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Technology experts reflect on one year since lockdown

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This time last year, non-essential businesses were forced to close and workplaces shifted, practically overnight, to remote working. Nobody could have expected that we’d still be in a similar situation twelve months down the line.

From clapping for the NHS every Thursday evening, to tier systems, zoom quizzes and rule of six meetups: this past year has shown how quickly the world can adapt to a ‘new normal’. It has also highlighted the importance of innovation in driving business evolution. Technology has been relied upon more than ever before to ensure businesses were able to thrive.

To mark the recent milestone of one year since lockdown, ITProPortal spoke to a range of technology experts, to learn about their experience of how the world has changed this past year with the help of technology, and how technology has changed with it.

Weathering the storm

For organizations like restaurants, airlines and travel companies that rely on customers being out and about, the past year was a tremendous struggle through no fault of their own. However, many companies in different industries were able to weather the storm by quickly adapting to the new way of working.

“For enterprise companies, this meant ensuring they were still able to deliver high quality, efficient software that delights customers and delivers value to the business—all while teams were physically separated,” explains Bob Davis, CMO at Plutora. “Since last March, Value Stream Management (VSM) platforms helped many companies overcome the challenges of our new remote world by providing the necessary foundation and visibility to keep projects moving forward."

“Leaseweb’s customer base has certainly continued to grow over the past year, despite fewer large client transformation projects,” adds Terry Storrar, MD at Leaseweb UK. “We attribute this growth to the fact that infrastructure, whether that be physical or virtual, private or public, is an enabler to help businesses keep running. Many businesses that had offices and on-premises infrastructure pre-lockdown had to quickly change their working practices, adapting to Covid-19 restrictions to ensure an always-on posture. We’ve provided the ability and agility for them to adapt and change their delivery methods, in a way which has helped them maintain business as usual.”

Automation accelerated

The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly accelerated the move to using new tools like artificial intelligence (AI) and automation in a variety of everyday settings. “Contact centers have been at the forefront of adopting automation and robotic technologies as a means of streamlining service delivery and serving more customers in the channel of their choice,” highlights Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru. “A branch of AI called Natural Language Processing (NLP), combined with sentiment analysis, is helping to transform the humble chatbot. As well as delivering voice-led interactions with customers, this technology is able to detect keywords and tone of voice to ensure that callers with more complex queries can be quickly routed to the people best equipped to help.”

Simon Spring, Senior Account Director EMEA at WhereScape, describes how automation has also made it easier for data warehousing teams over the last year. “2020 has proven that automation can do much of the heavy lifting associated with migration to new data platforms, eliminating redundant, hand-coding and serving as a translator of sorts between new platform capabilities and current data infrastructure in place.

He adds, “what we’ve seen is that automation has enabled global organizations to be more efficient, as they offload routine work to digital workers and enable employees to focus on higher value work.”

Pandemic technologies

“Descriptive analytic” approaches used to present trends during the UK government’s daily coronavirus briefings have also exposed the public to the world of data visualization, notes Rich Pugh, Chief Data Scientist, Mango Solutions - an Ascent company. “From providing the insight that has enabled governments and healthcare systems to act quickly, to keeping the public informed and improving the efficacy of protection measures, the profile and appreciation of the world of data and analytics has skyrocketed.”

Technology has also been vital to streamline healthcare this past year, explains Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds. “Apps and online services to interact with doctors or pharmacies have existed in the UK long before the pandemic, but their usage has increased significantly during social restrictions and won’t go away even when we return to normal.

“As we progress through 2021, digital transformation will continue to expand, and patients will be able to access their data without time-consuming and complicated processes.”

Changing the channel on retail

Research has shown that every week last year, an estimated 3,400 retail jobs were lost in the UK, with up to 200,000 more retail jobs predicted to be at risk in 2021.

“Whilst nobody could have foreseen the Covid-19 crisis, businesses were simply not prepared with effective disaster recovery processes to respond and adapt fast enough to the challenges a national lockdown bought,” highlights Rob Shaw, MD EMEA at Fluent Commerce. “When the retail stores closed, businesses were hamstrung due to the reliance on single channels, meaning stock was often not accessible. I would say the pandemic has fast forwarded a lot of the pain these retailers are now experiencing, but isn't the underlying cause. We (consumers) haven't stopped spending on retail products. The way we do, though, has.”

“With reduced employees on the ground, businesses are identifying what innovative technology can assist staff in their day-to-day jobs that will be crucial for the future of retail,” furthers Rishi Lodhia, Managing Director EMEA at Eagle Eye Networks.

“Organizations should invest in video surveillance as the single best way to prevent customer theft. Retailers are better equipped to keep an eye on multi-store locations, increasing efficiency particularly for those that are shorter staffed due to tighter budgets.”

Getting serious about security

In the last year, cybercriminals have taken advantage of the global rapid shift to remote working, with some security researchers claiming a 715 percent increase in year-on-year ransomware attacks.

“Recovery has become one of the most challenging issues, particularly where organizations rely on day-old or even week-old backups,” explains Steve Blow, Technology Evangelist at Zerto. “The inevitable gaps and data loss that results from this are costly and highly disruptive. Sufficient backup and disaster recovery plans should be a core part of the broader security strategy, delivering continuous data protection and the granularity to recover to a point in time precisely before the attack took place.”

“A recent Centrify survey revealed that 65 percent of respondents experienced attacks on their cloud environments in the last 12 months, with cyber-attackers achieving an 80 percent success rate,” adds Art Gilliland, CEO of Centrify. “Our research also showed that 90 percent of cyberattacks on cloud environments this past year involved compromised credentials.

“With multi-cloud strategies becoming the norm, the ideal security approach relies on zero trust principles for strong authentication, employs least privilege to restrict lateral movement, and leverages key benefits of the cloud economy in order to minimize attack surfaces."

Support a hybrid future

Ian Rawlings, RVP EMEA at SumTotal Systems believes that the shift in both technology and workplace practices has placed employee wellbeing at center stage, as organizations focus on keeping remote workforces connected, engaged and supported.

“Workforce management tools will continue to play a key role in keeping employees engaged, as well as helping them operate safely as local and regional guidelines change over time. This fundamental technology has been instrumental in supporting employees working remotely and will remain vital as organizations manage an increasingly hybrid workforce.”

Richard Buxton, Director of N4Engage, agrees that collaboration tools that have supported remote teams will not disappear once employees are allowed to work in the office again. “In fact, organizations have realized they can continue using it to allow more flexibility and support to their employees going forward. This will not only improve employee engagement but will also support hybrid workers. What’s more, recruitment efforts will no longer be limited to those working within a commutable distance. Businesses will have the technology foundation to hire competitively on a global scale, whether the right person is five hours away, or five time zones away.”

“While some things will return to normal, the work environment has likely changed forever,” concludes Jay Ryerse, VP of Cybersecurity Initiatives at ConnectWise.

“It will be interesting to see if technology adoption will continue at a fast rate, and how companies will deal with new challenges, like providing IT support remotely, handling HR issues or what to do with office space. But in the end, people are resilient, and society has shown it is willing to make these changes and continue moving forward.”

Technology experts