Wherever in the world you are located, your company probably will have to deal with coronavirus and its consequences, as well as establish a resilience plan for a scenario that doesn’t get taught in business school. At this point, those countries who haven’t reported a pandemic are being accused of lying. Even if your geographical area has been somehow spared, the economic consequences will undoubtedly be globally felt. Coronavirus has become a top concern for any organization, with large companies devoting entire committees and new job roles to this pandemic. My own company Micro Focus has created a Covid-19 steering group with regular updates and recommendations for employees.
The new normal for most corporations has become office closures and expecting employees who can do so to work from home. Events are being cancelled or held virtually. Clients are to be remote contacted as much as possible. Of course, every country and area will experience this differently. [I currently write this from Madrid Spain, one of the worst hit cities globally, having endured over one month of complete confinement in an indoor flat. Any mistakes in this article should be indulged accordingly.] However regardless of geography or company culture, the above behaviour appears unanimous.
Social distancing and its legal interpretation may vary from country to country, but there is one common global consequence of the Covid-19 outbreak: Technology has become the star of the show. Those who laughed at the United Nations declaration of broadband being a human right, might change their mind after quarantine.
Part I: Technology to protect the organization, its clients, and its employees
How can you protect your employees and clients? One answer is by allowing them to continue to work remotely. The implications here are: you must provide your employees and clients the necessary technological tools for them to do so. I would like to propose three generic categories of technology that are indispensable for effective remote working. As such, companies should be investing in these technologies at this time:
- Communication Tools
- Secure Identification Tools
- Collaboration and Secure Data Access Tools
Let’s tackle these in order.
If you haven’t seen what’s happened to the price of Zoom stock, or heard of Zoom by now, your isolation is perhaps too effective. On a personal note I’ve also seen a lot of “houseparty” invites going around. Communication tools, in which I include any video conferencing and/or chat tools, have boomed for personal as well as business reasons, and the need here is self-explanatory. Employees must be able to communicate with each other and their clients, and it helps if they ENJOY doing so. (Yes, our internal chat system for example allows for some pretty fun memes). In these depressing times, you need to motivate people to want to communicate and work with each other. Face to Face time remains as crucial as it did before the pandemic, but now the format is virtual. Companies should ensure laptops are equipped with webcams, headsets, and the right communication software.
- Secure Identification Tools
Because a global pandemic wasn’t enough, hackers have decided that the situation calls for an increase in cyber-attacks. Perhaps they had to find their own “working from home” alternatives. With a remote workforce, security is more primordial than ever, and from a corporate perspective this translates to the need for secure login. Companies should invest in technology that helps manage identities and access rights if they want to avoid a huge security risk. Remember that risk assessment scenario of suspicious activity outside of working hours? Completely invalidated in a pandemic where parents are forced to work from home whilst simultaneously being a child day-care service. Employees accessing work applications at unusual times can no longer be considered suspect behaviour, unless you want to investigate half your task force. Instead, invest in technology that tracks complex or multi-factor unusual activity (Micro Focus Interset and IDOL), and that manages identities and access rights (Micro Focus Identity Governance Suite). As companies can expect a huge rise in remote workers, prepare for an increase in user licenses. (Micro Focus is currently removing user restrictions for some of its tools, to help customers during this time of crisis).
- Collaboration and Secure Data Access Tools
So your employees are now able to communicate with each other and their clients, and they can securely log on to their applications. The final step in a remote work scenario is the ability to securely work with data. This means the ability to collaborate on and share data, as well as the ability to securely access it. There are many complex aspects to take into consideration here.
Let’s start with the obvious here, corporate data should be encrypted. All the previous privacy arguments still hold: data encryption is the first and easiest step to privacy compliance. An increase in hacking only makes it more valid. Data encryption is more relevant now than ever, and I recommend using tools that can cover all data formats (Micro Focus SmartCipher and Voltage Secure Data). Don’t overlook the need to encrypt your word documents or pdfs, rendering them unusable if an employee sends them to his personal address outside the corporate network (as an example). If you need to encrypt or mask pre-existing databases, you may be requiring solutions that can automate the application of your algorithms on structured data (Micro Focus Structured Data Manager).
The key words here are security and auditability. Who can access what data, what can they do with it, and how do I keep a record of events? This is of course strongly linked to the identification security mentioned above, but whilst identification controls access to certain data areas, here we are referring to a more granular document/data level security. This is where a strong information management and governance technology portfolio is indispensable (Micro Focus SCM Suite). Such technological solutions should allow employees to share documentation securely either between themselves or with customers, and in an auditable format. The exact solution will depend on the specific requirements of the corporation. When we start to talk about very sensitive information, which for some type of organisations will include a large percentage of their data, a records management system (Micro Focus Content Manager) becomes crucial. Data should of course be accessible remotely and from portable devices such as tablets or smart phones. This also provides a contingency plan should the employee’s laptop breakdown. If the requirement is purely one of secure document sharing, a corporate drop-box type of solution might be all that is needed (Micro Focus Filr).
Organisations with a higher maturity may wish to automate policies applied to their data based on its content or sensitivity level. This requires a classification step with the use of data discovery tools that are also capable of applying policies (Micro Focus Structured Data Manager, Control Point, and Data Discovery). If we want to automate access rights within a file system, and control how that access can be granted, we can amplify the identity governance piece with tools that can audit and control access rights on folders or files (Micro Focus File Governance Suite).
Part II: Technology to survive the economic impact of Covid-19
Protecting your workers and clients by ensuring they can work from home, clearly also contributes to ensuring your organization survives the economic consequences of the coronavirus-imposed confinement that has and is taking place globally. By providing an efficient and secure work environment, meaning safe access to data and reliable communication tools, you ensure your activity continues. Communication tools that allow events to take place virtually for example, are an asset to your business. Most of the arguments from Part I are therefore valid here too, but let’s extend this slightly.
Technology can do more than just enable your employees to work from home safely. It can also provide clear ROI that can actually save money for your organisation at a time when cost cuts are most needed.
Firstly, reduce your IT bill by reducing your storage and license fees. Retire old applications, delete old data, and do what most of us are doing in the confinement of our homes anyways: sort through the old. You could almost call it quarantine spirit. For this, discovery and archiving technology will be your friends (Micro Focus SCM Suite). These same tools that meet your privacy requirements that are so crucial when working from home, could save you money.
Next is efficiency: technology, especially data management technology, allows for a more efficient and productive work force. Working from home under confinement is going to have its obvious toll on productivity and moral, so enabling workers instant access to the information they need, or automation of certain business processes, is really important now (Micro Focus Content Manager). Use technology to analyse your data and gain business value from it.
Whilst the real heroes are the medical staff and volunteers risking their lives, saying technology comes second in saving lives is not an exaggeration, due to its contribution to stopping the viral contagion and enabling quarantine. The ability to continue work as usual whilst also respecting quarantine will help us all overcome this together.