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Hyper-agility in a hyper-connected business environment

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(Image credit: Image Credit: Ra2Studio / Shutterstock)

The technology industry is swiftly evolving to encompass a vast plethora of concepts and buzzwords each with varying degrees of relevance. However, the rise of the global pandemic has challenged one particular concept. 

The daunting challenge of migrating to a remote or hybrid working culture during the global pandemic has highlighted the importance of agility. Nevertheless, the expedited nature of adapting business continuity in a pandemic and the specific obstacles brought about by this sudden shift has augmented the issues faced. Business agility has taken on a new meaning, evolving into hyper-agility in a hyper-connected world. Business continuity was, in many cases, prioritized over adequate data security mechanisms leaving many enterprises in a vulnerable situation. 

Throughout this article, we hope to shed more light onto how business continuity and operations have evolved and shifted to accommodate the ubiquitous cliché of the “new normal.” 

What is hyper-agility? 

Agility in general is a generic term that simply means being able to pivot or change directions suddenly and securely. As we look back on the summer of sport, we have seen plenty examples of agility from world-class athletes in the Olympics, Paralympics, and Euro football tournament. Think of the professional gymnasts who spend years training for their brief moment in the world’s eye. Years of practice allow these athletes to pirouette and change direction at the slightest moment, making it look easy. But, even the most skilled gymnasts cannot attain perfect agility and failure can often lead to painful consequences. Some athletes have trained for most of their life to compete in an event, but do not even make it to the finals. One could compare this preparation and disappointment to the businesses that are expected to implement world-class hyper-agility on incredibly short notice. With all this external pressure to achieve hyper-agility under strict timeframes perhaps it is not such a surprise that there have been some teething problems. 

Hyper-agility in a business context means that you are able to adapt and evolve your operations as quickly as possible and with complete accuracy. Business decision-makers are expecting more from their employees, particularly those in software development, where the burden of creating secure architecture often falls unfairly on their already overburdened shoulders. These developers are trying to operate under great speed and external pressure, however speed and agility are two mutually exclusive concepts. Yes, the speed of delivery is important in today’s ever-shifting and dynamic threatscape, but sacrificing speed for precision is never a good trade-off. Agility is about finding the balance between composure and speed in a way that complements your end goal. The faster these processes are achieved, the closer you get to hyper-agility or near-continuous delivery. High-level athletes have achieved the ability to continuously change direction, intent and even shape to get something done effectively. Speed, a winning mentality, and the ability to manage and react to change all compromise integral parts to the mission of hyper-agility, but cannot exist without all components. 

What is stopping you from becoming hyper-agile? 

There are many things preventing organizations from achieving a true sense of hyper-agility. These hindrances often manifest as cultural, staffing, training, or tooling issues. Indeed, even the mindset of business leaders can impact the culture within your enterprise, as meaningful change should always be driven from the top down. However, like the competitive realm of athletics, not everyone who strives to achieve hyper-agility will attain it. There is a win-at-all-costs mentality that is intrinsically woven into some businesses, though anything from poor leadership to an unmotivated workforce can cause you to fail at the first hurdle. But what is this hurdle? 

As data becomes more valuable to business operations, the importance of securing it becomes an imperative. Just as athletes must manage what they put into their bodies on a micro and macro level to cultivate specific muscles, businesses must understand what data is being created and circulated, and why. Just as putting the wrong fuel inside your car can cause it to slow down and inhibit performance, so too does failing to implement the wrong data security mechanisms. Just because a solution is expensive, it does not mean that it will be successful. While many athletes are fortunate enough to have professional nutritionists in their corner, not every organization has the luxury of procuring a data security expert. With data manifesting in so many different forms - from images, to the ultra-sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) - it can often pose a barrier to hyper-agility. While a hurdle can present a roadblock for unprepared businesses, for the hyper-agile, it simply becomes part of the race.

Data security 

For many businesses throughout the pandemic, the focus has gone above and beyond simply maintaining and monitoring business continuity to using data analytics to increase the speed of delivery. With this goal, data security often becomes a secondary thought. That being said, speed requires good technique. Think of the training regime of a developing athlete. What makes a truly successful athlete is mastering the fundamentals. The same core principles are true when we consider the practice of data security. Data security must go hand in hand with the development cycle. Doing this upstream will not only provide a better positioning of data security but can drive towards the much-coveted DevOps development cycle of continuous delivery. 

There are two types of organizations: those that get it, and those that do not. Those that implement data security protocols in advance, and those who tick boxes as an afterthought or simply as a means of ‘compliance’ checks. Data privacy mandates hold boardroom executives accountable with very real punitive measures. Indeed, there was a recent incident where an enterprise was issued a hefty fine under data security incompliance, and their ex-CEO was given a suspended prison sentence for mishandling and inappropriately using sensitive data. To avoid a similar outcome, business leaders should provide proper budgeting and staffing to audit data processes and tools, integrating data securing into the larger workflow of development and operations teams. One concern is that many organizations learn this lesson too late, usually after they or a partner have fallen victim to a data security incident. For many, data security is an exercise that exists in theory, until it becomes a tangible menace, but by then it is already too late. 

The best offense is a good defense 

The saying goes: “the best defense is a good offense,” however this could not be further from the truth when considering data security. Only by securing your own weaknesses will you be able to strive for hyper-agility, pivoting and adjusting strategy and performance in a split-second as required. If you are not moving towards hyper-agility and have no plans to, you never will achieve your goal. It can only take a few days off to break a routine, and it can only take one ambitious turn to twist an ankle and be side-lined. For many organizations, the major pitfall is how to deal with the vast quantities of sensitive data. This goes back to the notion: does your organization have a culture of data privacy? Your IT department may send out awareness training emails like clockwork, instructing employees to change their passwords, but this is not a culture of data privacy. Top-down, left to right, data and the power of data is valued and must be secured appropriately. 

The most mature organizations understand the importance of data security and privacy and have already shown hyper-agility by incorporating this into their corporate workflows. While this is a defensive technique, there is a tangible gain. Quantifying this failure to comply with data security frameworks can lead to huge penalties. For those that simply do not care about hyper-agility and data security, we hope the carrot dangling in front of them will be more of an incentive than a stick from the ICO.

Trevor Morgan, Product Manager, comforte AG

Trevor J. Morgan is responsible for product management at comforte AG, where he is dedicated to developing and bringing to market enterprise data protection solutions that meet ever increasing risk and compliance requirements.