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What are IT pros concerned about in the new normal? Security and flexibility

There are a number of paramount concerns afoot among IT professionals. Learn some of the priorities from industry insiders and experts.

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As a system administrator, I’m fortunate to have gained more than 25 years of experience in the industry yet also be challenged to stay relevant to make it at least 15 or 20 more years of my career. 

My concerns depend on keeping up with and building skill sets based on current technological trends, actively networking with peers and colleagues, focusing on meaningful work to add value to my organization, and achieving successful endeavors to be an asset to my employer. This entails a focus on addressing and fulfilling the needs of IT customers to meet those goals, especially during this current coronavirus pandemic, when cost-cutting is starting to loom on the horizon.

SEE: The new normal: What work will look like post-pandemic (TechRepublic Premium)

Colin Metcalfe, security operations center (SOC) operations manager for cybersecurity solutions provider Cygilant, told me: “IT customers are concerned about continuity. As the saying goes, ‘everything changes but everything stays the same.’ Yes, the world has changed in every facet from what we knew, but continuity is a key aspect to IT and servicing customers.

“Customers need to know and feel confident that the service they had before the crisis is still in place and is just as, if not more, effective than it was before.

“Some aspects of their service and delivering it will have changed. The work-from-home model is now the norm, along with the additional IT overhead that is involved, in every aspect. It also envelopes support, training, and–in the case of customers–additional monitoring and heightened vigilance as malicious actors seek to take advantages which were not there before.

“The most important message to project to customers is: “‘We are here to help, we are working with you through this time, we have you covered’.”

I explored the topic of IT pro concerns further with David Politis, CEO of SaaSOps provider Bettercloud, and Nicholas Brown, CRO at Hitachi ID, an identity and access management vendor.

Scott Matteson: These are interesting times with so many companies having their workforces work from home. How is that impacting IT?

David Politis: We’re definitely living in a new world. To sum it up, the future of work is finally here for everyone. Every company in the world has been forced to change how they work, adopt a new set of applications, and acknowledge the importance of their IT teams. And we’re not going to look back.

But to truly understand what our peers in IT were going through at the onset of the crisis, we conducted a survey, and the results were extremely interesting. Based on the responses, 49 percent of the IT pros we surveyed said they have seen up to a 25%increase in IT tickets, and 22%have seen up to a 50%increase. Many common IT issues came up like hardware troubleshooting, internet connectivity, password resets, video conferencing issues, etc. 

SEE: Working from home: What the new normal looks like, plus remote management tips (TechRepublic)

What’s also interesting is, despite this workload increase, the majority (77%) feel they have been very effective at supporting employees working from home. This is great to hear, and not entirely surprising, as these companies rely on SaaS to run their businesses. On the flip side, laggards running legacy infrastructures have seen productivity go to zero. This is definitely a tipping point for the adoption of SaaS. Our survey also reinforces this sentiment, as 47 percent of respondents said they will increase the use of SaaS as a result of the pandemic. 

We also recently hosted a live chat with a panel of IT leaders—including two from our own team—and all of them said that replicating in-person interactions is critical during this time. As a result, their organizations have increased the frequency of communication to connect with co-workers. They also agreed that more information is better. Team meetings are happening more often, CEOs are sending email updates every day. Companies are also using tech tools like Slack and Zoom for more informal “water cooler” type gatherings to maintain connections and collaboration.

Nicholas Brown: IT teams at every company we work with have had to implement new processes to support the entire employee base, leveraging and adjusting methods, tools and processes to enable business continuity with nearly 100% work-from-home workforce. Work from home is not a new concept, but supporting traditional remote laptop users is not the same challenge as supporting desktop users that may not be using corporate-issued devices and computers. Companies were forced to immediately implement new processes for the entire employee base, leveraging methods that were effective for laptop users who were already effective remote users. Data center operations around the maintenance and monitoring of critical systems quickly transformed into a combination of key essential staff to enter the data center and remote users with privileged credentials that could perform functions remotely.

Scott Matteson: What are IT pros looking at as their biggest challenges? 

David Politis: I mentioned the main ones above, but to boil it down: IT plates are too full, and this current crisis has certainly shed more light on the problem.

When the outbreak started to unfold, we connected with all customers and created additional channels for our community to discuss the challenges of enabling remote work. Our Expert Advisory Group was also at the ready to help customers in need of guidance. 

SEE: Video teleconferencing do’s and don’ts (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

And, luckily, our platform is built to support remote work. Many of the automation features like onboarding and offboarding employees, building basic workflows, and setting up activity-based alerts to keep your files and data, are saving customers a great deal of time. Customers are also facilitating communication among employees by adding users to new groups across G-Suite, Microsoft 365, Slack, Dropbox, Box, and more—all at once. 

Employees are also likely relying even more heavily on file sharing and collaboration features. That’s the beauty of SaaS applications, but if used incorrectly—intentionally or unintentionally—it can bring about a host of security challenges. With an organization’s most sensitive information in these files, it’s prudent for IT to make sure users understand how they’re sharing files that contain common sensitive data, such as financial information or proprietary intellectual property.

Nicholas Brown: The new “everyone”-works-from-home model is adding complexity at scale. The challenges for IT professionals are how to provide access to applications, systems, and networks for all users who are now forced to work from home and do this while ensuring the highest levels of security. IT can no longer rely on employees being able to walk into the office and jump on the corporate network to perform standard IT operations and now have to work with private Wi-Fi, internet-based access, use of personal computers and devices. Some lessons from laptop and mobile devices can be leveraged in this new model, but the landscape has changed.

The new work-from-home model adds complexity to the existing infrastructure, and it will be a challenge to embrace and protect this complexity. Private Wi-Fi, internet access, and in some cases, the use of personal computers, will increase both complexity and vulnerability. There are certainly lessons learned from laptop users and mobile phones that can be applied to these challenges.

Scott Matteson: Is security a top concern?

David Politis: Absolutely. In the same survey I mentioned above, 77 percent of the IT professionals we surveyed expressed concern regarding security threats as a result of having a mostly-remote or all-remote workforce. Nearly half of respondents are concerned with external threats like phishing attacks.

SEE: VPN: Picking a provider and troubleshooting tips (free PDF) (TechRepublic) 

Yet, more than two-thirds do not have a Zero Trust framework in place, and for those who don’t have one, more than half are not considering one at this time. This was shocking because we’ve been hearing the opposite from the community. Many SaaSOps pros would agree that Zero Trust is the future, especially with the prospect of an all-remote workforce looming. VPNs simply won’t cut it in this scenario. 

Nicholas Brown: Security is a critical concern. In many cases, remote workers required use of personal computer equipment to access the company’s network adding potential security risks to the company. Remote-privileged access of critical systems required new technologies to ensure protected passwords with time-based controls to prevent unfettered access to key assets.

Scott Matteson: Was IT prepared for this? And, more importantly, would they be prepared to support a longer-term work-from-home policy?

David Politis: Many of our customers told us that prior to the current crisis, they had already provided their teams with tools like a keyboard, mouse, power supply ,and monitor for those who wanted a work-from-home option either full-time or part-time. 

As far as whether or not IT is prepared to support a longer-term work-from-home policy, it’s definitely been an inflection point in the industry. During the live chat I mentioned earlier, several of the IT leaders who joined us noted the cost savings due to eliminating expenses such as food, travel, and employee events, which could be redirected to employee engagement or other resources. One leader predicted that this may start a whole wave of working from home as people adopt these tools and become more comfortable. That may bring its own problems and benefits, however.

Nicholas Brown: While IT had some of the processes in place, this kind of work transformation at this scale was unprecedented. Those companies that had strong remote work processes and policies in place had a smoother transition but work from home continues to evolve over time. Many companies are planning for an extended work-from-home policy, particularly in high technology, work from home is becoming the norm, not the exception.

Scott Matteson: Does this create opportunities for IT?

David Politis: No question. This is now truly the golden age of IT. Companies today need IT more than ever, to lead digital strategy and to protect their data from afar. This is true now during the crisis, and will continue post-COVID-19. CEOs who haven’t given their IT teams a seat at the table will now need to.

I feel strongly that IT is an important enabler at the center of this current situation, and IT teams will come out the other side stronger and with more budget. Also, as SaaSOps grows as a movement, the opportunities will become greater.

Nicholas Brown: The IT landscape is no longer separated by concrete and digital walls. The new landscape incorporates personal Wi-Fi and internet access into the overall mix. Cloud solutions will become increasingly important due to the flexibility of access and deployment. IT projects will evolve and expand to address these changing requirements.

Scott Matteson: What do you recommend IT pros do now to help further their careers?

David Politis: Join us on the SaaSOps journey. Sign up for BetterIT, our Slack community, and connect with thousands of modern IT professionals. In the #job-openings channel, you can post and browse job openings. I also recommend checking out the #remote-it channel, where you’ll find discussions on how IT is adapting to the new normal. 
Also, to learn more about SaaSOps, request a copy of my latest book The Leader’s Guide to SaaSOps: How to Secure Your SaaS Applications. It’s a collection of tactics and best practices for anyone looking to secure their SaaS environment, while also enabling productivity. It has insights from conversations with hundreds of IT pros. 

Nicholas Brown: IT professionals should familiarize themselves with key security concepts and the company’s current security policies. Security will be an essential element to protect the company’s interests. As the IT landscape continues to evolve into a hybrid strategy of on-premise and cloud solutions, a comprehensive system of identity management and access controls for these systems will be required.

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