from the office, digital identity is critical to enabling the innovations that allow businesses to deliver seamless, secure digital experiences.

That is why those companies that already had a modern, integrated digital identity system in place before COVID-19 struck were able to respond and act quickly when the lockdown measures were announced, from successfully managing an exceptionally high demand across their digital channels to scaling a remote workforce overnight. 

4.  IAM here to stay

Looking ahead, we are entering an era where the only certainty is likely to be rapid and regular change. Business leaders therefore need to prepare their organizations so that they can adapt and thrive to whatever new technologies or shifts to the economy might arise.

It is very likely that our new working patterns and ways of shopping, banking and socializing will be here to stay. Even once the threat of the virus is gone, few people will return to their old analogue ways of living now that they have made the switch to digital. This means the right digital identity platform will continue to be vitally important as a strategic initiative, even when the world has emerged from the COVID crisis - because the key drivers of digital transformation are now accelerating even faster.

Tim Barber, Senior Vice President, Europe, Middle East and Africa, ForgeRock