COVID pandemic has not only drastically impacted businesses across the globe but also the way we live and work. One of the significant impacts is the large scale shift from in-person situations to virtual settings, be it offices, events and meetings. To ensure business continuity in these tough times, companies are adapting to work from home situations, but that comes with its own set of challenges — cybersecurity being a major hurdle.
As companies are taking urgent steps to adapt and drive a smooth transition amid significant disruptions, it calls for the need to have the right policies and technologies to ensure this transition. It is also important to ensure that the companies do not face the wraths of cyberattacks which has become a big challenge for enterprises to secure their data.
Analytics India Magazine got in touch with Kumara Raghavan to get an insight into how companies can ensure business continuity and keep themselves immune from cyberattacks. Raghavan is the Director- Software Defined Infrastructure, High-Performance Computing & AI, Lenovo Data Center Group, Asia Pacific region.
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Analytics India Magazine: What kind of technology can be adopted to secure work from home?
Kumara Raghavan: As businesses continue to adapt to the new ‘Smart Normal’, they must invest in the right IT infrastructure to enable employees to work from home securely. With millions of people logging online to work, study and entertain themselves every day, more touchpoints create loopholes for hackers.
Many enterprises have turned to Virtual Private Networks (VPN) that provide a secure tunnel for employees to access data. However, VPN has proven to be a short-term fix for a long-term problem. It is best explained as a highway that takes employees from home to office. With a more than the usual number of employees on this highway, congestion is bound to happen, leading to lower productivity and higher vulnerabilities to cyberattacks.
Technologies like Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) enable enterprises to clone a desktop, host it on a central server through which only authorised employees can access this data from any device, anywhere. Because data and applications do not have to reside on the employee’s device, it gives better control, improves uptime and provides better data availability. This enhanced flexibility and reliability also improve employee productivity. VDI has multiple benefits and has proven to be the right investment for enterprises, even for those with lean or no IT departments, enabling them to manage workloads while providing seamless and secure remote working capabilities.
AIM: How can analytics companies focus on business continuity and work on reducing the negative impact due to COVID in the long run?
KR: We believe that we are at a turning point, on our way to recovery and growth. Companies in analytics and AI, like any other industry, must have a good continuity plan with strategies to manage three key driving factors for any business – people, technology and cashflow.
People – For any business, people should be the top priority. The right policies must be put in place to ensure a secure and seamless remote working environment for them.
Technology – To maintain business continuity, businesses must identify and adopt solutions that benefit them with a long-term perspective. While enabling employees to connect seamlessly is important, securing data is equally important. Expanding bandwidth, compute capacity, and storage is a key component for the analytics industry.
Cashflow – Investing in OpEx by opting for consumption-based models allows businesses to scale up and down, depending on the market. These ‘pay as you grow’ models are incredibly beneficial for SMEs to manage their cash flow aspects.
We, at Lenovo DCG, strive to bring smarter technologies to all with a focus on better innovation and ideas to tackle today’s unprecedented challenges.
AIM: What are some of the analytics and AI trends that we are likely to see as a part of the recovery phase?
KR: As we envisage the recovery phase, we need to embrace virtual operations and everything else that comes with living in the new ‘Smart Normal’. Even the most traditionally conservative sectors are seeing greater demand for IT services and devices, with uptake in devices ranging from phones and notebooks to edge devices and data centre solutions, that is server sourced to run Software Defined Infrastructure (SDI) and Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI).
We have seen growing adoption of AI, IoT and Edge Computing in the past. As we inch closer to a post-COVID world, we expect businesses will be turning to these technologies and looking to leverage them in the most efficient ways to support business growth.
Undoubtedly, the pandemic is playing a huge role in giving impetus to embracing digital transformation – we’ve essentially seen two years’ worth of digital transformation take place in the last few months. Be it in robotics, remote medicine, remote assistants in the hospitality industry, safer supply chains and AI – the huge focus is being placed on automation as part of recovery plans to minimise disruption in the event of another force majeure. With social distancing and sanitation measures, we’ll see a faster pickup of automation technologies – whether in the form of ordering kiosks in restaurants, checkout-free shopping or robot sanitation machines.
Given the uncertainties of the future, the predictive power of analytics and AI will play a huge role in helping businesses navigate and prepare for what’s to come next.
AIM: How is Lenovo DCG dealing with the challenges that COVID has posed?
KR: Our priorities remain the welfare and health of our employees all over the world, continuity of manufacturing and rebuilding capacity, and assisting those working to contain the outbreak in communities across the globe. We are leveraging the full strength of our global manufacturing and distribution networks to minimise any potential impact on customers.
We’ve met strong customer demand from banks, governments, healthcare institutions and enterprises for Business Continuity and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solutions to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on employee productivity and data security. Our software-defined infrastructure (SDI) offerings coupled with the consumption-based model, provides a flexible approach to help businesses manage their cash flow and focus on delivering their IT rather than managing it.
AIM: How has the analytics industry been impacted with the work from home scenario due to COVID?
KR: Analytics has always been a progressive field and with more businesses realising the power of advanced analytics and AI, we are experiencing a revolution in this segment. Sectors like retail, BFSI and healthcare that have experienced the next level of transformation due to pandemic, are seeing wider adoption and creating more opportunities for AI & analytics to understand increased consumer demands and facilitate faster decision making and response time to market.
Apart from accelerating adoption of AI and analytics, the pandemic has raised challenges for the industry itself. The industry is left grappling with the need to rethink modelling approaches to reflect uncertainties and build novel data pipelines to account for new data.
But progress is being made as working is no longer a physical requirement, allowing businesses to hire and source IT talent from anywhere. Moreover, we are seeing a gradual increase in the educational opportunities in AI as people are becoming eager to upskill to address the AI and data revolution.
AIM: What according to you will be the new normal for the analytics and AI industry in the coming future?
KR: Data centres have emerged as an integral player in supporting IT today and technologies like analytics play a crucial role in helping businesses move beyond a ‘new normal’, and transition into a ‘Smart Normal’. In response to the pandemic, businesses mobilised analytics resources to inform and guide near-term decisions, by building new data streams and developing longer-term views of data to understand the future of their business performance, customers, and suppliers.
As we look ahead to recovery, we see a need for organisations to future-proof operations to prevent any disruptions when the next crisis hits. As such, companies across the board are starting to look to AI to see what they can automate.
Adoption of advanced analytics and AI solutions has augmented faster decision-making, enabling business leaders to act quickly. AI-driven predictive and analytics tools will bring higher value especially to medical researchers working on vaccines as scientists need massive datasets to pinpoint potentially genetic differences. Verticals like education, retail and even hospitality are looking at AI to automate and simplify their processes to accelerate normalcy and cope with a no-contact regime of the future.
AIM: What would be your advice to analytics start-ups grappling with the challenges due to COVID?
KR: My advice to startups would be to take a moment and analyse their business needs. It is a turning point where IT decisions today will either make or break a business. While bigger IT companies and SMEs faced the brunt of the pandemic, startups possess the agility to pivot back and redefine their model.
For startups, having the right team and partnering with the right IT service providers is important. This not only allows them the flexibility to scale as their workloads grow but also gives them the ease to pay for what they use. The nature of how you look at business continuity has now changed for the short term and most certainly for the long term.
Security, capacity and cost are the key variables and require a strategic plan, regardless of the size of the business.