[Column] Kabelo Makwane: Disaster recovery through cloud computing

During the last year alone, we have seen a number of organisations become the latest victims of targeted cyber-attacks and large-scale data breaches, ultimately bringing business to their knees.

Even with the latest and top of the market cyber security defences in place, there is no guarantee that your business is safe. And if the statistics are anything to go by, Check Point Research saw a 50% increase in the daily average of ransomware attacks, compared to the first half of 2020. The question is not ‘if’ your business is next, but ‘when’.

Information is the lifeblood of any organisation and for optimum safety should be secured in the cloud enabling it to be shared and acted upon at a moment’s notice. However, the loss of business data can result in irreversible damage to your business, including the loss of productivity, revenue, reputation, and impact on clients.

For retailers, however, disaster planning comes with additional urgency, requiring businesses to safeguard not only their employees, but customers too at a time when online shopping is expected to peak.

Disaster recovery

Essentially, a disaster recovery plan enables an organisation to futureproof its IT infrastructure against the odds. For retailers implementing the right technology and having a disaster recovery plan in place will minimise the impact of the worst-case scenario allowing your business to respond instantly to the issue mitigating potential negative brand perception.

Security breaches can be the result of intentional actions or accidental ones. While hackers and cyber criminals are motivated by various factors, typically motivations behind a security breach include criminals wanting to gain access to secure information (resulting in a data breach), utilising computing resources for their own purposes (common in crypto-jacking attacks) or crashing the network itself for personal or political reasons.

Cyber security considerations for business continuity are still not a priority agenda across the corporate South African landscape, particularly for smaller businesses trying to manage the crippling effect of Covid-19. But as the threat level escalates, those organisations without security in place need to reconsider their priorities. There are steps that can be taken to prepare and avoid becoming a target. Your business is critical to you, so why would you not secure it to the best of your ability?

With that said, while all businesses should have business continuity plans in place to avoid risks and minimise disaster, retailers operate in a particularly competitive environment and with most consumers going online to avoid in store contact, there is a higher risk. The cloud is an extremely effective place to store all business data in case of disasters and ensure your business remains unaffected in the worst-case scenario.

Cloud hosting with Vodacom Business

A Future-Ready business has information on-demand, at its fingertips and keeps it secure and protected from virtual and physical threats. Collaboration is easier, decisions are faster, and productivity is increased.

Cloud computing is the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data. A cloud service is characterised by scalability, managed computer power, storage, platforms and services that are delivered on-demand; allowing customers to provision computing capabilities such as server time and network storage. Cloud computing can be implemented as a private cloud, community cloud, public cloud or hybrid cloud.

Working with a myriad of clients from large scale businesses to SMEs, Vodacom Business adopts a practical approach to cloud computing, understanding that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution as every business is different. This process can be daunting but will no doubt transform and protect your business.

The risk from IT security breaches is a growing threat with criminals interested in gaining malicious access to your applications and data. At the same time, the ever-increasing number of devices and networks which need protection is growing rapidly and exponentially.

Technology will take your business to the next level and prepare it for the worst-case scenario. As we bid goodbye to a hard year, let the cyber security lessons learned in 2020, future-proof your business in 2021.

Kabelo Makwane is the Managing Executive for Cloud, Hosting & Security at Vodacom Business

[Column] Vukani Mngxati: Enabling remote workers at scale during Covid-19

COVID-19 has turned into a global crisis, evolving at unprecedented speed and scale. Experts don’t know how long it will take to contain the virus so businesses are challenged with not only preparing for the short-term, but also developing new capabilities and ways of working that will seamlessly enable longer-term changes to how they operate.

The most immediate priority should be to protect the health and safety of people. That requires leaders to make rapid, highly-informed decisions, and take actions to protect and support their people while also ensuring that critical business operations continue.

The first step is enabling remote workers at scale. Accenture’s Elastic Digital Workplace roadmap outlines six dimensions which have proven effective in quickly transitioning to a remote workplace environment.

Culture and adoption

For many companies, the shift to remote working can take time to adopt. Tools and coaching are needed to help leaders create the right environment to test and learn, and help people rapidly adopt new ways of working. There are three main aspects:

Radical transparency: embrace a truly human approach: Prepare leaders to be empathetic and available to their teams. Accelerate adoption of collaboration tools by embracing a change champion network to demonstrate and promote behaviours such as document collaboration and using video in virtual meetings.

 Cloud first: Shift away from working on local versions of data and documents by adopting cloud-based applications and storage, which can support everything from document creation and application development, to task management processes and more.

 Optimize for remote working right now: Provide best practices to improve the employee experience, from creating an effective workspace at home, to sharing recommended local network settings. One example is turning off video to improve audio and collaboration during peak network loads.

Elastic collaboration

Elastic collaboration requires a rapid, and in some cases, exponential expansion of your current collaboration capabilities. Case and point: As the largest user of Microsoft Teams in the world, Accenture has 448,000 people communicating and collaborating on the platform.

With the vast majority of our people working remotely due to the pandemic, our usage of Microsoft Teams audio conferencing has more than doubled, from an average of 350 million minutes per month, to 760 million minutes per month; and our use of video conferencing has increased six-fold, from 14 million minutes per month to 84 million minutes per month.

With more employees working remotely, collaboration tools must be able to immediately handle an increase in volume and load while also improving usability and productivity. Actions to consider include:

Adopt and measure collaboration: Expand the existing footprint of collaboration and communication capabilities to employees who need them. Launch an employee education campaign, complete with user stories and relevant examples to encourage adoption.

Cross business enablement: Identify key business contacts and relationships across your ecosystem. Assess current virtual meeting capabilities and deploy a pilot of video and messaging bridging services for seamless interaction with partners, suppliers, and customers.

As a resource for other organisations, Accenture recently worked with Microsoft to launch a Microsoft Teams Rapid Resource Center that provides useful how-to instructions, best practices and additional resources at no cost to help quickly put Teams to work.

Virtual work environment

Virtual work environments provide employees with key resources they need to be productive, such as a secure laptop, and provide seamless access to corporate applications and data. Key aspects that should be addressed include:

Device enablement and mobility: Prioritize enabling workers who have critical roles in driving the business by ensuring they have the tools and access they need. Reclaim devices from users with more than one device and use contractor devices or explore creative sourcing options. Accelerate a “bring your own device” or mobility strategy for remote workers, and provide protections and management solutions.

 Virtual desktops: Implement virtual desktop solutions such as Microsoft, Citrix, VMware or Amazon which offer virtualised workspaces that can extend across boundaries while allowing secure access to remote applications and data for employees who do not have access to secure mobile devices.

Large scale virtual sessions: Enable interactive broadcast and web conference platforms to support the shift from physical to virtual workshops and conferences. Identify and train high touch session facilitators and support to attain the best user experience possible.

Seamless networking

Working productively from home or other remote locations requires seamless, secure, and reliable network connectivity to corporate networks, cloud assets, and to strategic partners. Consider the implementation of the following:

Virtual Private Network (VPN) capacity: Rapidly compliment your traditional VPN technology with new cloud remote access solutions that will improve remote worker experience, performance, and security while alleviating capacity risks on your legacy VPN solution. At the same time, confirm your capacity on traditional remote access technologies.

Remote and home networking: Provide clear and prescriptive guidance to employees about broadband connectivity options and packages in their home locations. Give advice on how to configure the solutions to prioritise voice, video, and collaboration traffic, and help employees troubleshoot issues.

Partner connectivity: Establish a SWAT team to quickly provide, or to expand, business-to business connectivity solutions to strategic partners.

Distributed continuity

The most important thing to get right during the COVID-19 outbreak is the protection of customers, employees, and partners. This requires clearly monitoring and assessing a quickly evolving environment, making rapid business decisions, and communicating clearly and prescriptively to your people on how to navigate the situation.

Monitor and assess: Continuously analyse intelligence from leading health institutions, activate crisis management processes and institute a task force as necessary.

Business planning: Incorporate pandemic planning into your business continuity plans. Run full scale human and department-based continuity tests.

Adaptive security

While moving quickly to enable remote workers to respond to COVID-19 is very important, you cannot do so in a way that puts your business at risk of a security breach. This means rapidly addressing your security protocols and solutions to enable the expansion of remote connectivity, including:

Zero Trust network access: Rapidly deploy a Zero Trust model with built-in technologies to enable secure application access without relying on traditional VPN solutions.

Endpoint managed protection, detection and response: The expanded use of a multitude of devices in potentially less secure locations require additional protection. Build analytics and automation into endpoint management detection and response programs to reduce the amount of human intervention required.

While COVID-19 is serving as the catalyst for an immediate implementation of an elastic digital workplace, the crisis will fundamentally alter how we work and engage. A comprehensive implementation plan will enable companies to quickly scale and dynamically adapt to changing business needs based on global and local conditions.

Vukani Mngxati is the CEO for Accenture in Africa