In the form of a global pandemic, the world found itself faced with a crisis, unlike anything any of us have experienced in our lifetimes. And as countries around the globe looked to mitigate and contain the outbreak, the world was put on lockdown.
While confining people to their homes proved effective for slowing and containing the spread of the virus, it also came with the unwanted byproduct of hindering local and global economies with employees finding themselves unable to be physically present at work. This has caused a surge in organizations to find new ways to enable their employees to effectively function remotely, and not surprisingly, these businesses are looking to technology as their solution to enable access, communication, and collaboration — no matter the physical distance. This is promising to make “COVID-19 to be the most compelling subject to impact the technology sector by 2020”.
Although the internet and many of its ensuing technologies have laid the foundation for businesses to operate remotely, it still remains a challenging proposition be it culturally, technologically, or otherwise.
Cloud computing has been slowly alleviating many of these challenges, however, recent events have seemingly forced a hand in expediting the processes. After all, cloud computing stands to benefit from this abrupt and seemingly forced transition to a remote work paradigm at a global scale. In fact, research indicates that the cloud computing market is set to expand at ~20% CAGR between 2019–24 to $661B; a figure that will undoubtedly be much higher as a result of recent events.
A Unique Crisis of Business Continuity
Looking through antiquity, global pandemics of this nature aren’t a question of “if,” but rather, “when.” What makes this instance unique, however, is that given our place and time in human history, an epidemic of such nature has been able to transcend organizational boundaries. Businesses, schools, and governments — rarely, or perhaps never, has a crisis cast such a wide net and left all of humanity so humbled, exasperated, and in search of a solution.
Undoubtedly, the biggest barrier to business continuity in this new reality is physical distance. While the order of the hour seems to be “physical distancing,” it seems many are locked in an outdated paradigm that in order to be effective or rather effectively managed, people must work from traditional offices or business locations. In fact, the evolution of technology in recent years has made remote work more than possible but antiquated notions of “traditional work” persist, seemingly baked into our culture and management styles and slowing down what should be a natural progression of work.
IT seemed to escape this paradigm to some degree, however, even when remote and distributed work became more accepted in some industries, the overall proportion of employees remotely working remained virtually the same over nearly a twenty years period since. Nevertheless, a few of the faithful pushed towards remote and flexible work; with study after study showing not only its merit but its inevitability .
It wasn’t only cultural and structural issues but also real technical challenges that prevented organizations from devoting the required resources to enable a remote workforce. Cloud computing has emerged as a real enabler in the past few years by tearing many technology barriers down. The pandemic is now forcing the hands of most businesses to adapt both culturally and technologically. And technology vendors and IT service to providers to put together innovative solutions that painlessly solve business continuity issues.
The Rise of Cloud Computing
The trend of cloud computing has been steadily increasing over the years as reservations around the technology began to subside and its benefits became more apparent. Interestingly enough, among the many and heavily documented benefits of cloud computing, neither remote work nor business continuity are listed, although benefits highlighted ultimately provide both.
Among the ever-diminishing hurdles of cloud adoptions were trust and security issues, including data privacy, as well as a fear of losing control or vendor lock-in. In addition to these real concerns, geographic and regulatory hurdles posed challenges along with a lack of skill and knowhow for successful implementation which remains a big challenge for organizations of all sizes even today.
Over time, security and data privacy concerns proved to be unfounded with even large enterprises beginning to adopt, confident in their ability to keep their information safe. Regulatory and geographical constraints have also diminished with hyper-scale platforms like AWS, Azure and others as their data centers have mushroomed around the globe. And if vendor-lock in made some enterprises re-evaluate their adoption plans, multi-cloud options have given them a reason to move forward. Ultimately, the business and technology landscape in the past several years has made cloud computing a necessity rather than a desirable alternative.
Cloud Computing — Path to Business Continuity & Remote Work Nirvana
Technological challenges faced by companies in their journey to remote work and business continuity are usually dependent on their individual circumstances. To broadly discuss these hurdles, company size is a great starting off point and we will go further to discuss these unique challenges as they pertain to the SMB, Mid, and Enterprise market.
Business Continuity in SMB
Small and Medium-sized Businesses (SMB) are an important segment of the economy that generates about 50% of employment in the private sector. Sadly, it is also the most vulnerable sector of the economy in terms of the ability to weather the crisis as well as the proportion of vulnerable jobs. Business Continuity, in terms of remote and distributed work, is particularly challenging for SMBs as it is an entirely new experience for many of them. Some of the more common obstacles they face include:
- Lack of organized IT, i.e. SMBs are likely to have no formal IT departments or resources to support the workforce transition.
- Legacy IT infrastructure was not built to reliably provide remote access to an increasing number of users.
- Network access required for users to work effectively.
- Security (as VPN) to provide needed peace of mind.
- User devices required software applications and infrastructure to manage and support.
- Adequate communications and collaboration tools.
- User training and handholding while they get acquainted and acclimatized to a new reality of work.
- A multi-vendor environment.
These are significant hurdles to climb, especially for SMBs. Given the urgency that recent events have had on this group, many have been turning to readily available communication and collaboration tools, and VPN licenses to ensure work, but these are short term solutions. Strategy, planning, and expertise are required to create a reliable, cloud-based setup that benefits the business in the long term by enabling not only remote work but creating agility and flexibility within the business; positioning it for innovation and growth.
The two most significant concerns for SMBs regarding digital and technological initiatives are cost, and know-how, which is no surprise, as technology selection, implementation, and management are daunting tasks for even large enterprises. The tech landscape is so dynamic, so complex, and changes so rapidly that keeping up with all that is required for a successful IT presence is simply unfeasible for smaller businesses.
But this shouldn’t be a point of discouragement for the SMB market. On the contrary, shifting in this direction is no longer a prudent or proactive choice but rather a necessity of our new reality. And it is at this moment that small businesses should act and set the foundation for the future of their business. Emerging tech like AI and Machine Learning will be pivotal in the future, and establishing a foundation in the cloud now, will position these businesses to capitalize on it.
Although implementation can come with its challenges, cloud computing itself isn’t without its ups and downs. SMB cloud computing adoption has revolved mainly around utilizing cloud-based applications in various business activities, for instance, deploying finance and accounting solutions. A large portion of these applications are still on-premise and dependent on IT infrastructure managed by the company and unsuitable for supporting workforce mobility. SMBs are also likely to have a multi-vendor environment, further complicating the situation, with ~40% reporting having ten vendors.
Despite these challenges, most report that it is the upfront cost of migration that is the biggest hurdle of cloud adoption for SMB. However, the global pandemic has made this and many other objections and obstacles seem quite small and manageable when compared with the alternatives.
Business Continuity in Mid-Market
Unlike SMBs, businesses in the mid-market typically have remote work capabilities and IT business continuity plans. However, unlike an enterprise, they usually lack IT resources, knowledge, and financial resources. The IT maturity in the mid-market is historically low, with a typical 15–20 hours of unplanned downtime each year. The truth about this segment is they lack the resilience and organizational capabilities required to withstand disruption at such a scale that many have had to. There are three key challenges that mid-market businesses are likely to face in terms of business continuity:
- Infrastructure to enable total worker mobility.
- Management of IT infrastructure given on-prem IT.
- Data and application protection from disasters.
Employing a robust IT infrastructure means more IT resources, more expenditure, complex planning and management. The alternative is cloud adoption across the board to cover not only workforce mobility but other aspects of business continuity.
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Business Continuity in Enterprises
A typical enterprise already supports workforce mobility and is largely prepared for a crisis in terms of business continuity. However, there are areas where enterprises are likely to struggle or develop cracks in their ability to fully support a remote workforce. Tools to effectively communicate, collaborate, along with workforce literacy and the capability to train them in effectively using these tools might not be fully ready.
The primary value proposition for enterprises to adopt the cloud is cost savings and might not be crisis management. However, the adoption of cloud computing can ultimately strengthen not only the ability to address the crisis but bring the enterprise to a higher level of resilience, regardless of what tomorrow brings.
Cloud Computing & Permanence of Remote Work — A Trend in the Making?
Although the rush to adopt remote work technologies and tools has risen from an unprecedented crisis, it is not just conceivable, but likely, that the trend of remote work and working from home will continue and find wider acceptance.
Given that the world was seemingly forced into an unexpected experiment in remote working, we can take this as an opportunity to make some foundational changes and prepare for what lays ahead. Cost, agility, flexibility, and resilience moving forward are perhaps some of the greatest catalysts that will hasten a much needed cultural shift.
Digital has and continues to become an indispensable part of modern business. HR, finance, marketing, and operations are more dependent on digital than ever before. The rise of the cloud has taken the proliferation of technology to a whole new level, and the global pandemic has further compounded this.
As a result, I think it is safe to say that organizations and businesses of all sizes are at crossroads. Many were already on their way to cloud computing in varying degrees. However, this forced adoption has not only sped up the process but has seemingly set the foundation moving forward. It isn’t easy to imagine going back to the way things used to be, and with cloud computing where it is today, we don’t have to. Instead, we should focus on what we can build from here, not how we can rebuild what we had.