Written by Rob Quickenden, Cisilion’s Chief Strategy Officer
What a year 2020 has been. A year that started off with plans for some of the biggest technical and innovation global events in tech ever, all to be cancelled or moved online.
Towards the end of 2020, we found ourselves having little to no contact with friends, family, and colleagues over the last 9 months. We now begin to face 2021 with Brexit and a real hope of being vaccinated at some point in 2021 and getting back to a new form of ‘normal’.
We have all said this for months, but the new normal will be different.
Most organisations will be very different from here onwards. Many won’t return to the 9-5 in the office, aiming to avoid commuter slog and blending (typically longer) flexible hours with more time shared with family. As such, Collaboration tools and technology will be leveraged more than ever in the new year.
We’ve also seen another year with an upward trend of continued targeted and long thought-out cyber attacks and data breaches – like the SolarWinds attack – affecting tens of thousands of organisations globally.
As we embark on the new year – what do we think 2021 will look like for the workplace?
Here are our Top 5 predictions:
- Hybrid working is here to stay
- Collaboration tech will continue to adapt meet the demands of our hybrid workforce
- Big or small – Zero Trust is the way security will go to secure our hybrid workforce
- Data Protection and Governance will be a top priority for business as we share and collaborate more freely
- Community Developer vs Software Giants – what will shape the future of our business apps?
Trend 1: Hybrid working is here to stay
Whether you’re currently on furlough, working from home, an office building or elsewhere, relationships and team creativity thrives when we work to ‘meet’ others. Connecting people – not things – was put to test by governments when those that were able to work from home were asked to do so as restrictions struck us.
The hybrid working age has further levelled the playing field in 2020. A true outcome-based work approach has been stress-tested inadvertently and on a global scale, one of the many things on offer for everyone are equal opportunities. It is a job seeker’s market for talent acquisition teams out there – no distance is too large for the UC technology that continues to connect us.
People will be the biggest asset of any business next year. The considerable amount of effort applied by each organisation’s Human Resources departments into building people-first cultures in 2020 is paving the way for the future of work.
Remote Working and ‘working from home’ will, for most, no longer be present – it will just be ‘working’. The flexibility of work practices, workspaces and work cultures will continue to be embraced with open arms, focusing predominantly on a hybrid approach in 2021.
There is no doubt that 2020 has signalled the beginning of a new era, not only within society, but also in technology. Of course, technology is at the very centre of the changing landscape, enabling and even forcing us to take a new look at how we communicate, transact, foster relationships, and generally do business.
Trend 2 – Collaboration tech will continue to adapt meet the demands of our hybrid workforce
Since the dawn of travel, people have relied on international travel to work with customers and markets from abroad. Additionally, language – as well as distance – has always been a barrier to overcome.
The onset of Covid-19 had resulted in a variety of countries and governments being forced to close their borders, businesses across many sectors, and impose restrictions on travel. In turn, leaving the travel industry in a grim state.
We must introduce a newly emerged (and likely here to stay) trend of doing business through communication and collaboration, using many forms of unified communications (UC). Oftentimes these were already in place, but if not, the tools are easy to procure and consume through the vast global SaaS services available from Microsoft, Google, AWS, Zoom, Cisco etc.
Those who were new to, or not very well versed with, technology have now had the chance to take it in their stride and eventually approached remote working as the primary method of working. Similar to the way that those who have never had a video call have mastered the ‘zoom dance class’ and teachers have embraced remote working over Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom.
There is no denying that video, audio and software services have seen their biggest ever growth in both Sales and, perhaps more importantly, adoption – there are also no signs of slowing down in 2021.
Even if, and when, we are able to return to ‘normal’, business travel and trade treaties will not be the same as before, despite the “on-the-surface” good Brexit deal that was signed just before Christmas. We will need to see more of the competitive services and devices talk/interop with each other, in addition to software development continuing to be cross-industry and cross-platform.
“The Prosumer will have a big influence over IT purchasing in the hybrid workplace”
This new normal will also see the demarcation between the ‘consumer’ and business ‘professional’ – continue to blur into the new year with rise of the prosumer. Usage of technology across our personal and professional lives will result in greater demand for individual preferences in brand, colour, comfort, features and aesthetics of the devices being used.
With the home office being a permanent thing, managers and IT will need to ensure that there is choice for employees when it comes to the office tech – allowing more individualisation and choice of technology used to get the job done.
This will go a long way to make employees more accepting of change, more motivated and happier, in turn driving up productivity and therefore results for the business. Effectively, this will further drive more technological innovation that blurs the boundaries between consumer and professional technologies. Employees will want and expect quality and up-to-date kit.
We also expect to see UC tools like Teams, WebEx and continue to evolve with new features helping to support the hybrid office. Naturally, we will find that meeting room technology will be also be re-imagined serving smaller meetings and huddles, rather than just the traditional meeting space.
Work-from-home kits – which were mainly cobbled together in 2020 – will also become better and more enterprise-grade. Personally, I think that we will see a huge surge in technology to support individual work or small groups in office buildings, as businesses try to encourage people to come into work to compete with the home-office more than ever, with devices like the Lenovo ThinkSmart Collaboration display or Cisco DeskPro becoming more present in the home office.
Trend 3 – Big or small – Zero Trust is the way security will go to secure our hybrid workforce
Undoubtedly, 2021 will see greater investment in security – particularly for remote workers –a task of which will most likely be a bigger than most anticipate, with a bottom-up review of security controls that are working and those that aren’t.
Whilst working from home has always been prevalent for the most part, information worker-type employees were once required to come into the office every day. But, as businesses and employees evolve and embrace the increased focus, convenience, efficiency, freedom and personal time gained from teleworking, organisations will have to re-examine current working conditions. The idea will trickle into not only the daily commutes, but also into office hours and cramped cubicles to name a few.
With many employees using personal devices, there is more of a risk than ever in terms of malware, phishing attacks and ransomware infections. Simply put, the devices that we use at home don’t have the same levels of endpoint protection that corporate devices do.
But what protection exists to protect data leakage from corporate file shares and cloud storage like Teams or OneDrive being accessed, downloaded to personal devices, or emailed/shared from corporate to consumer to ensure that ‘work gets done’?
“2021 will see a much larger investment in security for remote workers. This will probably be a bigger task than most anticipate, with a bottom-up review of security controls that are working, and those that are not”.
Cyber attackers have come up with more innovative ideas towards phishing, crypto jacking, ransomware and IoT attacks. Approximately 81 global firms from 81 countries had reported data breaches in the first half of 2020 alone, with astoundingly 80% of firms seeing an increase in cyber-attacks this year, according to a report by Fintech News.
“Coronavirus is alone blamed for a 238% rise in cyber-attacks on banks. Phishing attacks have seen a dramatic increase of 600% since the end of February to end of October 2020. Due to the pandemic, ransomware attacks also rose 148% in March alone and the average ransomware payment rose by 33% to $111,605 as compared to Q4 2019.”
(Source: Fintech News).
The recent Solarwinds Sunburst hack affected tens of thousands of organisations, local governments, US homeland security agencies and huge tech firms like Cisco and Microsoft.
What made this so sophisticated was that the hackers had injected a tiny piece of secret code into their next software update, which was then of course pushed down to its customers as part of a global infection spree. More information here.
More organisations are therefore likely to embrace a Zero-Trust approach to security and vendor consolidation to achieve greater visibility and protect against the kill chain. With attacks like sunburst, we expect more businesses to look towards separating application access from network access, as well as secure application access based on identity and user context – inc. date/time, geolocation and device posture – rather than solely user ID.
A remote workforce requires IT to ensure that employees have access to the resources they need, all while maintaining security throughout the business. The first step to securing a remote workforce is granting access to an employee, and the next step is for IT to ensure that the employee logging in is who they say they are.
Multi Factor Authentication technologies help ensure that the user logging in is legitimate and is who they say they are. This is particularly important with a remote workforce when every employee logging in is outside of the traditional corporate perimeter.
“2021 will also be the beginning of the end for passwords”
I believe that 2021 will also be the beginning of the end for passwords and we will see fewer services offering only passwords as their sole form of authentication. Many organisations – including ours – are already piloting password-less sign-on processes, using a combination of bio-factor authentications such as Windows Hello® and Multi-Factor Authentication. However, as these processes increase, as will the attacks against password-less technologies.
You may have seen some of Cisilion’s #CisilionLIVE sessions on Zero-Trust in the past – if you fancy a break from the Christmas and New Year’s films, feel free to catch up with the episode here.
Trend 4 – Data Protection and Governance will be a top priority for business as we share and collaborate more freely
‘Security’ is tightly coupled compliance. More specifically, compliance with regards to security and protection of data and intellectual property within an organisation. It is critical that businesses continue to stay compliant with applicable security standards and guidelines. Additionally, they must review and redefine policies and procedures around data sharing and access control, and business continuity planning.
To do so, organisations must have the processes, governance, technologies and the measures in place to make it easier to protect corporate and customer/client information, thereby limiting who, how, and what, can be accessed, downloaded, copied and/or shared. Surprisingly, many organisations still have very limited controls put in place.
“The ‘assume breach’ approach to protecting businesses from cyber-attacks will be adopted for data protection with tighter sharing controls, analytics and machine learning to help protect, detect and remediate against accidental or intentional data leakage and theft”.
We will see businesses seek to obtain Unified management – with policies, visibility and control of data across their on-premises environment, Microsoft 365 services, all third-party cloud services, and devices from through a single pane of glass.
Of course, this must start with re-discovery. To do anything with data, you need to know your data, which means understanding your data landscape and identify important information across your cloud and on-premises environment.
We saw this demand at the tail end of 2020 and next year, more organisations will embark on a re-discovery of their data. By finding out what they currently have, what their data contains, its sensitivity and life cycle, organisations can then look to understand what can be done to control and manage their corporate and public data.
From here – businesses will move from manual classification of data to intelligent data classification – providing the ability for machine learning to accurately identify sensitive or personal information across the business, with comprehensive classification capabilities and automatic protection and controls based on risk-based conditional access.
Following on, this will ensure that only those that should have access do and it can be tracked and revoked on-demand or automatically – almost like Mission Impossible – ‘this message will self-destruct’.
The classification of data (not just files but everything) will allow for automatic or “informed” data encryption and protection of sensitive data throughout its lifecycle by applying sensitivity labels linked to data protection actions like encryption, access restrictions, visual markings etc.
In turn, this will be able to manage, control and prevent data loss – leveraging the same or similar sensitivity labels by this time to prevent data loss across data stored in the cloud, on-premises environments, and user devices – again monitoring, preventing, and remediating risky activities involving sensitive data without impacting how people work and collaborate.
Finally, and the last piece of the governance approach will be to really embrace and enforce information life cycle and records management intelligently with in-place management, automated policies, defensible disposal, and pre-built data connectors.
Trend 5 – Community Developer vs Software Giants – what will shape the future of our business apps?
Over the last year, we have seen a greater interest both from our internal teams and across our customer base taking their first steps into the world of ‘low-code, no-code’ from a business application perspective.
At the other end, we have seen some organisations – including many NHS trusts – fundamentally change how they work and digitise (i.e. from Covid test to flu jabs to employee services).
Many started initially as experiments, but we have since seen so many organisations embrace the low-code, no-code to do things that wouldn’t have been possible without huge investment, software testing and procurement. Many then result in the creation of new business units and skills development drives to resource this ‘let’s just build it’ culture.
The question that many organisations will be asking of their business software needs will therefore be not ‘CAN we build it’, but it is ‘SHOULD we’, and ‘HOW?’
The essence of low-code and no-code software is the emergence of a new class of software ‘assemblers’, not traditional software ‘developers’. The software assembler is a ‘community developer’, which essentially means that a technically astute person can create new software capabilities to speed up the overall digital transformation initiatives, despite having minimum to no coding training.
Forrester Research Group found that deploying Microsoft Power Platform’s low-code/no-code environment reduced application development time and empowered developers to create custom applications.
This resulted in the reduction of development costs by up to 74% and saved workers up to 3.2 hours per week, in addition to seeing an ROI of almost 200% with payback in less than six months. Not to mention the fact that the IP stays with the company, rather than the 3rd party software, meaning that updates and controls remain in the hands of the people that built it.
The principal of low code/no code is simple – It has to do with a concept called ‘abstraction’. Think of abstraction as Lego blocks that are connected to make an object, versus fabricating everything from scratch. Some simple examples of low-code and no-code software as used within organisations today include:
- A business user, not a developer, might add their own input forms which directly feeds into their CRM or ERP without writing code or paying for custom development from the vendor
- A customer service manager who wants to add a new priority for service tickets called ‘urgent’ could do so without writing code and without waiting for the software vendor to do it.
- An HR/IT user can create a new app for employees to view their benefits or get a formal remote induction without manually updating spreadsheets or word documents.
- A member of the marketing team might want to create a new workflow to link social media data to their CRM and social marketing platform
The unique thing about these no-code/low-code platforms is that they take the place of a significant amount of the hand-coding that consumes an engineer’s time, with these ‘community developers’ or in-house employees being able to innovate and develop software products in weeks not months that directly impact productivity and the bottom line.
Equally important is that citizen engineers can rapidly refine the product as it is introduced into the market to meet the end users desired functionality more accurately. No code allows an automation layer to compress the time and accelerate the ability to build software up to 100x faster than currently available.
These platforms are based on the newest architecture with auto-scaling resilience containerization like Kubernetes, Docker, Linux and run-on standard cloud platforms AWS and Microsoft Azure similar to what any large enterprise software development team would be using as its architecture.
Some examples of leading no-code/low-code platform companies include Microsoft, Unqork, AirTable, Mendix, and Quickbase.
Last year at Microsoft’s Ignite conference, CEO Satya Nadella acknowledged that companies will be developing software in-house. Ten years ago, Microsoft would be expecting to sell companies their software and not publicly embrace a corporation’s internal software development at scale.
These no-code/low-code capabilities are the precursor to the fact that in 3-5 years, as much as 65% of development will be done in house using no-code low-code which are complimented by AI software bots (robots), per Gartner.
Due to demand and increasing interest, we are hosting a live chat and webinar on the Low Code No Code in our January #CisilionLIVE which you register for here: https://info.cisilion.com/cisilionlive
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