The human cloud has arrived - now it needs security
Even though the pandemic accelerated it, remote-working has steadily gained ground for several years already. According to a 2017 survey from Regus, half those interviewed already spent 2.5 days of their week working away from the main office. That figure no doubt exploded in 2020, for reasons we've discussed to exhaustion.
The pandemic has lifted this trend over its biggest barriers - notably how leaders, managers and employees have changed their views on remote working (nobody, for example, still thinks remote working means slacking off). The result is the arrival of the human cloud.
"People are now firmly on the agenda," said Tidiane Lo, Director at Westcon-Comstor Sub-Saharan Africa. "The shift from physical to digital due to the pandemic has ironically put people first in terms of experiences because they are the glue keeping the company together. It's ironic, but it's also terrific that this is happening, because technology fails when you don't consider people. Beyond that, if companies want to retain and attract talent in the remote work era, they must focus on tech-enabled collaboration and the user experience."
People in the centre
Offices used to conveniently corral employees into central areas, fostering a natural camaraderie that seemed to hinge more on the location than the people. But as offices were locked and we all moved to remote spots, that fallacy also faded. People, not places, are the verve of an organisation.
"The cultural impact on organisations, as a result of COVID, has been immense. And technology now plays a role in terms of where we can go from here. I've learned as well about small businesses often not feeling credible if they work from home. Now, that's gone away."
Remote working is not new. Concepts such as customer-centricity and user experience belong to a school of thought that says we should put people first. The sudden push for multilateral remote working galvanised those views into what we can now call the human cloud: distributed people connected through technology. There is no doubt among technology buyers that this is where they need to focus their attention.
"Buying cycles have already started changing," said Lo. "Budgets are being spent on new technology projects that meet the current needs of remote working, security and related factors. This trend is being driven by necessity to accommodate the human cloud. It's a concept that brings the human-technology relationship to the top of business agendas."
Yet, he added, the near-term investments made around remote working technology are not sustainable. Though it was necessary to initially practise some triage - improve employee connectivity, bolster firewall capacity, find ways to access internal applications remotely - these are not addressing all the long-term requirements. Specifically, security is a rising headache for the remote work era.
Keeping the human cloud secure
Most security strategies assumed the majority of employees would operate within the company's environment - this simplified patching, monitoring, and maintaining general control over IT devices and user actions. But now that has been inverted, and those devices and employees are scattered everywhere.
Cyber criminals took note. Back in April already, the FBI reported that cyber crime had spiked fourfold since the pandemic started. And as the world settles into remote working, the criminals are taking advantage. Companies need to seriously look at securing their human cloud, said Lo.
"The rush to enable remote working has left a lot of gaps in security, resulting from compromises as companies focused on getting operations running again. But that isn't sustainable, and they need to look closely at their long-term security plans."
Fortunately, security has been a primary focus for leading technology vendors, and advanced security features such as zero-trust now often influence appliances and infrastructure. Organisations should look here when they aim to infuse their remote working environments with more security.
This strategy applies to big and small companies alike. As many SMEs forego office leases and embrace remote working, they are opening up cash that they should invest in these technologies.
"Security and remote working go together, and the channel has been creating solutions that provide that combination," Lo concluded. "What is important right now is that customers release they need both: remote working and security. You need the one to support your people, and you need the other to stop criminals. The pandemic caused a landrush for the one side, and now it's time to get the other side in place. If you want your human cloud to survive and thrive, make sure it's secure."