Scaling up is the ability to take on increased workloads in a cost-effective manner and meet the demands of your business without suffering the negative consequences of overreaching.
Scaling up sounds like a fantastic idea. After all, who wouldn’t want to be able to handle more work, delivering more goods and services while leveraging economies of scale for greater profitability?
But the promise of scaling is often like an iceberg. What you see above the water (the work to be done) is nothing compared to the work lurking under the water. These are the challenges faced in scaling a business. Some companies get to a point where it is painful to add another client or bring on more talent. Scaling up seems like piling on more overhead for less reward. Revenue never has a chance to turn into profits.
Here are some barriers many companies may face as they ramp up their operations.
Scaling Up Too Soon
A good question to ask a good business consultant is, Is it too soon to grow the business? Any time before you have all the pieces in place and a strategy to scale is too soon. Is the market is ready to embrace and demand your products or services? Timing is everything. First, to go big into the market is sometimes a good idea, but sometimes not. Companies get eaten alive and never recover.
No Plan to Scale Up
Often the small to mid-size business fails in the efforts to scale for lack of planning. They have an objective and a vague notion of how to get there. Growth-minded companies might partner with that vendor or hire new employees. But all too often, a structured plan is missing. Having a strategy that guides the requirements, stages, and timeline for scaling is foundational for success. As a result, the timing is off, and the company is missing pieces of the puzzle. Frustration and failure soon follow.
No Understanding of the Difference Between Growth and Scaling
For most successful companies, growth came before scaling up. Taking time to grow allows SOPs to be established and perfected. Taking the time to grow enables hiring key people and building a solid reputation. These things are critical for financial backing to scale. Growth is a time to experiment and approve or discard strategic partners and vendors. Growth helps them understand the management and IT resources required for successful scaling. Multiplying processes and output without a substantial increase in resources is the foundation of scalability. Business leaders need to know if the company is prepared to scale up.
Unnecessary or Untimely Product/Service Additions
As soon as a company begins to have a little bit of success in their efforts to scale, they often become overzealous with their efforts to take over the marketplace.
They may move away from their core business too quickly and begin advertising products and services they are not prepared to deliver. Even if they can make a dollar on those tangential goods and services, they are taking resources away from what is central to their current revenue stream and their ability to scale.
Selecting the Wrong Partners & Vendors
Companies across the planet have learned the wrong partners or vendors can put companies at risk. Long supply chains and unproven vendors can have detrimental consequences on the delivery of goods and services to your customers, as well as injure brand reputations.
Avoid vendors and strategic partners who over promise and under deliver. There is no room for freeloading. Everyone has to do their part.
Lack of Internal Communication
Employees need to know the company culture and what is expected. Companies need complete buy-in from their workforce to scale up successfully. There also must be a strategy communicated internally. Along with the nuts and bolts of your well-laid strategy is a minefield of employee concerns, expectations, and emotions that you must address. If employees feel left out of the loop – or worse, insecure in their jobs – they will not be best positioned to support scaling efforts. Internal communication requires more than just a company-wide meeting or a series of internal memos sent out to senior staff. Instead, the business leaders must keep their finger on the pulse of how the staff is acclimating to the proposed and in-progress changes.
The last decision Steve Jobs made was to build Apple University.
He knew that it would be the one legacy he’d leave behind so that his organization would thrive long after he was gone.
Once you’ve been able to leverage some economies of scale, there is often a temptation to cut prices to undercut the competition and gain more market share. “After all,” you think, “We’re still making the same amount on our goods/services.” While it’s tempting to cut your prices and try to push the competition out of business, the money you will lose is better saved and utilized within your scaling efforts.
Technology That Can’t (or Can’t Easily) Scale-Up
Whether you’re working with legacy systems that keep your productivity limited, or you’re working with on-site workstations and servers that are expensive and cumbersome to scale, your technology is limiting your potential. This roadblock used to be a nearly insurmountable one for businesses trying to scale on a budget. However, with advances in cloud-based IT infrastructure and Desktop as a Service, the financial hurdle considerations are lowered due to the cloud’s ability to scale with your business expansion. Companies across the planet have factored cloud computing ability into their scaling strategy and are successfully leveraging the flexibility, mobility, and cost-effective nature of cloud workflow assets.
As an IBM fellow, Jason McGee puts it, migrating applications to the cloud can deliver significant business benefits for companies of all sizes.
Failing to Create Long-Term Demand
Business leaders that fundamentally misunderstand the role of advertising and marketing often pin their hopes of scaling on the stop-and-go stutter-step of marketing efforts. While marketing strategy should always be a part of your scaling endeavor, it is not sufficient on its own to supply continuous, qualified customers. Instead, part of any scaling strategy should be a plan to grow market demand for your products/services. After all, you want them knocking on your door for what you provide; you don’t want to be chasing work constantly with ad campaigns.
Cash Flow and Credit
There is no way around it, scaling requires sufficient cash flow. Many organizations with a fantastic plan to scale launch that endeavor, only to find that their efforts are stymied by lack of on-hand cash or credit. In a recent episode of “What’s Up AEC?!” the Immediate Past Board Chair of ACEC National, Charles Gozdziewski warns about the cash flow aspect of scaling up too quickly. “I’ve seen small firms suddenly become part of a big project. They go from 10 people to 25 people and then they go bankrupt. They just don’t have the financing or financial knowledge to handle it.”
Each stage of your scaling strategy will require more financial backing, and that backing must be available at that stage or things begin to unravel. Setting yourself up for success requires ensuring that you will have the backing you need well in advance of your step to the next level of operational expansion.
Quality Employees Instead of Quantity
Scaling starts and ends with individuals. Whether you are in a service industry or manufacture goods, your employees can make or break your scaling prospects. As much as anything else, scaling requires the right beliefs and behavior. Growth-oriented companies need people who are comfortable with change, who can move fast, and take ownership of tasks. In the rush to scale, companies often hire too quickly and find that they experience internal roadblocks to productivity because of the unqualified staff they’ve hired. Unfortunately, companies that are quickly ramping up delivery of goods and services often don’t have time for extensive employee training or the flexibility for employees to learn “on the job.” A resourceful HR team should be among your first hires to help ensure that your business sources and hires employees that can step in and do the work without handholding.
Ignoring Growth Pains and Fixating on Growth Pains
Whether leadership is determined not to let that “one issue” hold things back or fixate on that “one issue” to the detriment of other things that require attention, it still lands the administration in a difficult spot. On the one hand, small issues at one stage of scaling can become mountains of pain in the next stage of expansion. On the other, a fixation with a specific issue can lead to an unhealthy overemphasis on one aspect of the business, throwing everything out of kilter.
To scale, you must be aware of growing pains and be able to handle them appropriately without devoting all your attention and resources to those problems.
Organizations with micromanagers at the top very often do not do well when it comes to scaling up operations. Delegating responsibility is an essential component of scaling an enterprise. A business leader must know their self well enough to see this tendency in themselves before it becomes an issue that derails the scaling process. Sometimes, it’s necessary to step into a different leadership role and allow someone that has delegation skills to fill that administrative slot. As you scale, so should your management structure. Finding the right role for you to play and bringing in the people you need to bolster your weaknesses is a sign of a good leader.
Despite significant roadblocks to developing capacities to scale up quickly, there are multiple benefits for an organization to prepare itself for the likelihood of scaling up.
The challenges of scaling up are complex because scalability isn’t just about growth. It also has to do with its ability to be flexible, agile, and versatile. The same things that position the business for expansion are the same things that prepare them for unknown shifts in the market and unforeseen events like a worldwide pandemic. Preparedness is all about becoming proactive and being strategic with digital technology.
In a Forbes article from March 1, 2021, Paolo Gallo and Giuseppe Stigliano write, “Because of the dizzying speed of change today, fueled by this umpteenth acceleration, companies can’t count on their strengths alone to innovate. The CEO of a mobility services company reminded us how crucial it is at this stage to build eco-systems, resisting the temptation to reduce them to ego-systems. We have to collaborate with third parties to build systems in which the individual parts function as a single entity, in a more or less continual way to provide high-value-added services to final customers. Companies have to see themselves as fluid platforms, capable together of providing a value proposition that is exponentially bigger than what they could offer alone.”
In one of our previous blogs, we stressed the importance of componentization as a key ingredient to offering new digital value propositions. Taking the time to componentize offerings and build a solid digital foundation for your company will also position it for agility, flexibility, and growth.
The in-depth Deloitte Insights article, Putting Digital at the Heart of Strategy, goes beyond pointing out that digital transformation enables new growth opportunities. It indicates that those companies that don’t digitize in the next five years will be doomed.
Digitizing operations, a key benefit of cloud computing, improves an organization’s ability to meet sudden increases (or decreases) in demand.
Back when most of the IT experts of today began in the industry, the only infrastructure that was readily available and dependable was on-site servers and networks that were bulky, expensive, and time-consuming to manage and maintain. The last ten years have witnessed tremendous advancements in information technology. Now, IT engineers can design, develop, and implement a company’s entire IT infrastructure within a cloud environment in a fraction of the time it used to take. This good news isn’t just for the IT experts, but for the everyday business owners as well!
Because cloud infrastructure is readily available, you can take advantage of high-powered cloud computing through Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS). Although DaaS may sound complicated, it’s not. You can use any internet-connected device to access your operating system, applications, business data, and even your desktop settings.
What does that mean for your business? It means anywhere, anytime secure access to your company’s workflow. But that’s just the beginning of the high-impact benefits for forward-leaning companies that choose to leverage the power of Desktop as a Service.
Eliminates Grunt Work
Using a DaaS saves your IT department from having to do mundane grunt work such as application licensing, patching, and troubleshooting.
Outside of the fact that DaaS lowers your IT management cost by shifting that responsibility to the cloud provider is the fact that your organization has to spend less effort on maintaining your IT assets. Even companies that have outsourced their IT maintenance to a 3rd party still have a measure of IT housekeeping that they must do internally. DaaS makes IT maintenance and management hands-free for your staff – allowing them to be more effective and efficient in the tasks they were hired to do.
If you’re tired of employees complaining about their computers – or about the IT support – if you’re sick of doing endless updates, upgrades, patches – all to avoid the blue screen of death – DaaS is where you want to be. Most cloud providers offering DaaS have proven their ability to maintain their promise of 99.99% reliable uptime. That’s good news for your workflow and for your ability to focus on your work – not IT issues.
DaaS puts your company’s workflow in your hands instead of at the mercy of IT roadblocks, ransomware, or a natural disaster like hurricanes, fires, and tornados.
You don’t have to worry about a local network crashing – because there is none. It’s all in the cloud. You don’t have to think about losing data if your laptop dies – because your actual “computer” is virtual and all your data is stored in the cloud. Instead of having an operational IT system and a Business Continuity strategy backup system, you’re using your Business Continuity system every day in the cloud.
Since your data is stored at a secure facility offsite; or, in the case of IronOrbit, stored at multiple data centers, it is protected against onsite server failure or natural disasters. Having redundant backups provides a safety net. If a natural disaster impacts data center one, data center two kicks in automatically.
IT support teams in businesses take reasonable precautions to guard against cybercrime. These security measures cannot compete with the security technologies employed by cloud providers delivering DaaS options for businesses.
Critically DaaS shifts the security burden away from the individual device and places it within a data center infrastructure designed for the highest levels of protection. To put it simply, it would be cost-prohibitive for a small to mid-size business to hire even one IT security professional to protect their in-house systems to the level of a Tiered private cloud hosting partner.
Data is no longer vulnerable on a local device but held – and regularly backed up – in a secure hosted environment; it is also encrypted and can be made accessible only through multi-factor authentication protocols. The addition of a designated managed service provider also has its advantages. Systems are monitored 24/7. For example, a managed service provider can prevent someone from stealing data using a USB. That’s why enterprise-class organizations, the military, and the government are overwhelmingly looking to cloud providers to host their workflow. The security is there.
Enhanced Flexibility, Agility, & Mobility
We’ve already noted that cloud infrastructure along with new virtual desktops for your staff can be deployed in record time in comparison to traditional on-site IT setups. But that’s just a baseline. Consider the fluctuations of the marketplace over the past few years. The companies that survived and thrived were the ones most able to, in the words of Mohammad Ali, “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” Companies need a high level of agility combined with decisive leadership that can act quickly. DaaS allows you to scale up or down easily, add or reduce capacity, and change directions on the fly if needed.
Once you’ve moved your IT system to a DaaS, mobility becomes much easier. Modern companies are flexible enough to have their employees work from anywhere and on any device of their choosing. To thrive in the new cloud ecosystem, companies will need every tool available to be resilient. Teams will have to expand and contract at a moment’s notice, and they will need to respond quickly to opportunities the moment they appear. DaaS is a building block that makes all of that possible.
Being agile and flexible enables organizations to pivot if need be to remain resilient. Mauro F. Guillen writes, in a recent HBR article, that “successful companies often pivot to a business model that’s conducive to short-term survival, and long-term resilience and growth. Pivoting is a lateral move that creates enough value for the customer and the firm to share.”
The focus is now on productivity, elasticity, and value to the customer. These are the main characteristics that will drive the proliferation of DaaS in business.
Reduces Upfront Costs
DaaS reduces enormous upfront costs. Imagine all the hardware you’d have to invest in just to get started. In-house IT infrastructure and computers have to be purchased and implemented with the next 3-5 years of business operations in mind. Recent events have shown that it is impossible to predict the next year much less project 3 to 5 years out.
Even during times of stability, it is often a challenge to budget for hardware replacement. CFOs have to also account for the depreciation of capital expenditures. From the moment you open the box on a new computer, the value depreciates. With many companies still in recovery mode, many are having to delay refreshes altogether, even at the risk of struggling with outdated technology.
DaaS provides the luxury of keeping IT aligned with workflows no matter how dynamic and volatile they may become.
Since DaaS is subscription-based, you’re renting equipment. This subscription-based model moves expenditures from a capital expenditure (CapEX) to an operational expenditure (OpEx). You’re only going to pay for what you use; therefore, if you use a lot, you’re going to pay more. Correspondingly, if you don’t use very much, you pay a minimum amount. This is a CFO’s dream come true because it streamlines operations in ways that lower overall operational costs.
CFOs love DaaS and other cloud-based solutions because of the budget predictability provided by packaged solutions but the fact that they can move CAPEX expenses into the OPEX column. This provides a range of financial and tax efficiencies. #1 in those efficiencies is that your company doesn’t have to pay a large amount of money for in-house servers and networks to be installed. And when your business grows, you don’t have to factor bigger, better servers (with bigger and better prices) into your budgets. Moving IT expenditures from CAPEX to OPEX gives you the flexibility to utilize your cash reserves for other, pro-growth initiatives. Having a fixed and predictable monthly fee certainly makes budgetary planning and forecasting much easier than the break and fix nature of on-premise servers or even in-house VPNs.
Energy Conservation Helps the Environment
You’re only one company, but you want to do your part for the environment – and you want your consumers to SEE you doing your part for the environment. Because DaaS allows you to use your devices for longer and to partner with eco-conscious cloud platforms, you can do your part for the planet without it costing you more to do so.
A study conducted by the Carbon Disclosure Project found companies that utilized cloud computing saved a total of $1.3 billion annually and reduced carbon emissions by an equivalent of 200 barrels of oil.
Just imagine the hardware and electrical power needs of even a small-size company. An organization saves tremendous amounts of energy by moving its IT system to a DaaS environment because no onsite servers are gobbling up massive amounts of electrical power. More employees working from home means fewer carbon emissions from vehicles traveling to and from work every day. When you start to consider the number of companies and the number of employees involved, the amount of carbon emissions is significant.
As our lives, work, and thinking turn increasingly towards protecting the climate, conserving energy by leveraging shared data centers will become more attractive and competitive. As this move to remote data centers matures, operators will begin to assess “greener” options for on-site power generation. Data centers are an excellent opportunity to integrate on-site energy generation facilities such as hydrogen applications, solar panels, or a combination of heat and power solutions (CHPs).
Marc Garner, VP of Schneider Electric’s Secure Power Division.The Vice President of Schneider Electric’s Secure Power Division, Marc Garner wrote in Data Center Dynamics, “Technology has become a key enabler for both businesses and consumers alike, and throughout 2020, dependency on digital infrastructure has increased dramatically. In fact by 2035, Schneider Electric estimates that all IT will consume 8.5 percent of global electricity – compared to 5 percent in 2021 – and data centers are expected to take up a large share of this demand. Many of today’s data center operators, from hyperscalers to cloud and colocation service providers, have already led the market by example, and publicly declared ambitious commitments towards Net Zero, adopting more sustainable approaches to digital business.
Microsoft, for example, has started transitioning to using renewable wind energy – a trend that will likely only continue to increase as awareness and demands for renewables from end-users and governments surge.”
Your business is moving into the future, whether your IT systems are ready for it or not. Using virtual desktops in a DaaS environment ensures you’re always working on the latest version of your operating system and applications. That in and of itself is a compelling reason to move to DaaS,
but that’s only the beginning. Consider that DaaS also gives you a built-in business continuity system. Because your data and workflow are securely housed in the cloud, you never have to worry about how much time, money, and lost opportunities you’d sacrifice if your company’s on-site server goes down.
As Gartner describes in a recent report, technologies utilized by organizations are increasingly conceptualized and implemented outside of the traditional outsourced IT department. Gartner found that the total business-led IT spend averaged around 36% of the total formal IT budget. Business leaders rightfully see digital transformation as an organization-wide discussion, and no longer the sole purview of the IT department.
This article categorized 6 key benefits for companies moving to DaaS. Depending on what priorities are driving your organization at the moment, you may be drawn to one specific DaaS advantage or another. Think about both short and long-term goals in your choice. You might consider DaaS to make hardware refresh more affordable in the short term but also reap the cost and business benefits delivered by DaaS as it has a deeper impact on the continued growth and success of your business long term.
As businesses regain their balance, the leadership must focus on renewal, not recovery, if they want to stay competitive in their market.
If there’s a lesson to be learned about the pandemic, it’s the importance of being adaptable. Another critical quality for survival was speed. There wasn’t much time to deliberate. Companies had to act fast. Acting with speed and agility wasn’t tied to the size of the company. It was less about ability and more about choosing to be quick and adaptable.
Covid-19 changed how we live and work on multiple levels. We’ve seen accelerated changes in consumer and business behaviors that are likely to persist. Strategies meant to restore things as they were before the pandemic will prove frustrating.
Business leaders need to look beyond recovery. As Rebecca Brooks points out in her article for the Forbes Agency Council, the pandemic revealed the flaws in our systems. All of them. Whether they were socio-economic, corporate, or governmental. “That’s why I’m not trying to lead my company back to where it was in December of 2019,” she writes. “That place and time are gone. I want a renewal— not a recovery — so that our people are equipped and prepared to handle the challenges we’ll face today and tomorrow.
Because businesses and consumer behavior will never be the same, business leaders are looking for technology, specifically digital technology, to lead the way. Digitizing operations use the technology to replicate an existing service in a digital form. Becoming digital means using technology to transform the service into something significantly better. Companies can’t afford to drop the value propositions that work, at least not right away. Nor can they afford to settle with running the business as they had before the pandemic. It is a different market now. In this climate of rapid change and delivery, there’s nothing worse than complacency.
Be Inspired by Technology
The whole idea behind digital transformation is to leverage all the potentialities of technology (namely cloud computing, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence) to create and deliver better products and services.
Why is the ability to be inspired by technology such a prized commodity? Because now you can conceive an idea, get it funded, bring it to life, and scale it easily, quickly, and more economical than ever before. Andrew Hessel, a distinguished research scientist at Autodesk, said, “The gap between science-fiction and science is getting really narrow now; as soon as someone has the idea and articulates it, it can be manifested in a short time.”
A recent Gartner report on identifying future work trends recommends several methods for creating a future-of-work strategy. The recommendations include using the visionary imaginations of science-fiction writers. Apparently, there are many organizations already employing science-fiction writers to develop bold ideas. Gartner points out that creative thinking is critical for moving past incremental innovation. People often become trapped by cognitive biases (what they know and expect from everyday experiences). They become unable to see potential futures because they are weighed down by the limitations of present conditions.
While the crisis of covid-19 has boosted innovations in technology, it has also created shock waves of uncertainty which are particularly felt by investors and multinational companies. Having witnessed the vulnerability of long-distance supply chains, many business leaders are looking for more local options to replace global manufacturing partners.
The Spanish clothing retailer ZARA, founded in 1975, is one company that has been ahead of the trend. While most clothing brands floundered during the pandemic, ZARA was able to keep things moving because they had a shorter supply chain. Not an easy feat to pull off, especially when you have 2,270 stores worldwide. Most western brands use offshore manufacturing in Asia, where labor is much cheaper. The time between design and delivery of the finished product could be months.
Because ZARA used local manufacturers, they moved quickly from design to delivery in a matter of weeks. ZARA also benefited from having no stockpiles of unsold inventory, and they were able to respond to consumer trends promptly. This strategy of using local suppliers turns out to be an effective model. Other companies: in other industries have begun to follow its example.
The clothing industry was one of the markets hit the hardest during the pandemic. The manufacturing of clothing requires the work of many people. Consider that, in Asia alone, the clothing industry employs 43 million people. So, when clothing sales fall 73.5 % in the United States, Bangladesh loses out on $3.2 Billion in canceled clothing exports.
Worldwide, factory jobs will soon be a thing of the past because everything has been automated. Low-skill labor of all kinds will slowly continue to disappear over the next decade. It is anticipated that 1 out of 16 people will have to change occupations between now and 2030. This era of occupational transitions will require the need to train millions of people for new jobs. What benefits, such as sick leave or unemployment, be available for all workers (including gig workers)? The main areas of job growth will be highly skilled occupations: including teachers and training instructors.
According to McKinsey & Company, consumer behavior that shifted in response to Covid-19: such as ordering groceries online and virtual healthcare, will continue at higher levels. E-commerce is booming. The virus also initiated a reversal of some behaviors, such as investing in the home. As the pandemic subsides, some consumer behaviors disrupted by Covid-19, including entertainment, leisure air travel, and remote education, will eventually make their comeback.
Hybrid or Fully Remote Workforce
During a video roundtable discussion entitled “What’s Up AEC?” Nvidia’s Senior Solutions Architect, Jimmy Rotella, said, “We had always seen a remote workforce coming. Analysts say that the pandemic has actually accelerated the work-from-home movement by 5 to 10 years.”
Now, there is a real focus on employees having options. They can work from home, in the office or both. In fact, the “employee experience” has become equally important as the customer experience. Providing a great experience to both customers and employees is a defining aspect of a company’s brand.
· 83% of workers do not believe they need to be in an office to be productive
· 43% believe they would be more productive working from home
· 70% of those surveyed between the ages of 16–44 want to be more mobile at work
· 88% use smartphones for work daily
· 49% use a tablet minimum of three times per week.
Now that the pandemic is winding down, organizations continue to think about how they want to work moving forward. Most employees now have a taste of what it’s like to work from home, and they want to keep it that way if possible. The trend for most companies has shifted in favor of remote and hybrid working scenarios. Owen Hughes writes, in his attention-grabbing article SPENDING ON TECH IS ABOUT TO ROCKET. BUT IT WON’T BE THE IT DEPARTMENT DOING THE BUYING, that the growth in IT spending will be around companies digitizing operations (moving to the cloud) and becoming digital.
Welcome to 2025
The post-pandemic acceleration in the adoption of technologies is pushing us into the future at breakneck speeds. The new word for this rapid adoption of new technologies is tech-celeration. Experts estimate the acceleration is at least 5 years. Healthcare and higher education are among the industries that have probably seen the greatest push towards tech-celeration. For example, in the United Kingdom, the National Health Service built a telehealth system over a weekend and rolled it out to doctors across the country by the end of the following week. There were similar scenarios in the United States.
Although e-learning has been available to the public since 2000, it has been relatively dormant in university settings until the pandemic. Now, the online education market is expected to quadruple in revenue by 2026. Educational institutions are more open to using computers for distance learning and developing more robust online degree programs.
IT Moves to Center Stage
According to analysts, the surge in IT spending this year won’t come from traditional IT departments, but other areas of the business undergoing digital transformation. These units see IT charged as a cost of revenue or cost of goods sold.
John-David Lovelock, research vice president at Gartner, said: “IT no longer just supports corporate operations as it traditionally has, but is fully participating in business value delivery. Not only does this shift IT from a back-office role to the front of a business, but it also changes the source of funding from an overhead expense that is maintained, monitored, and sometimes cut, to the thing that drives revenue.”
Mark Samuels’ May 22, 2018, article warns readers of the many pitfalls associated with digital transformation even as it acknowledges its importance to business renewal. A few years later, this urgency to transform into digital companies is as intense as ever. Like the acceleration of remote work, the pandemic pushed up the digital transformation agenda for everyone.
Covid-19 created the opportunity for new businesses, as well as new types of businesses to emerge. According to the earlier referenced survey, the number of new business start-ups has doubled in the USA since 2019. During Covid-19, however, many workers in the United States were furloughed, laid off, or simply dropped out of the labor force for other reasons, and thereby embraced the opportunity to create the start-up of their dreams. New job titles have appeared on the horizon. For example, the research company Econsultancy tracked the use of the chief data officer title on LinkedIn for two years. In April 2016, 2,899 people were identified as chief data officers; by February 2018, there were 11,418.
Because of the changes brought upon by the pandemic digitization increased faster than ever thought to be possible and pressured many companies to move faster than they would have liked. It is now an on-demand economy (compliments of the cloud ecosystem). This is a new industrial revolution driven both by fear of digital disruption and the opportunities created by the cloud ecosystem.
The disruption caused by Covid-19 also offers a path to higher productivity and broad-based growth. Digital enterprises like Netflix, Google, and Facebook will only continue to get bigger. The Amazon model of fast and direct delivery will continue to blaze a path through online shopping.
Although the pandemic has contributed to a slowdown of globalization, the world has grown too integrated for globalization to be stopped. According to The Economist magazine, the biggest missing piece of the global puzzle is for business and government leaders to make interdependence work with resilience. Technology, and how people use it, will surely play a critical role.
Even before the pandemic lockdown, social media, mobile, analytics, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things pressured companies to become more digital. Digital technologies deliver ubiquitous data, unlimited connectivity, and massive processing power. Digital technologies enhance both the customer experience as well as employees.
Becoming a digital company means delivering new and improved product features. Too many executives rush into transforming their companies to become digital. Digital business transformation is a long journey. Leaders need to commit to the long haul while sustaining existing business.
Take notice of industry trends and identify which ones will have the biggest impact on your organization. Identify where your company has the greatest competitive advantages. Play to those strengths. Build relationships with providers who are dedicated to your success and whose expertise you can leverage.
BECOMING DIGITAL IS BUILT ON AN OPERATIONAL BACKBONE
Since the operational backbone is the foundation for everything else that will be developed, built, and offered to your customers, it’s important to get it right from the design stage. That’s why regrouping with your people and process is so fundamental to the process. DESIGNED FOR DIGITAL points out that although companies have been engaged, in one way or another, with digitization (remember: digitizing does not equal digital) transformation since the late 1990s, the majority of them did not have operational backbones to support their digital transformation.
The story of Intel’s dramatic digital transformation presents a good example of starting with the business needs in mind. Use the collective input of the organization to determine where exactly the business is headed. Talk to the people in the company. Talk to your customers. Strive to get an accurate big picture of your company based on facts, insight, and impressions from your customers.
“When we look at new technologies, we investigate what it will take to transition from legacy approaches to the new ones. We look at our affordability targets and determine which one gives us the highest return on investment. One area of technology that is crucial to Intel’s digital transformation is a hybrid cloud. It is the next step in a natural evolution that started with everyone having their workstation and locally stored data. Eventually, virtual clients came along, with applications and data stored centrally (but on-premises). Now hyper-scale computing, or high-performance computing, is the trend, where a lot of computational jobs can be done in a very short amount of time using a significant amount of fungible computing capacity. But on-premises capacity can reach a saturated utilization, and enterprises need burst capacity. The ability to seamlessly move workloads between private and public clouds—i.e., a hybrid cloud—is the answer.”
Although an operational backbone is a digital building block for becoming a digital company, it is not something that is etched in stone. Far from it. Because a business changes, an operational backbone is never complete. Technology changes, and you may discover through analyzing customer data, that their needs have changed. So your operational backbone has to be designed in such a way that it continuously evolves to meet the situation as it evolves. All the components that make up your operational backbone have to be agile and flexible as well. If any aspect of it has limitations or rigid parameters, it’s going to gum up the works. Like clogging up an artery, it could cause paralysis or worse.
Invest in an Operational Backbone and a Digital Platform to Secure Efficiency & Revenue Growth
Having done the work to assemble an operational backbone, you’ll have set in motion the ways and means to create a digital platform. Properly designed, this platform will enable quick and easy access to data, configure, and reconfigure business processes, and technology components to generate and enhance digital offerings. At the base of this platform is a repository of cloud services. Depending on the specific demands and needs of your company, this might be a public, private, or hybrid cloud environment. Whatever the architecture happens to be, make sure it is flexible enough to adapt as you need the rest of the platform to adapt.
DESIGNED FOR DIGITAL (MIT Press) describes a digital platform as 3 repositories built on a base of cloud technologies. The book states that cloud services are “fairly standard across all vendors.” While that statement is true, it’s important to know that not all cloud designs are equal just as not all strategies are equal. The best ones take in the big picture of where the company is at present and where it wants to be in 5 years….in 10 years. In the context of cloud computing, a strategy can be defined as a “set of decisions required to create and deploy a network-based, information service delivery strategy that results in both cost savings and organizational agility.
The Competitive Imperative of Digital Transformation
In a 2018 Forbes article titled “Cloud Computing Comes of Age as the Foundation for Enterprise Digital Transformation” author David Bartoletti makes the following statement:
“Cloud is no longer a place to get some cheap servers or storage. It’s not even a single place. Cloud computing is now shorthand for how companies turn amazing ideas into winning software — faster. Nearly 60% of North American enterprises now rely on public cloud platforms, five times the percentage that did just five years ago.”
It has been two years since that Forbes article was written. What’s happened since then?
Businesses have to utilize cloud technology to keep pace with competing organizations. Some form of digital transformation has become a “must-have” for companies worldwide. But is a public cloud the right platform for your digital transformation efforts?
Today, privacy/security concerns take center stage and have businesses large and small thinking seriously about a move to private cloud.
Private cloud architecture outpaces public cloud offerings in:
So why do companies still choose public cloud services for their digital transformation efforts? Perhaps it is name recognition. Everyone knows about Amazon, Microsoft, and Google.
But let’s face it. Not everyone TRUSTS Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. That’s why CEOs and CIOs lean more heavily toward private cloud companies that provide a higher level of service, customization, and privacy.
There are other considerations when looking at the quality of your cloud environment. To find the summum bonum of cloud services, take a holistic approach that involves the answering several questions. What is the quality of the connection like? How good is the security of its data centers? How responsive is its level of customer service? How much control will you have over your ICT environment, and how adaptable will it be to the shifting needs of your company? These are important questions to consider.
Once company leaders grasp the concept of digital for operational and market flexibility, they begin to envision the unlimited possibilities of digital transformation.
Leading Digital Transformation
Often lost in the digital transformation conversation is the “how” of leadership throughout the process. While this may seem rudimentary, those business leaders that choose not to see digital transformation as a completely new game are often taken by surprise as the entire effort crashes and burns like the Hindenburg.
The leadership mindset of digital transformation.
Listening to the Technology Experts – But Not Too Much
IT specialists are in the business because they love what technology can do. They see the potential within technology to help you become more competitive, efficient, and cost-effective. They will have deep, valuable insight into the “how” of the project. But sometimes, because the focus of your IT department is on IT, the process can get mired in the weeds of the technology, resulting in the people and processes being left behind. It’s the task of the leadership to ensure that the strategy embraces the input of all stakeholders and ensures that the technology solves people and process challenges – not just IT issues.
Many CEOs see digital transformation as “something that the CIO and the tech department does.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The IT organization within your company will play a significant role in the deployment of the strategy, but if there isn’t a comprehensive, “all-of-business” approach in the planning stages, the effort will crumble. Why? Because anything less than a holistic approach to digital transformation results in siloed data and unproductive activity. Simply dropping cloud-based applications or infrastructure into the mix without integrating everything around the digital transformation strategy is like trying to run a NASCAR without a steering rack and transmission. Sure, you’ve got lots of power, but you’re not going anywhere fast.
Long-Haul – Iterative Process
If your company is going to be flexible and nimble enough to stay ahead in our current global economy, you’re going to have to embrace the fact that the task of digitization and digital optimization is never complete. New technologies are coming on the market every day. Not all new technologies are good, but if you’re not careful, your competitors will leverage a technology you’ve dismissed and pull the rug out from under you. To avoid this catastrophe, it’s important to view digital transformation as an ongoing activity, just like marketing, sales, and production. As they emerge, new digital technologies will allow you to work smarter, serve your customers better, and meet market challenges head-on.
With the USA still feeling the “outsourcing” effects of NAFTA, there is a continuous worry in the minds of employees about losing their jobs to cheaper labor and better technology. Part of your work as a CEO has to include boosting morale by assuring your employees that the digital transformation process is about securing their jobs into the future. It’s not about replacing them or eliminating their positions.
The positive potential impact of digital transformation on company culture cannot be understated. Digitization allows for a higher level of transparency, communications, and collaboration. Digital optimization can make everyone’s workday easier.
However, organizational leadership has to communicate and model the benefits, or the new strategy will be misunderstood and may even be resented by the employees.
Digital transformations are slow because it means changing habits and culture. It takes time and a concerted effort. It should be a slow process. People need the time to adjust to new processes and adopt new technologies. The need time to learn how to think and function as a digital business. Begin the journey by creating an operational backbone. Optimize so that you’re doing the same things you’ve always done, but now only better. Then you can build a digital platform. You’ll discover along the way that you will begin to accumulate a portfolio of components. These components will feed innovation and become useful in future digital offerings.
As Jeanne Ross points out in her book, componentization is key to becoming a fully digital company able to offer new digital value propositions to customers. To illustrate the point, she uses the plotline from the LEGO movie.
In the LEGO movie, a noble construction worker sets out to save the world from a tyrant who intends to glue in place all of LEGO world. Emmet, the construction worker, prevails, of course, because he teams up with bad guys who apply their combined creativity to outsmart the bad guys. The Key to their success is the ability to reconfigure LEGO components into whatever machine they need to overcome each obstacle they meet.
In the same way, digital companies build and adapt using whatever components they have. It all comes down to how creative and innovative they can be in assembling those solutions from parts that already exist. The challenge is to keep track of all the components so you can grab the one you need when you need it. That’s why you need a digital platform.
DIGITAL OFFERING BUILT ON A DIGITAL PLATFORM
A good example of how having a digital platform can facilitate responding to a unique situation is the Toyota Hawaii story. Toyota Motors North America responded to a particular challenge in Honolulu —a city full of condos and people but few parking spots. They came up with a digital offering called Hui—a round-trip, station-based car-sharing program that allows customers to reserve a car by the hour, or by the day, through a mobile app that also locks, unlocks, and starts the vehicle.
Business leaders are looking for ways to get ahead of the situation. Companies are looking at ways of improving what they already do by digitizing their processes.
The messaging around digitizing operations has to be coherent and consistent throughout all layers of the organization.
Because people don’t like change.
Digitizing, done correctly, creates a company atmosphere of constant and never-ending improvement, and that can be unsettling for some.
Securing an operational backbone this way makes sense and it should be done.
But long-term sustainable success is dependent on developing digital business capabilities where your value proposition provides a new way to solve your customer’s problem.
Make the time now to start learning how to componentize offerings, as Jeanne Ross puts it, and build a digital platform. Designing, building, and using a digital platform requires a whole new way of thinking. Even if you’re an established company, everyone must abandon old habits and, in many ways, adopt the mindset of a start-up. Companies need to get started on their digital journey now because it is going to take a while. If they wait until they have an urgent need to suddenly offer a digital solution, they won’t be able to. It will be too late.
True Digital Transformation is a process made from two stages, and the second stage builds on the first. The first stage enhances traditional products and services using digital technologies to become operationally excellent. Digitizing operations means a company does better than what it has always done before. This stage creates operational excellence through incorporating digital technologies and is much a cultural-way-of-thinking change as it is a change of technology. The second stage moves beyond traditional products and services and uses digital platforms to innovate and deliver brand new customer value propositions. Companies know they’ve reached this stage when they begin offering value to their customers that they’ve never offered before.
Why is digital transformation so important? And why is it so important for all companies to get started on the journey on the right foot?
These are unprecedented times and businesses need a powerful elixir to get us through the immediate disruptions and also sustain us through the years ahead. That elixir is a digital transformation. Digital technologies are raising the bar for everyone across the board. Jeanne W. Ross’ important book DESIGNED FOR DIGITAL, explains digital technologies as a game-changer because it delivers ubiquitous data, unlimited connectivity, and massive processing power.
Businesses no longer have to guess what customers want or how they want it. We can now collect the data and see the answer in front of us.
Mobile devices give us access to anything digital and anywhere there’s an internet. Responses to inquiries come immediately, and smartphone apps offer proactive insight into customer problems.
Unlimited Processing Power
We expect massive computing power to crunch all that ubiquitous data and arrive at conclusions human beings cannot readily observe.
Why is digital transformation important? Well, imagine, there you are, with your old company infrastructure, bogged down with the antiquated silos and dysfunctional systems. These things were good enough for yesterday but not good enough for tomorrow. All around you are your competitors and customers swimming in the sea of digital technology. How long will it be before your responses, as fast as they might be, are not fast enough, and your competitors are proactively serving your clients because they have already collected massive amounts of data (compliments of digital technology) and have made sense of it (unlimited processing power in action)?
“Not all companies are digital-born, but all must offer customers new digital value propositions, or risk disruption from those that will.”
— Meg McCarthy, VP, CVS
Customers and competitors aside, a successful digital transformation means that your company will learn and progress more quickly than before. Once in the digital environment, thinking begins to change, you discover new possibilities and new ways to bring value to your customers. What is more, you’ll be able to try it immediately. You can afford to experiment because the company will have greater agility. Most importantly, being digital will establish closer connections with your employees, customers, and suppliers.
Like all journeys, digital transformations begin with taking the first few steps. These first steps are a part of digitizing operations. The way a company takes these first few steps is critically important. Keep this in mind: each step forms a building block for the next, and the one after that. If one of your previously laid building blocks has a crack in it or is unstable in any way, the whole thing could collapse, or you’ll get to the half-way point and realize you can’t build any further. The structure won’t hold.
We’ll point out the key benchmarks for the digitizing process a bit later, but now let’s look closer at the current technology environment and what it means to your business.
A PERFECT STORM
Forces of disruption and upheaval have converged on businesses throughout history, but never quite like this. Many companies, with their back pressed against the wall trying to survive, are feeling the tremendous build-up of pressure. It’s like the rise of air pressure just before a tornado strikes.
The pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns have been a crisis for most companies and an opportunity for others. They have also been an added force behind a group of disrupters that began building up steam a decade earlier. This group of disruptors has been collectively referred to as SMACIT – a term that feels appropriately like a slap in the face. SMACIT refers to Social Media – Mobile Devices – Analytics – Cloud – Internet-of-Things. Like many disruptors, this collection of technologies brings both crisis and opportunity. Margaret Rouse points out in herTechtarget Network article on SMACIT, that these phenomena form the basis for an ecosystem that enables a business to transition from e-business to a digital business. SMACIT is an enabler. It is also the catalyst paving the way for an incredible multitude of things any one of them having the ability to disrupt your business.
From a consumer perspective, we have become so enmeshed with digital technology that we don’t even think about it. It is just something we expect. Amazon Prime subscribers pay their $15 a month and don’t think about it. They enjoy the convenience of ordering online and receiving their shipment the next day. But remember, Amazon didn’t start as a digital company. They started as an online bookseller.
Gone are the days of the stereotypical socially awkward IT professional hunkered silently over his workspace and not talking to anyone outside of IT. Today’s IT professionals must interface with a variety of people across all departments of an organization because information technology and business goals have become so interwoven. Plus, the technology environment has become too complex and sophisticated that IT teams must become more conversant with business outcomes.
Having your employees work from home doesn’t make you a digital company. Digital companies deliver digital offerings — value propositions that could only exist in the digital realm. The book DESIGNED FOR DIGITAL makes the distinction between digitizing operations and becoming a fully fledged digital company. Digitizing is achieving operational excellence. Doing things that you’ve always done, but now you’re doing them better. Becoming digital means offering brand new value propositions to your customers. What problems can you solve for your customers that you never considered before.
“Business executives who think they are leading a digital transformation when they are digitizing may achieve operational excellence on an outdated value proposition. This may elevate competitiveness in the short term, but it’s not likely to lead to digital success. Consider the limitation of being the best taxi company in town when Uber and Lyft arrived on the scene.”
THE FINE ART OF DIGITIZING
What was once just a good idea is now a must-have. Properly digitizing your operations, and I stress the word “properly,” is a prerequisite to digital transformation. It’s a difficult process. It takes time and requires intercommunication between all departments throughout the company. Consequently, business leaders tend to skip steps, look for quick fixes, and make autonomous decisions that cause problems down the road. Unfortunately, this tends to be the rule and not the exception. Without involving people and processes across the entire organization, there is inevitably a costly disconnect and the digital transformation flies off the rails.
A Harvard Business Review article by Thomas H. Davenport and Thomas C. Redman, May 21, 2020, states that digital transformation is not for the faint of heart and that many such efforts fail. Success requires bringing together and coordinating a far greater range of effort than most leaders appreciate. The article, and the book, postulate the transformational journey has to begin with the people in the company.
It’s important to have leaders with good people skills leading technology, data, and processes. For example, in the area of data, you’ll need the ability to rally people at the front lines to adopt new roles as data creators, ensuring the processes are in place to capture data correctly.
People lead the discussion of rethinking the processes from the top down. Get rid of the silos that have built up over the years and nurture horizontal communication focused on serving the customers. The traditional hierarchical thinking of corporations is a real impediment to making any kind of lasting and substantive transformation.
During this “people and process” alignment, trust is developed between teams and communication opens up more between IT, DevOps, and upper management. Not only do internal technology people need to be great communicators, but they also need a keen understanding of how to balance technology and ROI.
Designing and implementing the right operational backbone is hard to accomplish. That’s why most companies don’t have one. Frequently, they become entangled in the complexities of their old legacy systems. Simplify the business and focus on key customer satisfaction points. Another important point to remember is that the operational backbone is a constant work-in-progress because you’ll be tweaking it as you gain more insights from your collected data. Nothing is etched in stone.
IN CONCLUSION (part 1)
SMACIT (see above) contributes to optimizing processes and operations. These digital technologies are essential to becoming a digital company. The goal of becoming digital is the ability to offer digital value propositions to your customers. Organizational change — the “people” part of the transformation, is the biggest challenge. As we close part one of this blog, we want to leave you with several useful questions raised in the book DESIGNED FOR DIGITAL.
“Is your company’s organizational backbone “good enough” to support your digital transformation? If so, are you continuously adopting new digital technologies, as appropriate, to update key systems and processes? If not, what are you going to do about it?”
Data Breaches taught companies hard lessons in 2019. Even back then, Forrester’s VP and group director of security and risk research, Stephanie Balaouras warned that all companies need a chief information security officer.
In a February 24, 2020 MIT Technology Review Business Lab episode, Balaouras makes the case that the world of cyberthreats is becoming more intricate and perilous. Cybersecurity isn’t just stopping the threats you see, but also the ones you can’t see. “Even companies that have a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) should take a hard look at how high in the organization they report,” Balaouras says. “Do they have the right budget? Do they have enough staff? Have you given them the right span of control?”
Thanks to technology we are able to carry our office with us, reach out and talk to anyone at anytime, and all at incredible speed. The mobile devices that make our lives so much easier, also increase the attack surface for cyber criminals. Few corporate functions have had to pivot so quickly or dramatically as cybersecurity operations. CISOs have had to take steps to minimize network threats targeting the legions of work-from-home employees.
Many companies are freezing their hiring because of the pandemic. Unfortunately, now is a risky, uncertain time to add full-time equivalent (FTE) employees. But companies, most of which don’t have the expertise in-house, need to hire a professional to lead their cybersecurity initiatives. What’s the solution?
VIRTUAL IS THE KEY WORD FOR 2020 & BEYOND
Virtual Cybersecurity Professionals (VSCP). VSCPs are the latest trend in cybersecurity hiring, bringing additional cybersecurity talent at a fraction of the cost, without requiring office-space, benefits, or training. VSCP don’t require on-boarding, and they can hit the ground running.
BUILD SECURITY ON A SOUND FOUNDATION
They are accustomed to handling a wide range of responsibilities geared towards protecting online data from being compromised. Sure, they safeguard organization’s files, networks, install firewalls, and monitor activity, but they should also create security plans that involve all employees of the company. As mentioned in one of our brief articles on phishing attacks, the best technology in the world isn’t going to protect a company’s data if the employees are not educated on the best practices of handling emails. Having mature fundamental processes in place are vital.
VSCP are not traditional employees that require significant investment. Nor are they consultants who are foreign and not part of your team. They are somewhere in between. As such, they tend to have greater access to C level executives. VSCP can be procured by days – you can hire a VSCP for Monday and Tuesday each week, for example – or for a certain number of hours each week. VSCPs typically work remotely, but schedule time on-site at least quarterly, or more often, as your budget and needs require.
In a Forbes article, Jon Younger explains that when a company “lacks the means to hire full time staff,” they can pull together essential skills and keep the business moving forward by combining full-time and freelance professionals together as a flexible, blended workforce. And increasingly, talent marketplaces are able to organize entire engineering or development teams on a “bolt-on” or plug and play basis.
There are downsides to VSCPs. Like all cybersecurity talent, the professionals are in high demand. There is an overall shortage in cybersecurity professionals. A recent Gartner report showed a 65% increase in demand for cybersecurity professionals and an estimated 3.5 million vacancy on the cybersecurity job market. Although they are easier to find than top-quality employees, it still can be difficult to find a quality VSCP. When you find a good VSCP, it’s important to retain them before their schedules become full. And like an employee, personality and team chemistry are important. Although they are remote, it is important that your security consultant fit your organization’s culture and gets along well with the team.
VSCPs are not an entirely new concept. Companies have been hiring Chief Information Security Officers (CISO) for years. Quality CISOs are difficult to find and expensive. A Virtual CISO (vCISO) is an outsourced security practitioner or provider who offers their time and insight to an organization on an ongoing basis, usually part-time. Working remotely, they are usually engaged to design an organization’s security strategy, and some may handle the implementation as well. vCISOs are less expensive than staff Chief Information Security Officers and with a quick time-to-value.
The pandemic seems to be expanding this need to a wider range of security tasks. Staff are separated, budgets are tight, but viruses don’t respect deadlines. Projects still need to be completed despite today’s difficult environment. As another Forbes article points out, “Times are challenging, and it’s time to get creative. Organizations must find a way to respond to modern cyber-threats without stretching their financial resources. The vast majority of security budgets are spent on managed services, and that includes consultancy. Because internal security teams need external help, there is a move away from on-premises products towards services.
A virtual chief information security officer (vCISO) could deliver the most bang for your buck.
Vast Experience and Proven Leadership No Training Needed Reduced Overhead Flexibility Faster On-boarding
The VSCP concept was reserved mostly for vCISOs, but times have changed and the concept is ready to be deployed for various types of roles.
This might take the shape of a Cybersecurity Compliance Director who ensures the company is aligned with NIST 800-53, FedRAMP, or HITRUST, or prepared for the 2020 CMMC audits. It might be a Privacy Officer who ensures the company is abiding by GDPR, CCPA, or new the privacy laws of Texas or Nevada, ensuring that the company can keep doing business in those states.
Taking a proactive stance on your company’s cybersecurity could mean setting up an incident response program, a SOC or a SIEM, or a disaster plan. Or maybe hire a penetration tester, AI/ML expert, or cryptographer.
The possibilities are numerous, but even if you could hire all the people you could want, you wouldn’t be able to keep up with the vast scale of the cybersecurity threat problem. Phishing scams are on the rise. Smaller companies are being targeted just as much as larger companies because they are known to lack the resources; so, they’re easier to hack. Cybercriminals are sophisticated and they stay informed. They constantly adapt messages to more effectively scam victims. The FTC estimates $100 million dollars in coronavirus stimulus checks have already been lost to fraudulent cyber crimes. The constant threat of cyberattacks presents a huge problem for all industries and guarding against it effectively requires constant attention. That is why IronOrbit has its own division that handles nothing but security and regulatory compliance.
During these difficult times, companies need to ensure they have SOC processes in place, utilize virtual cybersecurity professionals, and incorporate automated security measures. Probably in that order. Whatever you do, as they say at the end of MIT’s Business Lab podcast, get outside help. You don’t want to go it alone. With IronOrbit, you don’t have to. Learn more about how we can protect your company. Check out our Security and Compliance section and then give us a call at (888) 753-5060.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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, 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.”
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?”