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Virtual Learning and Distance Education
What’s Going to Save Higher Education?

This crossroads we find ourselves at is inspiring, scary, and uncertain all at the same time. As University leaders struggle to find ways to recover, they must also find ways to teach that are more aligned with what we know about human cognitive architecture and less about tradition. Holding onto tradition stifles many students, but It also holds educators back from seeing possibilities that can arise from bringing methodologies together with technological advancements.

In a May 5, 2020 HBR article – Higher Ed Needs a Long-Term Plan for Virtual Learning, James DeVaney, Gideon Shimshon, Matthew Rascoff, and Jeff Maggioncalda acknowledge the staggering impact that Covid-19 has had on the global education system and the skyrocketing demand for online learning programs. To be sure, these emergency remote teaching applications are stop-gap measures only.  “As the emergency subsides but normal fails to return, higher ed institutions need to do more. There’s a good likelihood that virtual learning, in some capacity, will need to be a part of education for the foreseeable future.

Higher education institutions need a response framework that looks beyond the immediate actions. They have to prepare for an intermediate period of transition and begin future-proofing their institutions. Universities need to provide their own online content from their own faculty. Many professors have never designed nor delivered a course online, and that’s the challenge – rethinking the whole approach to teaching.  We will come back to this point later.

First, we will look at another challenge that universities face.

The HBR article points out that if the coronavirus pandemic occurred a decade earlier, universities would have been devastated. Today we have cloud computing, broadband access, and widespread smartphone adoption to help organizations adapt quickly to almost any situation as long as the Internet is stable. But not all educational institutions are equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

Advanced institutions like the University of Michigan, Imperial College London, and Duke University have already invested time and money in pioneering digital education strategies. Their faculties have been accustomed to online teaching for years. For example, in September 2002, the MIT Open Course Ware proof-of-concept pilot site opened to the public, offering 32 courses. In September 2003, MIT Open Course Ware published its 500th course, including some courses with complete streaming video lectures. By September 2004, 900 MIT courses were available online.

 

Remote learner using multiple cloud-based education apps.

 “Institutions that lack the necessary prerequisites of online learning and remote teaching face a daunting challenge.”

Many education leaders believe that IT infrastructure issues must be addressed before any real progress can be made towards virtual learning.

In the March 31, 2020 HBR article What the Shift to Virtual Learning Could Mean for the Future of Higher Ed, Vijay Govindarjan and Anup Srivastava urge educators to collect data and pay attention to three questions:

1.       Do students need a four-year residential experience?

2.       What improvements are required in IT infrastructure to make it more suitable for online education?

3.       What training efforts are required for faculty and students to facilitate changes in mindsets and behaviors?

Regarding the second question – What improvements are required in IT infrastructure – Govindarjan and Sirvastava point out that online settings amplify the digital divide. Some students have access to the latest model laptops, better bandwidths and more powerful Wi-Fi connections, while others don’t.  “Digital divide also exists among universities, which will become apparent in the current experiment. Top private universities have better IT infrastructure and higher IT support staff ratio for each faculty compared to budget-starved public universities.”

And the question of IT infrastructure doesn’t stop at digital equality. “Software for conference calls may be a good start, but it can’t handle some key functionalities such as accommodating large class sizes while also providing a personalized experience. Even in a 1,000-plus-student classroom, an instructor can sense if students are absorbing concepts, and will change the pace of the teaching accordingly. Instructors and students must note and should discuss their pain points and facilitate and demand technological development in those areas.”

Now that we have explored the IT infrastructure for online education, let’s return to our original challenge – the traditional old school (pun intended) approach to teaching.

Black and White portrait of John Dewey

 

There has to be whole new structure to how material is presented. Learning methodologies have to be reconsidered. In the original Star Trek series, Captain Kirk is often seen playing 3-Dimensional Chess with his second-command Mr. Spock. Invariably, Captain Kirk loses and the series is filled with Spock commenting about people’s actions, indicating 2-dimensional thinking. They’re not considering the X,Y and Z axes of outer space. It seems an apt metaphor for the way educators are trying to solve the puzzle. They know they have to transform, but how? How does a traditional university mindset transition from an in-person classroom environment to an online or hybrid model?

Educators will have to expand their views and ideas of how to present information. They must walk into another environment where there are more options and several possible integrations. Not just adding multiple activities, re-imagining seminars, and fine tuning how they teach courses online, but also dramatically rethinking the whole approach. Take a look at the technological mix of simulators and the emerging science of augmented and virtual reality.

 

Imagining Three-Dimensional Education in the New Normal

Curtis Bonk, Indiana University’s Professor of Education and author of The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education, tells us that, “This is a revolution. Education doesn’t have to take place with the teacher front and center and students sitting in rows. It can take place outside, under a tree branch, on a boat or plane, in a grocery store or while hiking, if you have an Internet connection.”

Imperial College London is one of the institutions that was set up with cloud-based, distance education systems before the pandemic started. They are certainly in a better position now because of it. They’re using the phrase “multi-mode teaching” to describe how they are approaching this coming fall semester. Others are using the term “blended learning” to describe the same hybrid approach to the online/on-premise teaching environment.

“Our multi-mode learning in the Autumn term will be a change from the traditional university experience, but we are confident it will be an exciting, innovative and most importantly safe approach for our students and staff in these uncertain times. It will also enable students to graduate from the College as highly skilled individuals, sought out by employers.”

Imperial College London has been at the forefront of utilizing the cloud for GPU-heavy, cloud-based applications such as augmented and virtual reality, interventional radiology simulation, and virtual 3D modeling for their Department of Earth Science and Engineering. Even using cloud resources to bring in guest lecturers via hologram teaching has been explored and used by Imperial College London.

 

The Challenge of Specialized Schools in Today’s Environment

The example of Imperial College of London’s innovative thinking puts a spotlight on the issues that specialized schools are facing right now in relation to the discussion of on-site and learn-from-home teaching scenarios. While other schools may be able to limp along with off-the-shelf video conferencing tools for a while, schools involved in architecture, engineering, design, animation, and video production are struggling.

Why?

Because the GPU-heavy applications (like AutoCAD and SOLIDWORKS) utilized by these schools and their students have significant hardware requirements not found in your average laptop –  a solution has to be sourced. To solve their dilemma, these specialized schools are moving to solutions like IronOrbit’s INFINITY Workspaces that allow users to use NVIDIA GPU technology in a cloud environment. With this configuration, teachers and students can use average computers to access cloud-based GPU-heavy programs with zero latency. This use of the cloud’s computing power and ability to help schools save money on in-house IT hardware demonstrates one of the reasons that schools with science, engineering, and art departments are considering the cloud as well.

 

A Priority Higher Than Education

Francis Jim Tuscano, founder of empowerED, brings an important truth to light in this new era of education.

“In the new normal, as students get exposed more often to the Internet, teachers should always consider student’s privacy, safety, security, and digital well-being as top priorities for a successful remote or online learning.”

With increased screen time comes more opportunities to endanger students with online threats such as Zoom-bombing, cyberbullying, and predatory behavior. Part of imagining a “new normal” in education includes a heavy dose of technology focusing on the online safety of students. Safety has to take center stage.

Bringing all of an institution’s students into a controlled, protected, cloud-based learning environment is one of the ways schools, community colleges, trade schools, and universities are handling the security issue.

Helping Post-Secondary Teachers Utilize the Full Range of Their Skillset

Today, like no other time in history, information is available to anyone for free. The Internet is full of books, articles, videos, courses, etc. We no longer live in a world where teachers are the sole source for obtaining knowledge on a topic.

But, teachers were never just the person who reads a book and then presents the material to the class. They’ve always taken on the role of facilitating the educational journey of the students and coaching them on their individual paths. The abundance of information and the proliferation of the technology used to access this information has had an impact on the evolving role of the educator in our society.

Educators are now leveraging IT solutions to replace or supplement traditional learning norms with self-directed learning experiences that are personalized to the student’s education and life or career trajectory. The classroom – whether virtual or on-site – is facilitated by the faculty to become a zone of guidance, collaboration, and communication, as well as instruction.

Where Did Education Technology Begin? — A Nod, and a Connection, to the Past

Education technology has always been with us. It’s just improved over time. There was a time when education was learned by word of mouth, then Gutenburg invented the printing press. It wasn’t so long ago that grade-school students used tablets and chalk in one-room schoolhouses. Today, paper and pen have been replaced with an iPad or Android tablet and stylus. Cloud-based administration and teaching environments are the next steps in this ever-evolving process.

To answer the question more directly, the use of hardware and software for school administration and teaching has its origin in universities across the world and in the military. Each of these institutions had the impetus and the resources in the early days to imagine what technology could do for education.

Education writer and speaker, Audrey Watters, gave a speech at the CENTRO symposium  in Mexico City in which she said, “When we talk about “the future of education” as an explicitly technological future, I want us to remember that “the history of education” has long been technological – thousands of years of writing, hundreds of years of print, a century of “teaching machines,” 75 years of computing, almost 60 years of computer-assisted instruction, at least 40 years of the learning management system, more than 25 years of one-to-one laptop programs, a decade (give or take a year) of mobile learning.” 

In that same speech, Audrey Watters gave the following insight, “Technologies are as likely to re-inscribe traditional practices as to alter them.”

Collaboration teams working remotely.

Is the Advancement of Education Technology Inevitable?

The short answer is, YES. However, the subject is more nuanced than a simple YES/NO answer. Over the years, education technology has followed the advancement and acceptance of technologies in business. As the competition in the business world winnowed the best from the field of available technologies, educators then felt comfortable adopting and adapting those systems for educational purposes.

The cloud is no different. It’s really only been over the past ten years that businesses have discovered and embraced cloud technologies for the business realm. Education has now followed suit, being pushed in this instance dramatically by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Education technology will continue to expand and evolve, partially because education is a large market. For example, as of today, more than 20,000 education applications have been developed for the iPad alone. As remote learning and hybrid models become a mainstay, the practical applications of technology become more apparent.

Universities have even used the cloud to facilitate Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to help people gain an interest in the sciences and give people an opportunity to further their education during the pandemic. These same technologies will continue to be utilized as everyone from trade schools to Ivy League institutions, like MIT, engage the public and influence the next generation of students to come to their school.

 

Is Education Technology Really a Disruptor?

While it’s easy to talk about disruption and use words like “transform” or “revolutionize,” the truth is that technology should be viewed as an enabler.

Here’s an example, for hundreds of years, voting for our political leaders was done by paper ballot. Those paper ballots were then counted by hand.

Now, we have ballot-counting machines, and some municipalities allow electronic voting.

Has that changed politics? Not really.

But these advancements have made it easier for precincts to tally and submit their constituents’ votes.

Educational technology is the same.

Yes, some things will change, but most things will stay the same. The difference is, cloud-based technology will make it easier for teachers and administrators to accomplish what they are already working hard to do each day.

One of the challenges colleges and universities are currently facing is the public opinion of higher education without the trappings of the facilities, classroom environment, and college social life experience. By going further than simply moving existing educational techniques into the cloud, colleges and universities can provide educational value that wasn’t available within the limitations of a physical classroom. There are new opportunities to learn in ways that more closely resemble real-world experiences.

Researchers in the Learning Sciences are “dedicated to the interdisciplinary empirical investigation of learning as it exists in real-world settings and to how learning may be facilitated both with and without technology.” (isls.org). An important point to keep in mind as we explore this question of virtual classrooms is that “not all learning is the same.”The best way to learn probably is through Authentic Learning where students learn by performing the actual task itself. The second-best way is Situated Learning which is the closet to the real thing as possible. Students learn through simulation and solving problems in context.

Dr. Michael Kolodziej, in his online video presentation to National University on The Future of Virtual Education,  points out, “Along with new opportunities come new realities and new possibilities.”

New Realities. New Possibilities.

There are four categories of learning technology: Simulation, Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality, and Virtual Reality. A Simulation experience happens on a flat screen, while Virtual Reality is immersive. Kolodziej shares a fascinating video recording of him in full VR regalia, exploring the International Space Station. Not only does he get to explore the space station, but he also gets to exit the station, travel outside and make a repair using hand controls. “It’s an incredible immersive experience allowing you to imagine the context, to be in the context of a situation without having to actually be there.”

Sustine Chapel
On YouTube you can plug ito a 360 Virtual Reality tour of the Sistine Chapel.

Dr. Kolodziej goes on to share another example of Virtual Reality learning by exploring – this YouTube video shows an immersive VR of the Sistine Chapel. Of course, on YouTube it sits on your flat screen, but plug your Smartphone into a Virtual Reality headset and you’re suddenly there. “You are immediately immersed and transformed into a new space and time. You can think about, experience, and see things in ways that weren’t previously possible. You can travel the world in Virtual Reality.

 

 

 

 

 

The splash page of "A Walk Through Dementia" website.
Developed by the Alzheimer’s Research Center UK, this app presents a virtual reality experience. Visitors are able to look at everyday life through a new lens.

Similarly, another virtual reality model can be found online at A Walk Through Dementia.  The experience is designed to give visitors a better understanding of how someone with dementia experiences everyday life.

Prior to this VR experience being added to a college curriculum, students were tasked with reading a textbook and answering some questions. That’s the traditional model. Using VR for immersive learning enables a paradigm shift by standing in the shoes of someone having trouble finding their way home. You can truly understand what it’s like to have Dementia. It’s a much more impactful way to learn.

 

Comprehensive Approach – Not Just Plug and Play Software Solutions

Ursula Franklin (1921-2016), during her forty-year tenure at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada, described technology as a much larger picture than software or hardware. She saw technology as a holistic system comprised of organization, methods, procedures, and mindset. For her, the hardware and software only played a supporting role in what she saw as the larger nature of technology.

Let’s face it.

There are hundreds of companies out there promoting technology solutions for educators. Some of those technologies are fantastic and will help your school immensely. Others fall short of fail miserably and should be pulled from the shelves.

What most aren’t discussing is the need for an over-arching approach to a systemic adoption of technology that will have a positive impact throughout your school, community college, or university.

Why?

Well, most of the technologies currently offered to educational institutions are built to address one issue. For example, the online conference tool Zoom, which was adopted by millions of teachers and students worldwide despite the fact that Zoom has a history of security problems.

Moving into a cloud environment allows you to leverage the cloud to comprehensively and systematically overhaul how your school is using technology at all levels including security and compliance. Other standard cloud benefits include cost savings, ease of use, increased storage capacity and automation, and freeing up IT staff.

 

The Democratization of Education

Beyond our borders, countries are looking at cloud technology to bring equality and democratization to their educational systems. Anita Lie, Professor of Education at Widya Mandala Catholic University Surabaya, in a Jakarta Post article titled, “The New Normal in Education” stated, “Re-imagining anew forms of education may open doors for more equitable quality education for all young Indonesians. Despite all the COVID-19 maladies, the pandemic disruption has brought awareness to new possibilities in reviving our education system and in ushering young Indonesians into the future on a more level playing field.”

One of the concerns surrounding online educational opportunities here in the USA is the cost of devices and Internet for the student learning from home. Fortunately, the cloud gives greater opportunity to marginalized and under-served populations that may not have the resources for a fancy computer with all the bells and whistles. Instead, cloud portals can be used to allow any student with any device that has the bare minimum power to surf the Internet (which nearly all do) to be able to learn in the same online environment as a student with financial advantages.

3 female students and one dark skinned male student at school tables wearing mask.

 

How Can Technology Help Educators Imagine the Next Evolution of Education?

Cloud-Based Learning Management Systems (LMS) – Learning Management Systems have their origins in the late 1990s. Since that time, they have become a critical tool in education delivery. In more recent years, Learning Management Systems have found their way into the cloud to enable easier and secure data storage and workflow mobility for school administration departments. The flexibility of the cloud allows administrative teams to discover new and more efficient ways of operating.

Modular Learning vs. Linear Learning – Cloud-based learning platforms allow for some flexibility in adapting education to the individual. Sure, everyone has to learn certain things in order, but niche electives can be offered, and students can enjoy a far more tailored educational experience. Delivering niche electives in a modular learning format helps students get used to learning in the ways that they will later in life.

Online Education for the Ways People Learn – Visual learners, academic learners, auditory learners, and tactile learners have different preferences. The use of cloud infrastructure and lessons pushed out in print, audio, and video allows an educational institution to deliver the same material in a way that each student will best understand the material. Thought will have to be given to determine how to best facilitate the ease of learning for hands-on, tactile learners. However, this is a challenge even in a traditional classroom setting.

Avatars – Some of the hesitation of students regarding live online classroom interaction is the video component. Thankfully, online gaming granted us the concept of the Avatar. When schools give their students the option between creating an Avatar version of themselves or a live video feed, it helps deal with concerns students may have with their appearance or hesitation with showing their living conditions on camera. Although these issues must be lovingly addressed in the proper setting, Avatars help bridge the gap and allow for more comfort in an online classroom for those who are uncomfortable with the camera. Avatars help level the playing field for some students in a way that cannot be leveled within a classroom environment.

IN CONCLUSION

Although educators responded swiftly and effectively to the pandemic, there’s still more to be done for long-term recovery and paving the way for future sustainability. It’s critical that universities take action now to develop their own long-term strategy, allocate resources, or perhaps devise new ones. For example, streamlining operations and offering more options customized to the individual needs of the student. Virtual learning is sure to play a key role, but developing the strategy will have to embrace the kinds of instructional connection points present in a traditional classroom environment. Interactivity is important. As Johns Hopkins University’s professor William G. Durden points out in his insightful article Turning the Tide on Online Learning, people need to be seen, heard, and exchange ideas. This is the kind of impact that helps affirm identity of the student by the instructor and the other students. As long as people are able to engage that way, and the content they’re learning is substantial, they will stay motivated over a sustained period of time.

Closing with the visionary words of Dr. Michael Kolodziej talking about Artificial Intelligence and Adaptive Learning, “Learning is more than information transfer. The idea that we can program a machine and the machine can program the person is seductive from a process and scaling perspective. The reality is that these things are not that simple. When we think about how to get educators into the meaningful stuff like good learning, authentic and situated learning, we know that Artificial Intelligence platforms can helps us, but they will never replace us.”

How can educators convert this crisis into an opportunity? That’s the big question.

 

To learn more about how we’re helping to answer that question, please call 888-753-5060 or visit our Education Solutions below

 

 

 

 

Harnessing the Power of the Cloud for Business Optimization
As businesses struggle to recovery, they need to create business strategies that are resilient and sustainable.
Because the world is more fluid, unpredictable, and less stable than ever, the cloud represents a resilient business strategy that is sustainable.

 

Business optimization is the process of making your operations more efficient and cost-effective. Moving to the cloud enables these improvements to happen easily and with great flexibility.

For enterprise organizations, being in the cloud provides them with the ability to scale up their infrastructure quickly, without setting up an additional in-house hardware. It’s not only fast, but it reduces the cost associated with development.

Employees can access files using Smartphones, laptops, and tablets while you reduce operational costs, boost speed, and improve accuracy.

That’s just the beginning. But still, we’re just scratching the surface of what the transformational “supernova” known as the cloud can do for your business.

Moving to the cloud is not a cure-all solution that is going to solve all your optimization and business continuity challenges. Sure, there will be great benefit in simply migrating your IT infrastructure to the cloud, but to fully benefit from this game-changing technology, leaders have to seek out the cloud solution that is optimized for their unique needs. Not all companies are created equal, and neither are clouds.

Cloud Optimization is about delivering business efficiency to your organization. Leaders need to target objectives, look towards future trends, and make predictions as best they can. These insights help IT operations make better cloud decisions and accelerate business innovations that will impact the future of your company. Remember, it’s not just a matter of surviving the years ahead. The goal is to thrive and, ideally, have the ability and wherewithal to shape your own future.

 

DID SOMEONE SAY, “BUSINESS CONTINUITY?”

It just so happens that being in the right cloud environment also ensures business continuity!

Let’s face it. There are many ways organizations can be disrupted.

There are natural disasters, service outages, security breaches, industry innovations/competition, and now, add lockdowns caused by pandemics to the list.

Without implementing a business continuity strategy as a part of an overall cybersecurity roadmap, any process optimization changes you make can be taken away from you in a second. By being in the cloud (instead of utilizing on-site servers to back up your data and host your applications), the cybersecurity and business continuity elements are already baked into your solution. This assurance of security and reliability gives you the freedom to customize and tweak your internal, IT-supported processes and innovate more effective ways to develop and deliver your products and services.

The decisions you make about your cloud infrastructure can determine the future of your company.

Imagine for a moment that you’re the CEO of one of the top three travel management companies in the USA. You’ve got more than 1,000 employees and twenty-plus locations scattered across the country.

But you’ve got a BIG problem.

The in-house infrastructure you implemented ten years ago is now out of date, operationally overloaded, and in urgent need of hardware, software, and security upgrades.

What to do?

Well, you could invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in new in-house hardware, software, and security solutions, or, you could start looking at the cloud as a potential game-changer for your growing enterprise.

That’s the choice that Darryl Hoover, CTO of Direct Travel, had to make.

He chose to use IronOrbit’s cloud infrastructure to help his organization take the next step in business optimization.

Darryl says, “Our success in the travel industry comes down to our ability to leverage technology and put it to work for our customers. IronOrbit helps us keep that competitive edge.”

 

Harnessing the Cloud for Business Optimization

5 Things You Need to Know

1. Know the Competition

It’s not a surprise that many companies are already using the cloud to house their data and infrastructure. Gartner, one of the industry’s leading think tanks, shows the numbers behind the massive move to a cloud-first infrastructure across all industries.

In an article titled Cloud Shift Impacts All IT Markets Christy Pettey of Gartner notes that “Gartner’s latest IT spending forecast shows that spending on data center systems is forecast to be $195 billion in 2019, but down to $190 billion through 2022. In contrast, spending on cloud system infrastructure services (IaaS) will grow from $39.5 billion in 2019 to $63 billion through 2021.”

What do all these big-dollar forecasts mean for you?

Your competition is either considering a move to the cloud, or they’re already there.

 

2. Know the Costs

Cost is always a factor. Doing the math and understanding what cloud infrastructure will mean for your business optimization goals, in conjunction with your budgeting, is critical. Here are some factors related to cloud infrastructure costs.

OPEX vs. CAPEX – Cloud-first business optimization strategies allow you to get away from the life cycle (and break/fix cycle) of in-house IT infrastructure and move the IT budgeting from the CAPEX side of the ledger to the OPEX side.

Scaling Cost with Requirements – Although a company with infinite resources can afford to build IT capacity that they won’t use for 3 to 5 years, your company isn’t likely in that position. Cloud infrastructure allows you to utilize economies of scale and level-up your expenses only when your business process growth requires.

Budgeted Expenditures – Predictability is valuable. The cloud simplifies IT budgeting because all maintenance, updates, security, and upgrades are done by the cloud provider within a stable, monthly fee.

Improved Performance Raises Productivity and Lowers Costs – Improved efficiency and increased productivity have to be considered when it comes to the cost/benefit analysis of cloud infrastructure for business optimization. Profitability arises when employees can easily access their work without spending time on keeping their computers functioning and secure.

3. Know the Process

The unknown is everyone’s primary source of worry. When the IronOrbit team explains the cloud migration process to a business leader, he/she then has the clarity and information needed to make a decision about utilizing a cloud environment to improve business optimization.

This is how an enterprise cloud migration/implementation process works.

Consultation – Getting together with the key stakeholders in the client company to explore their goals for the cloud migration or implementation

Exploration – Digging in and getting a firm grasp on the current IT assets of the client company and the processes that those IT assets support

Collaboration – Working with the in-house IT organization of the client company to determine a roadmap for moving data and IT-supported processes into the cloud

Presentation – Submitting completed migration roadmap to client company leadership for review and approval

Implementation – Moving data and workflow in stages into the cloud in accordance with the roadmap that has been established and working in coordination with the client organization’s IT team

Testing and Quality Assurance – Ensuring that each stage of the migration process has been completed successfully and is achieving the desired/expected results, i.e., optimization of business processes

 

4. Know the Hurdles

Some companies try to tell you that moving enterprise systems from in-house IT assets to cloud infrastructure is a breeze, but they just aren’t telling you the truth. The fact is that enterprise IT assets are complicated. Moving them into the cloud is a complex procedure. That’s why it’s critical to choose the right team to handle the tough stuff and to help you get over the operational hurdles you must face before a cloud-first strategy results in business optimization.

Hurdle #1 – Buy In

Getting key stakeholders to get on board with a cloud implementation to achieve better business optimization is one of the first hurdles you will face. People like infrastructure that they can see and touch. As a result, there is an innate bias against cloud infrastructure – even if it is better on many levels than buying and maintaining in-house IT assets.

Hurdle #2 – Bandwidth

When your entire data and workflow are securely accessed through an internet connection, it’s critical that your business has reliable bandwidth to handle the traffic and a backup IP.

Hurdle #3 – Training

Optimizing business processes through the utilization of cloud assets is a game-changer. It’s important not to leave your staff in the dark. Each step of the process needs to be communicated from the top down. Talk to the employees that are most impacted by the change. Cloud implementation needs to be framed as a positive for the employees. They need to be trained on new aspects of the process that have been impacted by the cloud implementation.

 

5. Know the Benefits
Using cloud-based data sets, servers, and desktops, your organization can work to drive real-world business advantages.  Here are just a few examples of them.

The Benefits of Moving to the Cloud during Recovery

We’ve saved the best for last!

As mentioned in an earlier IronOrbit blog, the cloud has tremendous energy. The information travels up and down. Large amounts of digital information move in every direction. You need to learn to go with the knowledge flow if you’re going to thrive. The flow of knowledge stocks on the cloud will better equip you to look ahead, predict trends, and respond in a timely manner to the ever-changing market. Being in the cloud ensures that you are interconnected globally, where ideas and knowledge are exchanged freely.

It’s not just about knowledge flows, though that’s compelling enough. It’s also about being able to take advantage of leading-edge technology as it becomes available.

Consider the March 1, 2019, Deloitte article, CLOUD-BASED SERVICES ARE MAKING IT EASIER FOR COMPANIES TO USE AI. “These streamlined ways of using AI are coming at the right time as organizations recognize the value of investing in AI to improve their competitiveness. Companies without a great deal of AI expertise can still benefit, as user-friendly cloud services continue to improve and proliferate. The message for companies that want to remain competitive is that they need to jump in – and it’s never been easier or more essential to tap into the power of AI.

 

IN CONCLUSION

Business Optimization is achieved when gaps in process and technology challenges are addressed in relation to the resources available. Today’s business optimization isn’t about a one-time restructuring, but rather an ongoing, dynamic alignment of people, processes, and technology. This kind of strategic agility can only be supported adequately in a cloud infrastructure.  The Harvard Business Review article by Nicholas Bloom and Nicola Pierri, from August, 31, 2018, makes the point clear. “Flexible access to computing resources allows firms to scale-up (or down) rapidly and to experiment with new products and features. The operational agility can be particularly valuable when facing uncertain demand or a fast-evolving competitive environment.”

Another strong case for using cloud technology to optimize business is made earlier in the same article. It reports that cloud computing is an unusual technology that “provides high-powered computing without the overhead costs associated with in-house software and hardware provisions.”

 

THE BIG PICTURE

Here’s the most important question.

If you’re not going to utilize the cloud for continuous collaboration of processes to meet market demand and stay ahead of the competition, what are you going to do – and how much money are you going to have to spend to make it happen?

What is 5G and Why Should You Care?
5G enables a new kind of network. One designed to connect everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices. Could it be setting the stage for singularity?
5G enables a new kind of network. One designed to connect everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices. Could it be setting the stage for singularity?

 

5G is a new digital system for transforming bytes (data units) over air. This new interface uses milometer wave spectrum. It enables the use of more devices within the same geographic area. For example, 4G can support 4,000 devices per square kilometer (.62 miles). 5G will support around 1 million devices in the same area. And those 1 million devices will operate at ultra-fast speeds. We’re talking exponentially faster download and upload speeds with hardly any latency (the time it takes devices to communicate with wireless networks).

The world is still in the throes of the pandemic. That is true. But the pandemic hasn’t slowed the adoption of 5G. Most companies continue to implement 5G networks. This technology has the potential to transform the lives of people around the world.

However, legislation and security will have to keep pace, to protect against numerous potential threats.

According to the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), at the end of March 2020, 70 mobile network operators launched the 5G commercial network in 40 countries. Sixty-three of those launched mobile services, (57 full launches, 6 limited availability launches). Thirty-four operators had launched 5G fixed wireless access or home broadband services (27 full launches, 7 limited availability launches).

Despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the spread of 5G technology continues. Measures like social distancing have delayed the launch of 5G services in some countries. Operators had to stop. Mobile companies in other countries keep launching 5G network.

Joe Barrett, president of GSA, says, “We have all been surprised by how 5G has taken off. Deployments and commitments from across the globe have picked up pace. There are commercial launches in the world’s largest mobile market. The combination of these milestones will lead to an explosion in 5G users.”

“5G has the potential to cover up to 65 percent of the world’s population with 2.6 billion subscriptions by 2025. An Ericsson Mobility Report. says it will generate 45% of the world’s total mobile data traffic.”

5G Connection Technology & Advantages

5G is the 5th generation wireless connection. It represents the most advanced leap forward in mobile technology. At the speed of 20 Gbps, which is 20 times faster than 4G, 5G promises a faster and more reliable technology. Users can transfer a much larger amount of data with a latency of one millisecond. Connected vehicles, remote medical procedures, smart homes, and smart cities become reality. We are entering the age of big data. There are huge opportunities for digital service providers. Huge amounts of Data and metadata will be collected through their services. Phone companies are already releasing 5G mobile devices.

A study by Ericsson found that 5G adoption would come in three phases:

1. Premium smartphone downloads of content in seconds rather than minutes.

2. 5G home wireless broadband to challenge traditional cable TV (video and broadband delivered video).

3. 5G hot zones of ultra-high speed in demanding locations like airports, offices and shopping areas.

5G Risks & Threats

In a March 3, 2020 article in the digital magazine CIO, Jaikumar Vijayan reports on the security risks that will accompany the benefits of fifth-generation cellular networks. In the article, he quotes vice-president of Gartner Research Katell Thielemann, “5G is emerging as an accelerator to deployment. But it is also a source of concern from a security standpoint. Speed to market and cost considerations are taking precedence over security considerations.”

The resulting complex digital connectivity could prove to be a weakness. Modern life becomes dependent on connected technologies. This hyper-connectivity amplifies existing dangers and creating new ones. With the extended adoption of 5G, the world will be more connected. Data will be continuously exchanged between devices and applications. The threat of cyberattack will increase. There will be a greater number of vulnerable entry points to a network. There will be many opportunities to attack 5G infrastructures. This includes billions of IoT devices, and next private networks, that were not connected before.

Some of the weaknesses that have been discovered so far:

˃ High reliance on suppliers, some of which are state-backed, could pose risks of cyber attacks from some countries to others.

˃ 5G networks will be introduced gradually, so old 3G / 4G networks and new 5G architecture will have to coexist for a while, which will increase security concerns. The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) highlights, in its latest report on future 5G threats in terms of cyber security, the following protocols of concern: TCP / IP (DHCPv4), SS7 / Diameter, SIP, TLS, ARP, BGP.

˃ The network has moved away from centralized, hardware-based switching to distributed, software-defined digital routing.

˃ 5G further complicates its cyber vulnerability by virtualizing higher-level network functions, in software, formerly performed by physical appliances.

˃ 5G creates more entry points for attackers.

˃ Even if it were possible to lock down the software vulnerabilities within the network, the network is also being managed by software, often early-generation artificial intelligence, that itself can be vulnerable. According to Steve Durbin, Managing Director of the Information Security Forum (ISF), “Nation states, terrorists, hacking groups, hacktivists, and even rogue competitors will turn their attention to manipulating machine learning systems that underpin products and services.”

˃ Increase in short range communications will require many more cell towers that will potentially bring more attacks from cyber criminals.

 

 

Cybersecurity & Measures

 

Cyber accountability requires a combination of market-based incentives and appropriate regulatory oversight.

 

“With 5G networks there’s more computing functionality that you can deploy at the endpoint,” says Scott Crawford, analyst at 451 Research. That means organizations will need to pay more attention to tasks like identifying and validating endpoints. They will also need to ensure that their connected devices are in compliance with security policies before they interact with other devices or with sensitive data.

 

Techniques That Will Redefine Cybersecurity Approaches in the 5G Era
Reversing the under-investment in cyber risk reduction

The continuously changing environment requires organizations to make substantial investments in new technologies and processes. Companies will have to invest in compliance. New regulations will emerge.

Implementing machine learning and AI protection

There will be a major advantage of using AI-powered solutions.
Security products will continue self-learning and updating to fit a given environment.

Shifting from lagging indicators of cyber-preparedness (post-attack) to leading indicators

A 2018 White House report indicates a problem of under-reporting cybersecurity incidences. Failure to report such crimes inhibits the ability to respond immediately. and effectively.

Continued cooperation between the public and private sectors is the key to effectively managing cybersecurity risks. Both the private sector and government agencies working together can better share information and raise cybersecurity standards. This kind of coordinated effort can develop trust and accelerate the closure of the 5G gap. Such a program could also limit the damage when cyber attackers successfully penetrate a network.

Cybersecurity starts with the 5G networks themselves

All the networks that deliver 5G must have proactive cyber protection programs.

Insert security into the development and operations cycle

It’s more important to integrate security. Software, firmware, and hardware have to be better protected.

Best Practices

The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework has established five areas for best practices. The five areas are: identify, protect, detect, respond, and recover. These principles are the basis of industry best practices. The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) has helped produce an anti-botnet guide. It outlines best practices for device manufacturers.

“Cybersecurity will play a critical role, with organizations called to adopt a granular segmentation of their networks. The Zero Trust model will become a real standard,” explains Greg Day, VP and CSO EMEA of Palo Alto Networks. The Zero Trust approach is based on a simple principle: “never trust, always verify.” It’s assumed that any person, or device, requiring access is to be considered a potential threat. So authorized access to a specific areas are restricted.

An effective 5G defense strategy is based on 3 fundamentals:

1. Reduce risk by implementing a “Zero Trust” strategy, contrasting the increase in the perimeter that can be attacked.

2. Ensure the correlation of data flows in a roaming world and the visibility of the suppliers’ ecosystem.

3. Make sure cybersecurity strategy keeps pace with reducing latency and increasing data.

The Pace of Digital Innovation and Threats Requires a New Approach to the Business-Government Relationship

In a Brookings article, Tom Wheeler and David Simpson warn that  “the toughest part of the real 5G race is to retool how we secure the most important network of the 21st Century. Never have the essential networks and services that define our lives, our economy, and our national security had so many participants, each reliant on the other-and none of which have the final responsibility for cybersecurity. Here are some of the key take-away points:

˃ More effective regulatory cyber relationships with those regulated

˃ Recognition of marketplace shortcomings

˃ Consumer transparency

˃ Inspecting and certifying connected devices

˃ Stimulate closure of 5G supply chain gaps

˃ Re-engage with international bodies

Contracts aren’t enough. Most small and medium 5G network providers are not bound by any of government contracts.

 

What 5G does for US
5G will do many things to transform our lives, including giving us faster download speeds, next to no latency, and more capacity and connectivity for billions of devices especially in the areas of virtual reality, the IoT, and artificial intelligence.
5G and Privacy

People are always concerned about how tech companies treat their data. The GDPR in Europe and CCPA in California are legislation that protect personal data. To comply with GDPR, any company that collects, stores, and processes personal data has a significant set of obligations. There will be many actors in the 5G ecosystem interacting with personal data. Only a privacy-by-design approach to 5G can ensure their satisfaction. This is according to the first white paper of the 5G PPP Security Working Group.

Any future 5G system should be able to answer Lawful Interception (LI) requests. LI should be performed in a secure way without compromising the privacy of network users. The information provided must be verifiably trustworthy and securely delivered. Given packetized and dominantly encrypted network traffic delivery, a must-have technical building block of LI is Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). Without DPI, no analytic insights can be derived from live or recorded user traffic, thus rendering LI powerless.

“There is a lack of clear-cut security regulations for mobile wireless communications based on 5G at this point. The current 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) standards mainly apply to earlier mobile telephony protocols. They don’t fully address the emerging challenges.” says David Balaban, computer security researcher.

IN CONCLUSION

5G, the future of connectivity, is now a reality. Initial impressions are mixed. 5G is coming whether businesses and the public at large are ready for it or not. Navigating the transitional challenges is going to be quite an undertaking. There are privacy and security concerns. 5G providers, government, and businesses will have to collaborate to come up with solutions.

We can expect road bumps, hacks, and misappropriation of private data along the way. But 5G opens up a world of possibilities for everyone. Everyone can benefit. From the big-city executive to the farmer in Iowa using agricultural AI to support a greater crop yield.

This new network holds the key to advancing the spread of a slew of exponential technologies. It will set in motion fundamental changes to a industries and services. It’s just one more thing to make your world a little faster. Actually, it will make it a whole lot faster.

But here’s a question for you. Will 5G set the stage for what Jayshree Pandya, in a Forbes article, calls the troubling trajectory of technological singularity?

The New Normal – How 2020 Changed Business Forever
As businesses venture forward they must learn to navigate the uncertain waters of the new normal.
Businesses will have to include resiliency planning as they venture forward.
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME: SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT THE NEW – NEW NORMAL

It surprised me. The first time that I heard a news broadcaster use the words “the new normal” in reference to the post COVID time frame made me stop and think. Here was a term first used following the financial crisis of 2008 and it’s aftermath. Until then, I was expecting everything to go back to how we had always known it.

I thought about it. I realized that the newscaster was right. COVID-19 has changed the way we do business – and life – forever. In the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic, many facets of the way we do business have shifted. Daily, we see our lives become more confined. The uncertainty of it all restricts us in many ways. It is too early to tell what all the permanent business ramifications will be. But there is change in the air. One thing is certain. This situation will expose corporate weaknesses and strengths. How the story unfolds for your business depends largely on how you navigate the waters ahead.

Look at the current impact of the virus on business operations. It’s clear that the shift toward the “new normal” has caused the adoption of certain technologies sooner and faster than ever expected. Here are 6 ways technology trends have changed for better or for worse.

What Has Coronavirus, and Our Reaction to it, Changed in Business Forever?
Online collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams enables people to connect from home, from the office, or anywhere else. Definitely part of the new normal.
Online collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams enables people to connect from home, from the office, or anywhere else.

1.      The way businesses view and handle remote workers has changed.

In this article from MarketWatch, we see some business benefits of allowing employees to work from home, such as taking advantage of a more diverse talent pool and flexibility in labor costs.

A great number of employees now working from home. They’ve been working from home for a prolonged period of time. Many companies will have to make adjustments and accept remote workers. Being able to transition to a home or remote office when problems arise will be the new normal. The bonus: the flexibility allows for a more productive and capable workforce.

Tool and technology that’s ready to go in either environment is a great way to support your team. It encourages autonomy and collaboration among teams. Get the job done, regardless of location. That’s the new normal.

·         Zoom or Microsoft Teams are cloud-hosted communications tools that allow for adhoc web meetings among different groups.

·         Trello is a great way for companies to work together on projects, allowing for integration into other subscription-based business apps like Google drive or Dropbox for sharing.

·         Slack is an attractive alternative to email, allowing single or team-based conversations that are searchable.

 

the new normal means Machine learning can be confused by weird behavior....they may be mislead because of unusual spending habits during a pandemic, but they will play a key role in mitigating the fallout from this pandemic and better prepare us for the next.
Machine learning models may be mislead because of unusual spending habits during a pandemic, but they might play a key role in mitigating the fallout from this pandemic. They’ll definitely minimize the impact of the next.

2.      The way businesses view and use artificial intelligence has changed.

Another trend that has been gaining more traction is the use of artificial intelligence (AI), specifically, machine learning. Being able to mine through the copious amounts of data we have on coronavirus is helping scientists and researchers find answers quicker than ever.

The use-case for machine learning (ML) is not limited to scientific research. Imagine being able to accurately forecast sales data. Or what if you could have a chatbot that could answer customer service inquiries 24/7 from your website?

ML has deep roots in cybersecurity. ML has the ability to analyze network traffic and detect anything seen as malicious. Many of the latest security tools incorporate AI/ML. They are able to learn the current cybersecurity posture of business systems. They can proactively combat malware threats.

The first step for a company is to vet, implement, and accept machine learning. This could be for a specific task or to provide general support to a department. Once this happens, the doors to advance technology swing open. The power of ML to benefit a company become apparent.

 

The new normal means a turning point for the way we work and learn. All because of the cloud.
Cloud technology has brought stability and flexibility to a world lacking both. Web-based platforms and services continue working without getting overwhelmed by the sudden rise of people going online to do business, work, or play.

3.      Acceptance of the public cloud infrastructure has changed.

With COVID-19 forcing businesses to rely on the cloud, company leaders that were once wary of public cloud infrastructure are now embracing it.

A recent CRN post reports cloud computing have enabled companies to scale business applications. And they’ve been able to do it reliably. Thanks to the minds behind Google, AWS, and Microsoft Azure, rapid scaling has been virtually trouble free.

Microsoft Azure alone has reported a 775% increase in usage of cloud services like Teams, PowerBI, and Windows Virtual Desktop.

Relying on a proven infrastructure is good. Doing it without managing physical server hardware is even better. It is more critical now than ever before.

Businesses that use a cloud infrastructure can scale back without incurring unneeded costs. If they are in a current downswing.

Remote work, SaaS applications, and Cloud Infrastructure are in high gear. The COVID-19 crisis will cause these trends to gain more traction and use. Companies will scale their services and solutions. Those that wing themselves from on-premises infrastructure will have the advantage. They may even elect to downsize physical office buildings. Or not. Having the choice is also an advantage.

The changes to business and technology brought on by COVID-19 are here to stay. There are significant business benefits from this course adjustment. The adoption of cloud-based technologies is one of them.

·         The ability to work from wherever is convenient and productive.

·         The capacity to deliver a solution that is always available – regardless of business demand or outside factors.

·         The freedom for a company to better align with its employees and customer needs.

4.      The competitive edge and viability of companies has changed forever.

People are forced to stay home more. They don’t want to risk exposure. They become reliant on delivery services like Door Dash, PostMate, and InstaGuard to get food and supplies. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime are bigger than ever.

Who is losing out?

Restaurants by the thousands will struggle to climb out of the COVID-19 trauma. Some won’t make it. The franchise chains will. Cinema theaters across the country are currently closed, and some of them will not reopen. This will have an impact on how movies are exhibited. It will also impact what types of feature films are developed and financed. Fewer studios will be willing to take the risk of financing blockbuster movies. This is especially true of disaster movies. These are the movies that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make and market.

One night in early April, the Governor of New York summed up the problem, “The simplicity of it is so what makes it so tragic. Because we don’t have a piece of equipment somebody is going to die? How did we get to this place? In this county. We have to buy all our supplies from China? I can’t get protective equipment because China is making it? China is making the ventilators?”

But it’s not just medical supply chains that are being reconsidered. The coronavirus pandemic will also have long term effects on the tech hardware industry.

Parts needed to assemble various hardware and electronic products come from a multitude of sources. Most of them are overseas. A factory that makes television monitors doesn’t necessarily make the screens. The processing chips are made at a different factory. The power supply might be made at yet another factory. It’s all interconnected. If one factory is shut down, it impacts all the others down the line.

The entire system can grind to a halt. Having a supply chain that involves multiple nations like the United States and China will most certainly be re-evaluated. It’s better to have all the needed components of a particular name brand product to build closer to home. This will kill some tech manufacturing firms and enrich others.

The use of AI automation is going to make it more attractive for manufacturing to come back to the USA. That will shorten the length of supply chains while ensuring their security.

Apple’s already indicated that it won’t be able to make a sufficient supply of its Smartphones for the year. That’ll be true of other smartphone makers…some won’t make it. It has already begun.

The is Irony is that a virus that originated in China is ultimately helping China’s economy to bounce back. China has the capacity to manufacture much of the equipment needed in other parts of the world, including our own. Long term, many companies are going to be looking at diversifying their supply chain. They’ll avoid putting all their eggs in one basket.

 

the new normal will include remote work options
What ever shape the new normal takes, remote work will definitely remain part of the picture.

5.      Everyone in the company working in and from one building – or any company-owned building – has changed forever.

In an April 20th Fast Company article, several enterprise CEOs and influencers, including Jared Spataro (corporate vice president, Microsoft 365), agree that working from home and increased video conferencing will become the new normal.

Jared Spataro talks about the new normal for technology post pandemic
Jared Spataro is the Vice-President of Microsoft 365.

Jared Spataro is quoted as saying,“This time will go down as a turning point for the way people work and learn. We have a time machine as China navigates its return back to work—and we’re not seeing usage of Microsoft Teams dip. People are carrying what they learned and experienced from remote work back to their “new normal.” We’re learning so much about sustained remote work during this time.”

Business is not the only place where “from home” situations will continue well after COVID-19 has been conquered. Education is another sector that has changed forever. But what about all those families that don’t have basic access to the Internet at home? School shutdowns requiring students to take online courses widen the socio-education disparity in our society.

Sal Khan talks about the new normal and how it will affect business after COVID-19
Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy.

Sal Khan, founder and CEO of the educational nonprofit Khan Academy, said, “The need for online access and devices in every home is now so dire that it may finally mobilize society to treat internet connectivity as a must-have rather than a nice-to-have. We’re already seeing governments, school districts, philanthropists, and corporations step up to close the digital divide. If this continues to happen, we could get to a state of nearly universal online access at home.”

Sal Khan’s prediction is already happening in Singapore where universal Internet connectivity is nearly 100%. Universal Internet connectivity in Singapore is part of their Intelligent Nation 2015 and Smart Nation initiative. In August 2018, Ookia’s speed tests determined that Singapore’s broadband speed of 181.47 Mbit/s is the highest in the world.

6.      Our view of reliance on a single revenue stream – as a business and as individuals – has changed forever.

Will Lopez, head of accountant community at HR platform Gusto put it all into perspective when he said,

“This won’t be the end of brick-and-mortar store. Just as it won’t be the end of the digital cinema theater. These are important businesses. They help form the social fabric of our communities. But retail shops and restaurants will change the way they operate. The crisis has reminded people that they need to remain agile. It has reminded us to move with the times. Don’t be stuck with the old way of doing things.”

Where many of these shops have historically relied on foot traffic. These same shops will now develop ways to create alternative streams of revenue. For example, many restaurants will link up with delivery service platforms. They’ll expand their geographic reach. More boutiques will develop an online presence that reaches beyond their local neighborhoods.”

As we look ahead to the future to see the new normal, businesses have got to balance the weight on their shoulders.
Business leaders are too busy struggling to keep their operations going to wonder what the new normal will be like. We’ve got to get through this first.
IN CONCLUSION

The “new normal” will mean most companies will stall. Many will go out of business. The ones that do survive must continue to optimize the way they operate. They will have to rethink their business models moving forward. Supply chains have been disrupted. For many this experience has been a painful lesson. Companies will respond. They’ll have to. They will strengthen whatever back-up plans they have in place. If there are none. They will have to build them from scratch. This includes expanded work-at-home capabilities for more employees. They’ll have to consider options. Then they must position themselves to take advantage of those options.

New resiliency metrics will be rolled into valuations along with climate-related risks. The whole concept of resiliency will have the same importance as cost and efficiency. Resiliency is no longer a nice to have, but a necessity.

Individuals, communities, businesses, and governments are learning new ways to connect. Business leaders are finding faster, cheaper ways to operate. Conferences and meetings happen on online. Everybody that can has been working from home. These are positive changes. Better management. A more flexible staff.

Can we create a next new normal? One that will be better than what it replaced? Can we become agile enough to move even as the situation moves? Can we learn to address the challenges positively.  These will be a long-term questions for us all.

What innovations will there be to leverage?

What technologies will business leaders use to thrive in the “new normal?”

How Technology Will Keep U.S. in Business (part 2)

The first part of this blog set the stage for what follows.The coronavirus pandemic slowed us down. At that same it has pushed us into our homes to work. The pandemic has, and continues, to accelerate technological advancements. The novel virus has physically slowed each and everyone of us. And it has slowed the economy. The Brookings Institute reported that our economy has entered a contraction.

 

There is much we still don’t know about the coronavirus, We also don’t know how the lock downs across the country will affect our business and our economy long term. This is all uncharted territory. While all of this true, technology has been a life-saver for many businesses.

So, how is technology going to keep the USA in business and help the economy to recover?

1. Technology Ensures Businesses Continuity & Keeps Supply Chains Moving.

The supply chain for US companies is long and complex.
Goods manufactured here in the USA have multiple supply vendors. The supply chain cycles in weeks – not days or hours.

We pick up an item at a big-box store or the local hardware store. We don’t consider all the suppliers and technology it takes to get that product on the shelf.

The supply chain has slowed for some industries. Our supply chain technology is still in place and working. It’s ready to fire on all cylinders again when called upon to do so. We must monitor our supply chain.

In a Forbes articleJaume Ribera of the IESE Business School contributor, warns of the “bullwhip effect.” This is when fluctuating consumer behavior impacts the supply chain at all levels.

2. Technology Enables Employees to Collaborate & Communicate with Clients.

Most businesses have been hard hit by COVID-19. There are others that have been flooded with new clients. They are struggling to keep up with demand.
The VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) video/audio communications companies are perfect examples of business sectors that have seen a spike in demand. Companies use applications like Microsoft Teams, to give telecommuters the same experience they had at the office.

Because of video and voice conferencing technology employees of companies across the USA are able to work from home, keep their jobs, and contribute to the ongoing health of their business.

 

3. Technology Supports Geo-Diverse Workflow.

Before the USA was impacted by the pandemic, many companies were already heavily investing in industry-optimized cloud workspaces, Microsoft 365, hosted servers, and cloud-based data backup/disaster recovery platforms.

Those who invested early in these technologies are now able to see their investment pay off exponentially. Competitors slow to adopt cloud-based technologies are having to scramble to retool their IT environment. Some have had to shut their doors. Companies already in the cloud are in a good position to push through this crisis. They can maintain workflow and business continuity.

When the post-mortem is done on the business impact of the COVID-19 crisis, cloud-based technology may very well be the hero of the day. It may be the driver that kept our economy from slipping into complete disarray.

 

4. Technology Undergirds the Public Health Message.

There has never been a time in history like this. Government and health officials can disseminate information. Our national telecommunications, internet, and wireless infrastructure may be at capacity. Our backbone of critical technologies is holding. It is playing a key role in the health of the workforce.

Technology giants like Amazon, FaceBook, and Google have stepped up to the plate to squelch the spread of misinformation. They’re replacing it with up-to date factual information.

Blair Levin of the Brookings Institute writes, “all of this internet use is putting more pressure on our broadband infrastructure. Just in the past few weeks, data demands have risen in nearly all categories. The previous peak has become the new average, and the surge is starting to threaten the quality and speed of content downloads. As shelter-in-place directives spread and demand increases, the question lingers of whether our broadband infrastructure can support the new normal.”

Well, the Internet system is working and handling the load. This crisis has reminded the nation it needs to keep up to ever increasing demands.

We need to continue upgrading our broadband infrastructure.

Health authorities are able to deliver critical information. This information is accurate. Distribution is by way of their websites and other trusted sources.

Employees are able to stay safe from the virus. They’re able to continue working remotely. One day this will be over. The returning workforce will be healthier than they would be without access to the disseminated health guidance.

5. Technology Enables Testing and Contact Tracing.

MIT has developed technology that enables your Smartphone to track where you’ve been. At the same time it preserves your privacy. You want to know that everyone around you is safe. At the same time, you don’t want the government tracking where everybody is going. MIT already has an AI-powered device that lets doctors monitor coronavirus patients remotely. The system is called Emerald. It is being used in some assisted living facilities. TheNextWeb reports that, Emerald aims to reduce the risks faced by healthcare professionals treating COVID-19, who are often exposed to the highly infectious disease without adequate protective gear.

Emerald could play a particularly important role in assisted living centers and retirement homes. The residents of these facilities are particularly vulnerable to the disease.

Experts are in agreement that major part of getting everyone back to work, and helping companies get back on their feet, is a healthy workforce. Providing healthcare professionals with the necessary technology to test, report, and contact trace are crucial to this effort.

On April 10th, The Economist reported that Apple and Google announced plans to work together to develop a way to track the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The unification of these two tech giants will make it easier for others to build contact-tracing apps that work without modifying either platform. Of course it raises a question. “If tracing apps are widely adopted, they must make people want to use them,” says Ciro Cattuto, an epidemiologist at the University of Turin, in Italy. “People need to feel like they’re contributing to a common good.”

 

6. Our New Appreciation for the Use of Digital Transformation Technologies.

Marketers for innovative technologies have traditionally had a challenging time convincing some leaders to invest in the future.convincing some business leaders that now was the time to make investments in newer, more efficient, cloud-based technologies.

Investing in technology that drove digital workflow transformation was seen as “nice to have” if “we can afford it.”

But when COVID-19 shifted the ground under the feet of U.S. business, those who had put money into cutting-edge business process technology were better positioned to ride out the storm. Some leaders, like the COO of the Clipper Corporation, Nancy Hejran, know that, one day, a disaster is going to happen. When that day comes, they want their data to be safe and secure.

These technologies will help the USA maintain a competitive edge in the global marketplace when COVID-19 has become a memory.

7. Technology Supports the Retooling of Companies for the Post-COVID-19 Economy.

There are yet many uncertainties, there is one thing with which everyone seems to be in agreement. Things aren’t going to snap back to “business as usual” once this wave of Coronavirus has passed.

Company leaders are looking at what their business will be post-COVID-19. For some, the course alteration will be minimal – hardly noticed. For other businesses, the idea of “business as usual” will need a new definition. It is sure to be shaped by the demands of our ramshackle economy and available technologies.

How will the coronavirus change the way we do business? How will it change the global business climate? After all, we are in this together.

We will explore the answers to this question in next week’s blog,

How Technology Will Keep U.S. in Business (part 1)

Companies, individuals, and politicians are asking the same question. What is the nexus between health and economic prosperity? We need the breathing room to heal from the crippling effects of the COVID-19 crisis. Can technology provide that? Can it also keep the U.S. in business at the same time?

Before the USA fell victim to the coronavirus, our economy was booming. Every business sector was feeling the positive impact of high consumer confidence. We enjoyed record-low unemployment, and a strong stock market.

But then, the bottom fell out of the tub.

Because of COVID-19 many things happened quickly. The stock market took a dip. Millions became unemployed overnight. And the average consumer became too afraid to spend any reserve cash they may have stored up. According to the Brookings Institute, the economy has “almost certainly entered a contraction.”

The coronavirus changed life in the U.S., in the whole world, in a few dizzying weeks. California governor Gavin Newsom put the whole state of California on lockdown. He wasn’t the first to make such a decisive and bold move. About a week earlier, CNN reported Adam Silver, the Commissioner of the National Basketball Association, announced the league would suspend the NBA season. Silver made this decision immediately after two of his players tested positive for the coronavirus.

He not only led the sports world shut down but he foreshadowed things to come. Organization
leadership has to acknowledge what is happening and respond. It may not be the perfect response, but they have to do something.

There is an old principle: divergent groups of people, even former enemies, will come together to fight a common threat. You could make the argument that nature was reminding us why we’re all here on one planet….to survive together as a species.

Telecommuting was already a trend gaining popularity and acceptance. Working from home would become the norm over the next 5 to 10 years. The coronavirus shortened that time frame. It pushed us further in a direction most businesses were already going.

 

COVID-19 has shaken us to our core.

The aftershocks will tremble beneath our feet for quite some time. Just in the last 2 weeks the Small Business Administration has issued more than $305 Billion in loans to more than 1.4 million small businesses nationwide.

The pandemic has provoked all companies large and small to launch their own grass-roots efforts. Okay, this is what we do as a company. How can we take what we do and help others during this crisis? In this divisive world we live in, we’ve seen companies from all over the world pitch in and help.

On March 25, 2020, Bloomberg Technology spoke with Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins. Robbins said within the first 24 hours of CISCO announcing free cloud security and Webex offers, they had 240,000 new subscribers. “Before this crisis we were running 300 million users per month. We are now doing 4 and a half million meetings per day. We’re at 12 billion meeting minutes through March. I want to put this into perspective. In the United States, for any one-hour period, we will do 100 million meeting minutes. This is a platform that is now trying to support 3 to 4 to 5 times the volume it was ever built for just a few weeks ago. I’m so proud of what our team has accomplished. They’re working 7 x 24.”

When asked about his own experience working from home, Robbins said, “We all like working from home. At least periodically. I think we all miss the office tremendously.

We’ve looked at this across three vectors. What are we doing for our employees? What are doing for our customers? And what are we doing for our community?

Even from home, we’re able to execute on all of that. All our 75,900 employees are working from home.

We’ve stated we’re going to continue paying our contract and hourly workers. We’re doing a video meeting with our employees every week right now. We have medical experts on. We want to keep everyone up-to-date on what’s happening in the world. Everybody’s anxious to get back, but for now, it’s working great.

The big thing we’re worried about is our communities. We’ve been working very hard in Silicon Valley with our public counterparts to make sure we’re taking care of them as well.”

The best way to help society, business, and culture navigate a crisis is to just doing the right thing. Do what is fair for our country and for each other.

Most American companies went into the crisis in good shape. Businesses have found themselves peering over a steep ledge at a moribund economy. Like a wild animal on its last leg. Business owners scrambled to move entire work forces from the corporate office to home offices. Fast food restaurants closed their dining rooms. Kept their drive-thrus. Fine dining restaurants closed their doors. Most of them shifted their focus to call-in orders and online take-out orders. Brands that never ventured into having a digital business, now jockeyed for functioning apps. Some of kept a scaled down version of their workforce to keep the storefronts open. They offer curbside pick-up service.

 

Many restaurants, even fine dining establishments have remained open by offering curbside pick-up and delivery options.

Even though I am involved with the technology industry, I prefer to interact with a human while checking out at the grocery store. I’m the same way when it comes to ordering a smoothie from Nékter or a cup of coffee from Starbucks. I’d rather walk into the shop and ask an employee for my order than use an app on my Smartphone. Due to the pandemic, my local Starbucks recently re-opened, but open only for app order pick-ups. I had to finally download their app. It took a few minutes. I placed my order. paid for it via my account. A couple of minutes later, a lady wearing mask and gloves, placed it on the table blocking the front door.

This is a common site. Specialty shops leveraging technology to keep business moving.

 

In an April 11th article, The Economist told a story of an online grocer who saw its servers so overloaded that it suspected hackers. “We thought we were under a denial-of-service attack,’ says Tim Stiener, the company’s boss.” As it turned out, customers were desperately trying to get food and drink deliveries for the weeks ahead.

Later, the same article reported, “Around the world, small and medium-sized firms are particularly exposed. The US Chamber of Commerce found that 54% of non-sole-proprietor firms with fewer than 500 employees were either closed or expected to close in coming weeks.

Rich Lesser, “Our purpose is to unlock the potential of those who advance the world. We work across boundaries to take on the hardest problems and to drive real value creation for businesses and for the world in which we live.”

Rich Lesser, the CEO of Boston Consulting Group, which advises big global firms, says that robotics and other new technology approaches to manufacturing make the case of moving factories closer to home more compelling. This is because they reduce the cost difference. Just as previous information technology was put to work underpinning the spread of supply chains, so today’s can be used to shorten them — potentially making companies more responsive to local tastes.”

Alphabet, Amazon, and Apple are contributing to the country’s economic resilience. For most other companies, the pandemic and lockdowns are huge disruptors.

The way companies use technology will make a difference. They will either close their doors or survive this difficult time. Few, very few, might even grow. The role of technology has changed over the past few weeks. Drones have delivered medical supplies. Artificial intelligence is at work to identify COVID-19 infections. There are plans to use AI technology to predict future hot spots.

The technical aspects of having employees work from home is easy to support. It becomes more complicated when you’re dealing with sensitive data. Remote workers may have access to corporate virtual private networks (VPNs). VPNs enable access to office networks,

More network bandwidth and expanded hardware is needed to encrypt the connections. Gartner analyst Rob Smith says that one-third of all companies are ill-equipped to send all their employees home. Another third have no remote work plan. Corporate VPN is an aging technology. It almost became obsolete as companies migrated to cloud-based services. As a result, companies were not interested in investing in VPNs simply to allow more employees to work from home. Of course, all of that has changed now.

 

Telecommuting is no longer just a perk. It is the wave of the future.

More and more companies see employee productivity actually increase. Telecommuting is likely to remain as an option. At least part-time.

But using VPN is not optimal. What is optimal? Optimal is moving to the cloud. 

More and more business leaders understand that the future of IT is based on cloud technology. Many of them will make the move once society comes up for air between the first and second waves of this pandemic. They don’t want to be stuck in this position again.

This concludes part one of HOW TECHNOLOGY WILL KEEP U.S. IN BUSINESS.

Be on the look out for part two. The concluding section will feature 7 key areas where technology works to help the USA in business.

Until then, keep learning, stay informed, and be safe.

 

 

 

 

Cybersecurity Recommendations for Companies During Pandemics

“This changes everything.” We’ve heard this many times before. Also, “This time, it’s different.”

Usually, it’s not different. Things feel different for a little while, and then things return to normal.

This time, I think, truly is different. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced most businesses to close their doors. Conferences, concerts, and sporting events have been cancelled. And companies have their employees working from home. More employees now work from home than ever before.

“When a crisis like the new coronavirus temporarily forces companies into remote work, it tends to show them that it can be done successfully,” says Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics and cited in the Chicago Tribune.

Remote work probably is here to stay. For that reason, honing your remote work policy is my number one recommendation during the pandemic. I also recommend working on and practicing your disaster and contingency planning policies, storing sensitive data centrally, and encrypting sensitive information.

 

A little background on me: I’m a former CIA officer, so I know a thing or two about traveling and working remotely. Almost 15 years ago, I started working “remotely” under minimal supervision. My work was representing the US Government in meetings with other governments. These were countries most people have never heard of.

When I left the Agency, I found myself consulting and working remotely for companies throughout the US and throughout the world. My clients extended as far away as Poland and Ukraine. I never met my clients Poland face to face. The business was entirely remote.

I co-founded a company. My partners and investors were based in Boston. I worked, you guessed it, from home. My responsibilities necessitated travel. I had to spend some personal time with my team in Boston. I spent about one week each month onsite.

The amount of time needed on-site could vary. While my startup required a good deal of me being onsite, many consulting projects were done remotely. I’d say most any job can be accomplished remotely.

There has been significant discomfort in the past about remote work. I have experienced this first hand. As I rose through the ranks at the CIA, people wanted me for increasingly senior positions. My working from home became more of a problem for my supervisors. Companies might be comfortable with a developer or designer telecommuting. They are definitely not comfortable when it comes to a job that involves managing a team. Last January, I had discussions with companies who loved my skills and experience. They wanted what I had to offer. But the distance and telecommuting was a deal-breaker. So they backed out because they were uncomfortable.

Technology has made Location Irrelevant

Before the coronavirus, management and HR policies were stuck with the old ways of doing things.

The need for physical distancing has forced us to work from home. Many business leaders, managers, and even employees were uncomfortable with the concept. Most will find remote work isn’t bad or scary. Many will even become comfortable with remote work as standard policy. An April 6, 2020 ZDNet article reported that 74% of CFOs say they expect to move previously on-site employees remote post-COVID-19. Gartner found that a quarter of respondents will move at least 20% of their on-site employees to remote work permanently.

Pandemic Recommendation #1: Hone the Remote Work Policy

Remote work is here to stay. Remote work maximizes worker time by cutting out commutes. It decreases the need for parking and office facilities. It saves energy too. Not as much gasoline is used. There are fewer traffic accidents. There is less pollution because people are not driving to work en mass.

But remote work also raises a whole new set of security issues. How do we keep customer or other sensitive data secure when that data is in an employee’s home?

Simple mistakes can lead to large consequences. Failing to patch a computer program or server invites hackers to exploit the flaw.

Do you remember the Equifax incident? Equifax couldn’t be counted on to patch its centralized systems.
Their systems contained huge amounts of personal information. How can we handle personal information printed on little Johnny’s color printer? No company wants to be responsible for the next Equifax-type incident because its employees are working from home.

Having employees work from home presents more vulnerable endpoints. “More personnel telecommuting adds to cybersecurity risks. These people carry devices packed with data. “Opening remote access creates more challenges,” according to Parry Aftab, Executive Director of The Cybersafety Group. Be sure you have considered endpoint security as part of expanded remote access.

And what happens if a worker is injured while working from home? Will they be eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits?

For these reasons, my number one recommendation is to hone in on your Remote Work Policy. If you don’t already have a remote work policy, then you need one right away. What is the policy now, and what will it be after the crisis is over. If you do have one, now is a great time to review the policy. Make sure it still fits today’s needs and contexts. Update the policy as needed.

The policy should include the expectations of employees. What security measures are employees expected to use at home. Clarify legal liabilities. How will you protect privacy and remain GDPR and/or CCPA compliant? What are the company’s policies on equipment use and repairs? A complete Remote Work Policy will address these issues.

Ensure that employees maintain a safe remote work environment. Secure their devices with anti-malware software. These devices should have personal firewalls, and regular patching for software vulnerabilities.

Pandemic Recommendation #2: Disaster Preparedness & Contingency Plans

A few years ago, I was walking the halls of RSA with one of my clients, helping them make sense of the complex and confusing world of cybersecurity. RSA is *the* conference for cybersecurity. 45,000 people attend each year including more than 600 vendors. We were walking the expo halls. We saw an endless supply of hi-tech security offerings. There were vendors offering proactive protection. Some had advanced threat detection, while others had automated or AI-augmented remediation tools.

 

There were vendors offering proactive protection of one kind or another. Out of the 669 vendors at RSA, not one were there to help companies prepare for disaster recovery and contingency plans.

Out of the 669 vendors at RSA, how many were there to help companies prepare for disaster recovery and contingency plans? I didn’t see one. When it comes to pandemic, we’re mostly on our own. There is no Coronavirus as a Service (CaaS). When we face potential times of crisis, it’s a good reminder to test our continuity plans. If there are no continuity plans to test, then it is vital to create them.

It all starts with your business continuity & disaster recovery plan. Such a plan is a standard part of a NIST 800-53’s CP-1.
It includes strategies like having alternate data storage sites. Alternate data storage sites are important if the main storage site becomes inoperable or compromised. Backups should be in multiple locations far from each other. If one is on the west coast of the United States, the other should be on the east coast. The midwest is also a very good location for remote workers. That region is good for fail over data centers or other cloud resources.

You will want to review your plan. Identify and account for all assets, both technology and human.

Review alternate operations center options. Current areas of operations may become inaccessible. A pandemic may make it unsafe for people to congregate in one place. This is a good time to review or create work-from-home programs. Consider remote fractional vCISO services. Ensure you can maintain your security operations even if employees can’t physically come to the office.

Pandemic Recommendation #3: Store Everything Securely

With so many employees working from home, it’s easy for sensitive information to leak. Remote work often involves creating and editing work-related information. These can be emails, Word documents, and Excel spreadsheets. A customer’s personal identifying information could be left on a personal printer. Sensitive business information can end up on a CD that gets misplaced. There are number of possible security mishaps.

Imagine you recently became GDPR compliant. At a cost of more than $100,000 for 74% of organizations, according to a CPO Magazine article. If you don’t protect personal information at your worker’s homes, you might still be facing a GDPR fine. According to the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, a company in England was fined $340,000 for leaving documents with personal information unlocked,

To reduce this risk, it’s important to store files in a centralized location. A secure cloud is the best location. If the information stays in your cloud, it’s much less likely to end up somewhere it shouldn’t be.

Bio-based authentication and encrypting mobile devices prevents others from reading and using the information on a stolen or lost device.
Pandemic Recommendation #4: Encrypt Data

When more employees work from home, it’s more likely that their devices will be lost or stolen. Encrypting these devices prevents others from reading and using the information on a stolen or lost device. Full disk encryption on personal computers, phones, and tablets is a good method. It will encrypt all storage on the employee’s device. Or at least create an encrypted partition to store sensitive data.

Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is a good encryption standard to use. The US Government uses AES to keep classified data secure, according to an article in TechRadar.

Even if an employee’s computer is encrypted, there are security risks. The data may not be encrypted when it’s in transport. If an employee has full-disk encryption, the data will not be encrypted in transit. Ensure that data is encrypted before transit. This way anyone who intercepts the data cannot do anything with it. Another good strategy is to set up a secure protocol like Transport Security Layer (TLS).

Technology can go a long way to keep your data secure, but security is essentially a people business. Most breaches occur when people make mistakes. There is no substitute for educating your team. Train and retrain them on the fundamentals. Establishing standards for shutting down each day is a good idea.

The Major Business Advantages for a Remote Workforce
Telecommute, remote work, work from home, flexible location. These are all common terms, depicting the ability to do your job from a location other than the work office. These terms have been on everyone’s mind lately. They’ve joined the lexicon along with words like coronavirus, pandemic, and physical distancing.

The government is closing down operations deemed non-critical. More and more state officials are urging people to stay at home. Companies across the globe have to increase their remote workforce or shut-down altogether. Modern-day technology enables employees to work from home and keep operations afloat. Many positions can make the transition to remote work. These include virtual assistants, customer service, sales, IT professionals, writers, designers, and more.

Many Positions Can Transition to Remote Work. For those that can’t, cross-train your staff and shuffle talent in order to leverage their experience with the company.

A recent article by the New York Times reported that over 158 million Americans have been ordered to stay home due to the Coronavirus. Britain has an even more stringent lockdown policy. They have a country-wide ban on meetings of 2 or more people. It’s not known what the numbers of people working from home are. At least not at the moment. The popular web conferencing SaaS company Zoom noted that it had more active users in the past couple of months than it had all last year.

In a May 5, 2020 article in Forbes magazine, Wayne Rush warns that “telling companies to simply have their employees work from home is easier said than done. Not every company has the resources, the training or even the bandwidth to support an en masse move to remote work. In addition, for many companies, a move to working at home requires a significant shift in their corporate culture, something that may be even harder to accomplish than any physical requirements.” The article goes on to suggest doing some incident management exercises. Well, the time for practicing these disaster responses has ended. The window of opportunity has closed. It is true that, as Jack Gold states in the Forbes article, “companies are really going to struggle.” But overcoming these struggles, whether they’re technical or not, is going to make our companies stronger and better prepared for the future.

PERKS WORKING FROM HOME

There are obvious perks to be working from home. For example, there’s no commute, you can be comfortable, and your pets get spoiled having you home all the time. There are also advantages, which may not be so obvious, for the companies. In this Owl Labs report, we see that in the US alone, 48% of workers were allowed to work at least once a week from home. A whopping 30% could work from home full-time. We see some interesting stats on job satisfaction and pay as well. We’ll get into employee availability, cost-savings, and the technology behind it all a bit later. For now, let’s do a deep dive into the question. Why is a work from home option so beneficial to employees? How does it present such an advantage to the health and prosperity of the company?

 

Those companies that had a remote work policy in place before the pandemic are in a much better position to make the transition.

A remote work environment liberates the totality of the company. No longer are the HR options confined to hiring candidates in one geographic region. You are able to pull job applicants from around the globe. This gives a major advantage in the size of the talent available. Not only the size but the quality of the applicants will go up. So there’s an increased talent pool. You can find the best talent available. You will also tap into a diverse workforce. There’s also an ancillary but real boost to the company’s image.

THE BENEFITS GO BEYOND AN ENHANCED SOPHISTICATED CORPORATE IMAGE

When a company advertises a work from home option, it demonstrates a couple of things. Both come across as sophisticated and attractive. It demonstrates flexibility and agility. It also bespeaks a culture that pushes the edge.

A Fast Company article reports that hiring workers from all over creates more diversity and other possibilities. More expansive regions mean less racial, age, and gender biases. For example, mothers will have an easier time re-joining the workforce after long stretches of staying home. Another major advantage to employers for hiring remote workers is salary. Remote workers don’t get paid less. Cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, D.C. are expensive areas to live in. Companies can hire talent away from their headquarters. Comparable employees can found in locations where the cost of living is much lower. This allows the employee more flexibility when it comes to salary. Companies have more leverage to negotiate.

 

Now is the time for companies to focus on revenue over growth. Remote work facilitates long-term cost savings. The benefits include more leverage to negotiate for talent all over the world.

 

Being able to offer telecommuting options to an employee is an actual company benefit. Telecommuting, when it is available, is listed as a benefit on a company’s website. It’s a perk added to a career opportunity ad. You can often find it alongside retirement options and vacation policies. It is also usually touted throughout the hiring process. There’s a reason for it. Telecommuting is a way to lure those that are familiar with working from home. Some professionals have always wanted to work from home but have never had the option. Those who have worked from home, either partially or full-time, often seek out similar jobs. and companies that embrace this type of culture in their next role. Job satisfaction can come from having a strong remote workforce. This satisfaction yields productivity.

INCREASED JOB SATISFACTION EQUALS INCREASED PRODUCTIVITY

 

The infrastructure fo remote working, including laptop computers for every employee expected to work from home must be in place.

 

Remote workers tend to be more satisfied because of the autonomy it brings. At home, there are fewer distractions (well, in most cases). They have more flexibility in their schedule. Allow employees to be autonomous. They’ll have an increased sense of ownership and freedom. In an office setting, there’s a need to conform to certain things like office attire, hours and a cubicle or desk. The Owl report shows that 71% of remote workers are happy in their current role. Only 55% of non-remote workers are satisfied. Job satisfaction yields productivity. In turn, job fulfillment results in less turnover in the workplace.

Having remote employees means much less overhead. You don’t need the office space. The cost-savings alone are reasons to get behind this movement. The cost of space in San Francisco can be around $80/sf. New York City hovers around $90/sf. The cost incurred for remote working space is of course non-existent. The cost of office furniture is another major factor. A high-end office chair can cost a company between $800 to $1,000. Companies have not provided stipends for home office use and expenses. As the current situation continues, that may change. A good case can be made for on-going telecommuting even after the coronavirus crisis comes to an end. In such a situation, some companies will offer reimbursement programs for home offices.

Some employees have high-speed internet connections at home. Some do not. Some are faster and more reliable than the office network. Embracing work from home, employees tend to use BYOD.

If an employee is operating in their own home, and on their own time, why not let them use their own equipment. BYOD adds more flexibility. Most people make use of their personal devices and computer set up in as much as possible. This is especially true if they have a more powerful laptop than the one issued by the company. Think of a company’s infrastructure. The telephones. The Network. The HAV. These become cost savings when large portions of the workforce do their job from home.

Old technology prohibited the work-from-home option for many businesses. Today, that’s no longer true. Companies can remove any obstacles allowing employees to work from home.

THERE ARE MANY TOOLS TO HELP WITH THE TRANSITION
Technology can no longer be an excuse not to work from home. There are a number of collaboration and communication tools that can handle any workflow.

Look at the hardware available today. The quality of wireless headsets (Plantronics and Jabra) have eliminated background noise. Having a Conference call at home is part of regular business life. There are desks that you can raise or lower as needed. These types of workstations provide better energy levels for those who sit many hours in a chair. Other items include multiple monitors for extended viewing. These are particularly useful for doing design work. There are laptops that fit any task requirements.

Web conferencing software (Zoom, Web-Ex or Skype)s for Business can work anywhere. Attendees have the option to use video or have audio-only meetings. Collaboration is key. Keep employees productive within groups. Keep them communicating. The use of tools such as Slack can keep information flowing.

Slack, a simple SaaS solution incorporates single chat or group-chats. It features system notifications and simple file sharing for your entire organization. The pricing is straight-forward. Telecommuters needing technical help can make use of TeamViewer or RemotePC.

Having your data backed up to the cloud is also important. Your computer is not on the company network. Syncing your work to the cloud is as simple as using Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive. Time tracking tools can report on how long it takes to work on various tasks. They can tell how long you spend on different web pages.

The coronavirus has provoked an exodus from the corporate office to the home. The coronavirus physical distancing might be short-lived or longer-term. How business leaders manage their remote workers will determine the level of productivity. Communication from managers will have much to do with job satisfaction.

There are many SaaS-based apps available. These applications keep employees engaged and available. They also have the flexibility fo step away for a break. It’s a win-win for employees and their employers.

Job satisfaction and productivity are up because of remote work. The question is how will you institute a proper policy? The details will be different for each business. A recent article in Glassdoor proposes a basic approach. It advocates “adequate technology, disciplinary excellence, and clear communicative instructions.”

Employers now have more options to hire cream-of-the-crop talent. They can focus on skillset over the location of a candidate. Working-from-home gives business leaders more time to focus on productivity and bolstering revenue.

 

Why Every AEC Firm Needs to Move to the Cloud Now

Cloud computing is the future of everything digital. Modern IT environments use it. “Modern IT” is now hosting its infrastructure in some form of the cloud. Moving to the cloud is especially important for architects, engineering, and construction firms (AEC). A 2017 Sage Survey found that most of AEC firms had already moved to the cloud. It was quite a jump from an earlier survey conducted in 2012 when only 16% of construction contractors had migrated to the cloud.

That’s why most of them are on the cloud in one form or another. The AEC industry is highly fragmented, data-intensive, and project-based. Designing, building, and repurposing require all the traditional disciplines you’d expect, but also many ancillary areas such as energy, environment, and waste.

The Journal of Cloud computing: Advances, Systems, and Applications reported that sharing data and supporting coordination between people involved is difficult and reliant on third-party tools to support such capability. “We believe cloud computing provides a more efficient and robust mechanism for individuals within the AEC industry to collaborate and share data. Work is already underway in the AEC sector for developing data and process models to enable greater interoperable working between project participants.”

This research has led to the development of the concept of Building Information Models (BIM) – a design process that looks at a building’s life cycle. The BIM concept helps designers and others see how a building will use resources before it’s built. BIM was an evolution of ideas.  Start with a powerful digital drawing tool and then evolve it into a much more sophisticated program. The software works in partnership with the designer or architect. A set of drawings becomes an interactive database. When the designer draws on the screen, the BIM system computes the properties of the building and even suggest improvements for everything from energy efficiencies to people flow while costing out every conceivable option. Every variable is built into the AutoDesk software. Any design changes are immediately reflected in revised cost estimates. It tells how much energy the modified design will save. The architect is working with a set of drawings and a data model that understands the whole building as a three-dimensional living system. Keep in mind that BIM includes all the information about a building. It should be a complete 4D virtual repository of the data associated with the structure from beginning to the end of its life.

 

Being on the cloud facilitates hiring, and retaining, some of the best talents all over the world.
THE CLOUD ENABLES REMOTE COLLABORATIVE TEAMS to work seamlessly together on complex projects.

Collaborative working environments have been long-standing key aspects of AEC workflows. Traditionally, those collaborative teams had to commute to one centralized location. Today, offering work environment flexibility (home office or corporate office) has become somewhat of an expected perk. This was a trend long before the coronavirus reared its ugly head. Now, there are government mandates pressing the point even more. We’re all being forced to work from our homes. Coronavirus aside, future AEC firms don’t want to have their collaborative teams tied to one physical location. Not any more.

Jennifer Howe, VP of SMMA (an architectural firm headquartered in Boston) and acting president of the ACEC organization, Massachusetts Chapter says, “As much as I don’t want to be working from home, there are times when I need to be working from home. Our IT staff had us set-up to work remotely, but it wasn’t the same as what we have now with the cloud. I can be on my laptop with IronOrbit and see everything the same way as we see it while we’re in the office.”

She recognizes that it’s more of an employee’s market now. “The ability to offer talented candidates the option to work from home is an added incentive to join your team.” That’s especially true when nothing is lost while moving from the office workstation to your mobile device-of-choice working at home. But there are other reasons to migrate to the cloud.

A much more enhanced remote work experience is not the only reason to move the cloud. The biggest, more critical reason, is security. But it can’t be just any cloud solution. , The cloud environment needs to customized to the unique needs of the firm. Jennifer talks about the biggest threat every firm faces. “Ransomware attacks are a tremendous concern. An ACEC Mass member firm had a recent incident where they were hit with a cyber-security breach. That was very concerning to our entire chapter. ACEC actually hosted an informative event where they shared some of the issues that they had. For SMMA, as government contractors, we need to be very protective and careful with the information that we have.”

Just a few short years ago, Google Drive and DropBox were the popular options between those who wanted to share large files. Those options weren’t great at protecting intellectual property. Concerns over security justifiably kept many AEC firms from utilizing them.
In addition to state-of-the-art firewalls, antivirus protocols, malware filters, and encryption, a truly holistic approach to security includes 24/7 monitoring.
Industry-Wide Concern for Security Is At An All-Time High

Carlos Charry is the Director of Technology for SMMA. He says security has been a top concern for everybody. “One of our competitors got hit with ransomware a few years back. It made me look at our own situation and ask, ‘Are we prepared for this?’ I knew we weren’t ready.”

The level of security provided by IronOrbit – the firm’s cloud solution provider is far beyond anything they could have accomplished on their own. The entire IT infrastructure is protected by state-of-the-art firewalls, antivirus protocols, malware filters, and encryption. The security doesn’t stop there. There is an entire team of engineers, rotating around the clock, monitoring the data centers for any type of potential security threat.

But Carlos adds, “The question of security aside, you still have to keep up with technology. That means having your IT infrastructure on the cloud. The cloud provides faster updates. Just keeping all your applications up to date saves you a lot of trouble. Most of my time before the cloud was spent handling IT issues.  Things like the network not being responsive or our server going down. I spent time on things like that and couldn’t devote myself to what I truly love to do which is to improve our business processes. I want to make them better so the company can become ever more efficient.

Carlos continues, “The cloud has enabled us to hire anyone anywhere in the world. The employee just needs a PC and an Internet connection of some kind and they can utilize our tools. We currently have people working for us from Maine and New York. Since we’ve moved to the cloud, my headaches have been reduced. Once an employee is connected to the cloud, I don’t have to worry about it. I know the data is automatically being backed up. My worries are basically gone.”

FINDING THE RIGHT WAY TO COLLABORATE IS CRITICAL TO RUNNING AN EFFECTIVE BUSINESS

Jennifer says, “Working with Carlos, our IT director, we’re always looking for better ways to do our work. SMMA is a full-service design firm. Collaboration is the key to our success. Finding the right way to collaborate internally and collaborate with our clients is a critical part of running an effective business.

MOVING TO THE CLOUD. WHAT IS IT LIKE?

People were hesitant at first. The cloud environment is different from having your server on the premises. It’s different. “As we were going up to the cloud, and trying to figure out how to use it, they weren’t sure at first what to expect. Is it going to make my life better or worse? Finally, through effective collaboration and communication, we found it to be an invaluable tool. I find that I can access whatever I need wherever I am.  One of the things that surprised me was being at a client meeting and just being on wi-fi and act as if I were in the office. I’m able to pull up any document I need at any time. For example, I do a lot of government work. When I’m doing a client visit, I often don’t have wi-fi available to me. No worries. I just turn on the hotspot on my phone and still be able to open up a CAD drawing. You’d think that would be impossible to do, right? But it really works quite well.”

 

Being able to be remote and share a CAD drawing on your laptop using the hotspot on a smartphone is amazing. “You think it’d be impossible, but it actually works very well.”

 

Hector Inirio is the Design Technologist. He says, “That the most attractive aspect of moving to the cloud was a blend of things. There are many aspects of advanced IT that are beyond our expertise such as high-end security threats. Ransomware is a good example. I really liked the fact that cloud technology democratized our computer systems. We’re not transferring any data from our local workstations. The workstations themselves, really become more like dumb terminals. So, no matter what kind the computer was at a particular desk, they all now respond like high-end machines.  Previously, due to cost, we’d only have some users on higher-end machines. The ones who didn’t need the computing power were working on equipment with less computing power. Now, all of them respond with higher specs.”

“I really liked that cloud technology democratized our computer systems. It made all of them perform like higher spec machines” – Hector Inirio

The computer terminals become virtual desktops because they are hosted by the external cloud server. Any slowness or frustrations you’ve experienced with your current Internet connection go away. Once users log in to the hosted desktop you’re using bandwidth from the cloud. There are separate gigabyte connections to the Internet. Your bandwidth virtually becomes unlimited.

The technology needed to aid the construction industry’s complex workflows hadn’t become available until the past few years. There are now plenty of SaaS solutions available to make full use of what cloud technology offers. Most contractors are implementing cloud solutions. The few who are not risk losing any competitive edge they had. These firms are also in danger of becoming irrelevant as technology advances at exponential rates. They simply won’t be able to keep up. Remaining current with the speed of technology means being able to focus on human capital.  These are qualities like talent, skills, know-how, empathy, and creativity. All of these are undervalued human assets to unlock. You won’t be able to leverage this human capital if you’re stuck in the mud because your technology isn’t current.

MAKE FULL USE OF THE BENEFITS

Construction companies already on the cloud should evaluate if they’re making full use of being on the cloud. There is another benefit of cloud computing. Construction companies should be cashing in on the ability to store tremendous amounts of big data files onto more powerful machines. More can be done with fewer resources. Anywhere there’s an Internet connection you’re good to go. Being on the cloud removes hardware limitations, prevents loss of data, dramatically improves security (if designed correctly), and improves accessibility.

One of the key issues within the industry is the storage of building data throughout the whole life of the building. Data processing is also an important concern for the industry. During construction, a large part of the work takes place on-site where computing resources, up till now, have been non-existent.

The cloud offers data processing power. Drones hover over construction sites and take pictures with detailed GPS coordinates and metadata. Stitching these images into an orthograph requires more processing power than typical computers can muster. Visiting job sites can take hours. Now construction sites can be viewed via a SaaS platform. A design captain or engineer can get a real-time view of the location from anywhere in the world, and on any device. This technology also makes sharing data much easier. There’s a misconception that data becomes less secure on the cloud. It turns out the opposite is true. That is if the new cloud environment has been designed with tight security in mind. If the data is kept at a Level 3 Data Center with round the clock monitoring, cybersecurity is on an entirely different level. It’s in a league of its own. One that isn’t possible for on-prem servers or public clouds.

The Remote Work Survival Kit Under the Threat of the Coronavirus

There is no denying the impact COVID-19 has had on us over the past couple of months. The coronavirus has managed to work its way into every conversation, news headline, and social media post.

The coronavirus is a pandemic according to the World Health Organization. The threat of the virus spreading
has changed the way we live. We have to prepare ourselves for the upcoming months. Canceling large events and gatherings is one way to mitigate the spread of the virus. Sports, schools, churches and many businesses have closed. Or they avoid interaction with the public. Social distancing is the new mandate. Government officials have urged us to not congregate in large crowds. Stay at home if possible. Many companies are sending emails to employees asking them to work from home if possible. Companies that aren’t set up to work remotely are scrambling to make it happen. What was once an option has become a necessity.

This article will provide some options on how to deliver a great work from home experience. None of these technologies are new. If used in combination they will ensure a better work-from-home experience.

Let’s start with the one that can take on many forms and methodologies: BYOD. Bring your Own Device. Gartner defines BYOD as allowing someone to use a personally-owned device to access a company’s resources. This could be the company’s email. It could be actually installing a VPN client on their home computer. Each company has a different take on the level of access granted to non-company assets.

 

The “Bring Your Own Device” concept has been around since 2004. It is not a new trend. What is new is the popularity of using personal mobile devices on the job. The security risks of allowing access to corporate resources has discouraged some companies from adopting a BYOD policy.
Bring Your Own Device

In this post by Remote.CO you can get a sense of the varying level BYOD plays at different organizations. BYOD had its start in the mobile device world. Companies were tired of purchasing cell phones for employees. Employees were tired of carrying around 2 phones. Employees carried their personal phone and the locked-down, outdated one provided by the company. Since then, companies have other ways of getting business data secured on personal devices.

Mobile Device Managers

Microsoft Intune and VMware Airwatch are MDM programs that help protect corporate data on personal devices. Employees have access to an Enterprise app store where they can consume their internal data while using their device of choice. The employee first opts in to install the MDM agent on their device. The list of devices with current modern Operating Systems is no longer limited to only smartphones. Once the agent is installed, the company can push down a profile that allows the device to be managed. Both Intune and Airwatch have a robust set of policies available for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. What degree of enforcement the company has on the phone will vary on the company and device type. Once the agent is deployed, and the configuration of Security baseline is set, the device can be actively monitored and secured. This could mean enforcing Bitlocker encryption for Windows 10 devices or managing Filevault on macOS with Intune.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

VDI technology has taken many forms over the years. In its purest form, VDI is accessing a virtual machine over the network from a client or web-browser. This enables companies to have virtual machines always available on the internal network. These virtual controlled Existing management systems control these machines. Security tools protect the company provided applications and data. Having a proper VDI solution for employees to use can be a major advantage. Especially if they need to travel or work from various locations and/or devices. If a company already has VDI in place today, the process of deploying new virtual desktops is easy. It only takes seconds to accommodate new users.

VDI began as a technology installed on-premise or in a company’s private data centers. Later VDI transitioned to the cloud. The major VDI players Citrix, VMware and Microsoft all have major cloud offerings. This is called DaaS or Desktops as a service. Citrix and Microsoft host their DaaS offerings within Azure. VMware can host desktops in AWS, Azure, and the IBM Cloud. Google Cloud is coming soon.

The ability to leverage cloud-based virtual desktops has great advantages. Especially in certain situations like Disaster Recovery. Traditional VDI takes longer to procure and deploy new hardware. DaaS has some extra benefits like less IT overhead. This is because the cloud provider manages more components.

 

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a means of which a computer user is granted access only after successfully presenting 2 or more pieces of evidence (factors) to an authentication mechanism. These are usually having to do with knowledge (something only the user knows); possession (only the user has it); and inherence (like fingerprint voice scan, or retina scan).

Let’s discuss the use of a multi-factor authentication solution. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a subset of multi-factor authentication (MFA). It ensures you can pass multiple criteria for identity. This includes something you know (password or security PIN). It also includes an object like a security token or fob. Finally, something physical that is specific to you (fingerprint, retina scan, facial recognition). A 2FA solution would offer only 2 of these mechanisms to prove your identity.

We’ve all had to input our email or phone number when signing up for an account online. Using a mobile banking app is a good example. An authentication mechanism can be a one-time-password sent to you via text message. It could be using your phone’s builtin face or fingerprint reader. These are ways to prove your identity.

The FBI warns MFA solutions are not completely foolproof. Still, it’s the best way to thwart cyber-thieves from stealing your data. Having a second form of authentication proof is safer than only having a long password. Most modern smartphones and laptops have a built-in fingerprint or smart card reader. There are several key players in the MFA space. The top leaders include Okta, Microsoft Azure MFA, and Duo (recently acquired by Cisco). Duo uses a simple cloud-based 2FA approach. Their system integrates with various types of applications. When a user attempts to gain access, a VDI or VPN provider sends a push notification to your smartphone. The user acknowledges the push notification on their smartphone. There’s no need to enter a second password or copy a 16-digit PIN for verification.

The order from management is to stay at home. Do not come to the office for the next 2 weeks. Work remotely until government and health organizations deem the coronavirus has been contained. Don’t worry about a report or project plan saved on your office desktop. Embrace VDI technology.

Do Your Work, Anywhere, and on Any Device

 

If you’re new to working from home, make sure your technology is in order. One important aspect of working remotely is communication. Make sure you have the bandwidth needed to support your tasks throughout the day.

The order from management is to stay at home. Do not come to the office for the next 2 weeks. Work remotely until government and health organizations deem the coronavirus has been contained. Don’t worry about a report or project plan saved on your office desktop. Embrace VDI technology.

VDI means working from a virtual desktop every day. Your data is always available, accessible from wherever you are and protected. Your data is more secure now than it ever was when kept on-premises. The data is backed up across different geographic regions within the cloud. There is no need to worry about catastrophic power or network outage at your local data center. It’s also always on and provides a consistent experience whenever you need to access it.

Maybe you don’t need a full Windows Virtual Desktop to get your work done. You just need access to a handful of SaaS apps like Salesforce.com. An Okta or other MFA solution can help authenticate you from an outside connection. This allows you to gain entry to those specific internal resources without the need to install a VPN client.

Or, what if all you really need is to access your corporate email and files on your phone while safe at your home? Having your smart device enrolled in your company’s Mobile Device Management solution can provide the access you need while keeping the business data secured.

Deciding how to start a remote work enablement plan for your team can seem like an overwhelming task. Like other challenges, it can is not so daunting when done in small steps. Better yet, it is a good idea to bring in experts who can design a solution that works best for your business.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. While there are many ways to enable employees to work from home, there is only one that is perfect for your needs.

Many adversities are beyond our control. It is helpful to focus on those things we can control. We can take steps to prepare for the uncertainties ahead. We can do what is best for our employees and our loved ones.

Using the cloud to work remote is less to do with “social distancing,” and more to do with benefiting your company. Being on the cloud will democratize opportunities for you across the board. You’ll see that remote work is not so much a challenge to overcome, but a business advantage to achieve.

 

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