How the COVID pandemic can help digital transformation
As the world continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic, we are all learning new lessons. Many people and organizations will suffer losses, some will come out winners. But in the end, everyone will change.
As the virus is gradually subdued, life will almost return to normal. Quarantines will be lifted and the economy will eventually rebound. But the pandemic will leave longer lasting effects, and those who will learn to adapt to these changes are guaranteed to be successful in the post-coronavirus era and be better prepared for other pandemics.
We have yet to understand the full impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, especially the longer-term changes it will bring to the economy. But what we know is that digital innovation will be a key component of organizations’ response to the immediate impact of the coronavirus lockdown, and those who implement successful strategies will also be the winners of the long haul.
But a successful digitization strategy will also require enterprises and organizations to adapt and protect themselves against the new cybersecurity threats that will stem from more of their assets and operations coming online.
Gauging the impact of the coronavirus lockdown
The coronavirus pandemic has affected all sectors, but the damages have not been equal across all industries.
Naturally, the travel and transportation industry has been hit the worst. Air travel was the main reason the virus spread from China to so many countries. Now, due to lockdowns, travel restrictions and the cancellation of many events, air travel has declined to an all-time low. Furloughs and layoffs have impacted the lives of millions of workers in airlines, and the employment future of a large portion of them hangs in the balance as they wait for air travel restrictions to be lifted. But even when the restrictions are lifted, travel will likely not return to its previous state as many will have grown a taste for the safer and less expensive alternatives to air flight, such as virtual reality experiences and remote conferences.
Brick-and-mortar retail has also been dealt a severe damage as stores remain closed, consumers remain in their homes and slowly transition to online shopping and delivery. Many people who had been adamant on buying from physical retail stores are now getting their first taste of online shopping. Amazon, the leading e-commerce platform, has seen a boom in its business during the pandemic, and it is scrambling to hire new workers to meet the rising demands of customers. Retailers who previously had a strong support for online shopping, like Walmart, have been able to adapt to the new shopping habits of their customers. Others are slowly but surely putting the infrastructure in place to support online shopping. The surge in online shopping is temporary, and when quarantines are lifted, people will return to stores. But some of the habits will stay and e-commerce traffic will plateau at a higher level than pre-coronavirus times.
The entertainment industry is also learning to adapt. Streaming companies like Netflix and HBO have seen a surge in their traffic as more people watch movies from home instead of going to cinemas. Concerts have been replaced with live streaming on social media. And even though sports matches have been cancelled, athletes and sports franchises have not remained idle and have found ways for digital innovation. An example is remote HORSE tournament in which NBA players remotely connected and played against each other. Again, like physical retail, the entertainment industry will one day return to its former glory, with jampacked sports stadiums and concert halls, but some of the innovations that are made during the pandemic lockdown will carve a niche for themselves.
The tech industry, which is at the heart of the digital revolution, has probably been the busiest sector in the past few months. With more and more employees being instructed to work from home, companies have turned to services and technologies that can continue to support their operations from scattered locations as opposed to requiring physical presence. Some areas that have huge growth include the following:
- Messaging and conferencing apps: Companies are replacing in-person meeting with Slack and Teams channels and Zoom conferences. These companies have seen unprecedented growth in their daily active user figures.
- Cloud computing: Many companies are replacing their unwieldy and inaccessible on-premise servers with cloud servers that can be accessed both from the organization’s premises as well as the remote workplaces of their employees.
- Virtual private networks (VPN): Many organizations are either launching corporate VPNs to allow their remote employees to access their applications and digital assets, or are scaling their VPN infrastructure to support the growing demand for remote access to their servers.
- Software as a Service (SaaS): Many companies are transitioning to cloud applications as a replacement for the software installed on their servers. This enables their employees to access these applications and collaborate from anywhere in the world. The growing demand for application suites such as Microsoft Office 365, Trello, and Asana are testament to this reality.
What are the lessons learned?
Like every other major upheaval, the coronavirus pandemic is testing industries’ power to adapt. As our analysis shows, organizations that had embraced digitization are coming out on top. And those who are quickly adopting digitization are likely to weather the storm. In contrast, those who are burying their heads in the sand and waiting for the storm to pass, hoping that things will return to the pre-coronavirus era, are in for a big disappointment.
We still don’t know how the COVID-19 pandemic will unfold. But the role of digitization is already clear. The right digitization strategy gives organizations flexibility and enables them to adapt to fast-evolving situations.
Organizations need to invest in digital technologies that allow them to continue seamless operations in different work environments (company headquarters vs remote) and different interfaces with customers (in-person/physical vs mobile/online).
But these changes will also entail implications and requirements that, if overlooked, can turn a successful strategy into a failure.
What are the security implications?
As organizations rush to digitize their operations and move more and more assets to the cloud, they must make sure that they have the right safeguards against security threats. Hackers—never a lot to let an opportunity pass by—are leveraging the fear, uncertainty and doubt surrounding the pandemic to increase their ill-gotten gains.
The past few months have seen an unprecedented surge in cyberattacks with COVID-19 themes. These attacks are targeted at remote workers and students, organizations whose operations have been disrupted, and sectors who are conducting critical functions (e.g. hospitals).
With people having less in-person communications, authentication and access control will have a pivotal role in the success or failure of digitization strategies. Organizations must invest in technologies that can make sure only authorized personnel have access to their growing inventory of online servers, documents, applications, workplaces, etc. Authentication solutions that are resilient to phishing, man-in-the-middle attacks, credential stuffing, and other attacks are better positioned to secure digital assets during the coronavirus pandemic and afterwards.
At the same time, organizations should not overlook the importance of convenience. Even before the pandemic, every person was commandeering dozens of online accounts. With remote work becoming more pervasive, that number is likely to grow several fold. The key to success is to adopt authentication technologies that can integrate across different applications and combine both security and ease of use.
Passwordless authentication will be one of the go-to solutions for companies as digitization picks up pace. By providing both robust security and ease-of-use, passwordless authentication will enable employees to securely manage many accounts without causing friction in the user experience.
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