While businesses are feeling the pinch and the Government sets out plans to revive the UK economy, there is one area of spending that cannot be shelved. It is predicted IT expenditure will rise. NS Tech and GlobalData report that: “Very few businesses are reducing their IT spending and around 50% of businesses have said they have increased their IT budgets in response to COVID-19.”
So, where is that budget being spent? There are four main cost centres: automation, home working, cyber security and IT management.
Anyone trying to call a utility or travel company in the last four months will know that many have simply asked us to not call unless it is urgent, or you are vulnerable person or a key worker. Web chat facilities have been switched off too as these businesses have struggled to cope with the avalanche of enquiries. Customer service teams are looking to interactive voice response (IVR) platforms and increased use of chatbots – where answers are scripted to reply to common questions – to help them cope.
Fujitsu, Hitachi, Toshiba and Sony are all making plans to reduce office space and to enable more employees to work from home. Most recently, Fujitsu has pledged to cut its office space in half within three years and make provisions for its 80,000 employees to work remotely instead. These are Japanese business giants that understand the technology and are embracing it for their own benefit. This should tip the wink to other businesses that this is the way forward.
UK businesses may have come up with short-term solutions to cope with lockdown, but now need a more formal plan to integrate their communications tools. Modern phone systems that integrate with unified communications tools and can be used with office handsets, mobiles, laptops and PCs give businesses the flexibility they need. Staff can view colleagues’ presence, and therefore availability, and choose how to contact them via instant messaging, email, voice or audio call. They can also set up and initiate group chats and meetings with a few clicks.
Crucially though, these solutions are not just for internal communication. They can be used to answer and transfer incoming calls and make outgoing calls just as staff would in the office. These flexible solutions need to replace traditional phone systems to accommodate homeworking or a blend of office and home working...but they need to make sure they are secure (see below).
Home workers also need access to all the IT systems and data they are used to when they are in the office. Virtual private networks (VPNs) linking to servers have been key, but the connectivity may not have been robust enough to support multiple logins at the same time. Increased bandwidth, data centre hosting or cloud solutions should be considered if home working is to become a long-term strategy for your business.
Businesses have dealt with a greater cyber risk during lockdown with hackers targeting the tools used by home workers, including bogus requests to reset VPN accounts, fake sign-in pages for video conferencing accounts or fraudulent incoming chat requests from colleagues on corporate messaging systems.
Many home workers have been using their own devices and may have slipped under the radar in terms of security. While cloud security options, such as Cisco Umbrella, and VPN multi-factor authentication are available, these also need to be formulised at corporate level to prevent any costly mishaps. Paying a ransomware demand would not be an affordable option for many businesses right now. According to GlobalData, businesses are already heeding the risk as they predict companies worldwide are expected to spend $115bn on security in 2020.
With all the above going on, life is challenging for IT managers. We are lucky at swcomms, our IT staff have been very supportive in setting us up for home working and ensuring our needs have been met, but then we do sell the solutions and do own a private data centre!
The switch from office-based working to home or a hybrid model poses a challenge for central control. IT still need to see what we are all doing to protect businesses from cyber threats and data loss. They cannot help a home worker who is using their local computer to store all their documents. IT managers need to be able to monitor and manage people, networks and systems from anywhere.
As we have mentioned before in our blog section, COVID-19 is forcing businesses to address IT projects that may have been planned for a years’ time. Digitalisation, automation and cloud adoption are needed right now to ensure businesses survive.
We can help you with all the above, so please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of further assistance.