4 Digital Workplace Moves after COVID-19

[ Note: This article was published on LinkedIn on March 24, 2020. Here is the link to the original article ]

We live in unprecedented times. Malaysia has been in Movement Control Order (MCO) Day 7, which is basically a controlled lockdown of movements and activities. In many cases, businesses have grounded to a halt, and the landscape has changed forever. The “office” will not always be a premise anymore, and the “meetings” will not be a physical face-to-face conversation to build relationships and trust.

Trust is vital. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote 關係 (Guan Xi), and having to re-invent Trust in a Digital World.

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The impact on organizations and businesses is deep and powerful and so, as we move forward when the COVID-19 pandemic dies down, organizations’ plans in their Digital Transformation strategy will change as well.

Here are 4 technology areas which I think must take precedence for the Digital Workplace in the Digital Transformation strategy.

Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN)

Physically connections have been disrupted. Digital connections are on the rise to supplant “networking” in our physical business world, and the pandemic situation just tipped the scale.

Many small medium businesses (SMBs) rely on home broadband, which may be good enough for some. Medium to large organizations have broadband for business. Larger organizations which have deeper pockets might already have MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) or leased line in place. A large portion might have VPN (virtual private network) set up too.

In time, SD-WAN (software-defined wide area network) services should be considered more profoundly. SD-WAN is a more prudent approach that inculcates digital workplace policies such as quality of service (QOS) for critical data connections, allocating network attributes to different data workloads and network traffic, VPN features and most come with enhanced security addendum as well. .

In addition to performance, security and capacity control, SD-WAN implementation helps shape employees’ digital workplace practices but most importantly, redefine the organization’s processes and conditioning employees’ mindsets in the Digital Transformation journey.

 

Video Meetings & Conferencing

The Video Meetings and Conferencing solutions have become the poster child in the present pandemic situation. Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, Skype (it is going away), GoToMeetings and more are dominating the new norm of work. Work from home (WFH) has a totally new meaning now, especially for employees who have been conditioned to work in an “office”.

I had more than 15 Zoom meetings (the free version) last week when the Malaysian MCO started, and Zoom has become a critical part of my business now, and thus, it is time to consider paid solutions like Zoom or Webex as part of an organization’s Digital Workplace plans. These will create the right digital culture for the new Digital Workplace.

Personally I like Uberconference because of their on-hold song. It is sang by their CEO, Alex Cornell. Check out this SoundCloud recording.

File Sharing

Beneath the hallowed halls of video meetings and conferencing, collaboration happens with data shared in files. We have been with file and folders from our C: drives or NAS Home Directories or File Server’s shared drives that these processes are almost second nature to us.

In the face of this COVID-19 pandemic, files and information sharing has become cumbersome. The shared drive is no longer in our network, because we are not in the organization’s LAN and intranet anymore. We are working at home, away from the gigabit network, protected by the organization’s firewall, and was once slaved … err … I mean supported by our IT admins.

The obvious reaction (since you can’t pass thumb drives anymore at present) is to resort to Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive and others, and hoping you won’t max out your free capacity. Or email attachments in emails going back and forth, and hoping the mail server will not reject files larger than 10MB.

The fortunate ones have VPN client on their laptops but the network backhaul traffic to the VPN server at the central VPN server, and overloading it to the max. Pretty soon, network connections are dropped, and the performance of file sharing sucks! Big time!

What if your organization is a bank? Or an Oil & Gas company where data protection and data sovereignty dictate the order of the day? All the very-public enterprise file sync and share (EFSS) like Dropbox or OneDrive or Google Drive totally violate the laws of the land, and your organization may be crippled by the inability to do work. After all, files and folders are like the peanut-butter-jelly or the nasi lemak-teh tarik (coconut rice & pulled tea Malaysian breakfast) combo of work. You can’t live without files and folders.

The thoughts of having a PRIVATE on-premises EFSS solution in your organization’s Digital Transformation strategy should be moved from the KIV (keep in view) tray to a defined project in the Digital Transformation programme.

At Katana Logic, we work with Easishare, and it is worth having a serious plan about building your own private file share and sync solution as part of the Digital Workplace.

Security

In such unprecedented times, where our attention is diverted, cybersecurity threats are at its highest. Financial institutions in Malaysia have already been summoned by Malaysia Bank Negara central bank to build the industry’s expectations and confidence through the RMiT framework. Conversations with some end users and IT suppliers to Malaysian banks and other financial institutions unfortunately, revealed the typical lackadaisical attitude to fortify cyber resiliency practices within these organizations. I would presume the importance of cybersecurity and cyber resiliency practices would take a even further back seat with small medium businesses.

On a pessimistic note, ransomware and DDOS (distributed denial-of-service) have been on the rise, and taking advantage of this pandemic situation. NAS, the network attached storage that serves the organization shared files and folders has become ransomware’s favourite target as I have wrote in my blog.

But it does not have to be expensive affair with cybersecurity. Applying a consistent periodical password change, educating employees about phishing emails, using a simple but free port scanners to look at open TCP/UDP ports can be invaluable for small medium businesses. Subscribing to penetration testing (pentest) services at a regular frequency is immensely helpful as well.

In larger organizations, cyber resiliency is more holistic. Putting in layers for defense in depth, CIA (confidentiality, integrity, availability) triad, AAA (authentication, authorization, audit) pro-active measures are all part of the cybersecurity framework. These holistic practices must effect change in people and the processes of how data and things are shared, used, protected and recovered in the whole scheme of things.

Thus organizations must be vigilant and do their due diligence. We must never bat any eye to fortify cyber security and cyber resiliency in the Digital Workplace.

Parting thoughts

We are at our most vulnerable stage of our lifetime but it is almost the best time to understand what is critical to our business. This pandemic is helping to identify the right priorities for Work.

At any level, regardless, organizations have to use the advantage of this COVID-19 situation to assess how it has impacted business. It must look at what worked and what did not in their digital transformation journey so far, and change the parts that were not effective.

I look at the 4 areas of technology that I felt it could make a difference and I am sure there are many more areas to address. So, use this pessimistic times and turn it into an optimistic one when we are back to normalcy. The Digital Workplace has changed forever, and for the better too.

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Will there be Trust at Digital Events?

[ This article was published on LinkedIn on March 8, 2020. The original article link is here ]

關係 (Guan Xi) is ingrained into the psyche of many Asian cultures and businesses. It is fundamental to build connections and relationships, and consequently forging trust in those relationships. And it is best when it involves a face-to-face communication and building the common foundational belief of one another.

The COVID-19 outbreak is wreaking havoc and may become a global pandemic if the situation continue unabating in the coming months. In light of safety, many vendors are either canceling the physical event or switching to digital events or virtual events. On my radar this past week, there are Dell Tech World, AWS Singapore Summit and Google Cloud Next, to name a few. How do we build trust from these digital and virtual events?

All about the experience

The experience to engage at physical technology events is priceless. Putting the face to the name, to shake the hand and rub shoulders to connect cannot be quantified by just being present. Sharing war stories over coffee or beer, and exchanging good jokes and bad ones over dinner, are experiences which cannot be taken away in our lifetime. That is why I have always thoroughly enjoyed my Field Day experiences since 2014.

I am old school. I believe in 關係, because the kind of camaraderie, the fellowship, the brotherhood or sisterhood built from trust is immeasurable. The chemistry mix of experience would be hard to reproduced. An old hand at EMC once said to my team and I, “I would go to war with you guys any day!“.

The question today is “Can Digital or Virtual Events replicate that experience and build trust?”.

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