The Post-ApocOlympic IT scenario: scalability, mobility and security

The Post-ApocOlympic IT scenario: scalability, mobility and security

As organisations of all types and sizes prepare themselves for the Olympics as best as they can, there is still a lot of uncertainty with regards to not only what will happen during the summer event, but also what to expect from the aftermath.

Uncertain forecasts

The latest post-Jubilee figures, issued by Visit England, show that the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations have brought an estimated £700m boost to the UK economy; this amount being based on four million people who took overnight trips, spending an average of £175 each. With the Olympics expected to attract an even bigger crowd to London for up to two weeks or possibly even more, it is difficult to foresee what effects there will be on UK businesses, let alone how they will be affected afterwards.

The Bank of England believes that the struggling UK economy will receive a boost that could spell the end of the double dip recession, with an expected output of around 0.2% higher in the third quarter than it otherwise would have been. But others are not so optimistic. Citigroup research based on data from ten Olympics held between 1964 and 2008 shows that there is a tendency for growth to rise in the six months before the tournament, but this is then followed by six months of much weaker growth which can start even before the Games begin.

How are companies preparing?

With so much uncertainty, organisations aren’t really sure how to prepare for all eventualities. Their business might increase greatly during the Olympics, creating a need for more staff, a stronger IT infrastructure and greater IT support to deal with the growth in demand; but they also need a level of scalability that enables them to go back to their previous size afterwards, or to accommodate for any long-term changes if their business finds itself deeply changed. A flexible and scalable IT system and IT support service is vital to keep companies working in a cost-efficient way.

This need for scalability and flexibility has also pushed organisations to try new ways of working, such as mobile and home working, allowing individuals to work around the summer events’ issues and reducing the need to travel into potentially congested areas.

The post-Olympics scenario

After trying mobile and home working during the Olympics, forward-thinking UK businesses might decide they want to adopt this as part of their longer-term IT strategy, finding it a cheaper, more efficient solution that allows them to scale up and down more easily. They will embrace desktop virtualisation to allow employees to work from their own PCs and laptops, and design BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies to use tablets and smartphones for work purposes.

This might be the start of a revolution. With the upcoming Windows 8 being able to run on tablets, these will become more powerful and users will be able to do more with them, such as access their familiar Office applications, which at the moment is not always possible. These touchscreen devices could replace mice and desktop PCs, and as users move towards using a single device, it might well be that they will only be using tablets in a few years’ time.

However, right now the tablet doesn’t meet most people’s requirements as an everyday work device: its screen is too small, touch keypads are not as accurate as a standard keyboard and it’s not ideal to quickly switch between multiple applications. It will probably be a while before tablets replace desktop PCs, but they are already starting to replace laptops for things such as working on-the-go, sales and giving client presentations.

New issues

With this new way of working, hardware is not a problem anymore – employees can use their own PC, laptop or tablet, or the company might just set a budget and let the employee choose which device to purchase. The problem, in this scenario, is data.

The data saved, transmitted and processed on employees’ devices is part of the organisation’s Intellectual Property and therefore has great value. How do you make sure that it is secure, managed appropriately and stored in a safe place? Even if virtual desktops allow users to work from their home PCs, you cannot be sure that they don’t store data on their machine.  And when cloud services are used, where is the company’s data kept – is it stored in a data centre in another country, where different laws apply with regards to data security and access? People are using cloud because it is cheap and easy, but it is often not secure enough. You need to wrap something around it to make it more secure.

Companies need to adopt appropriate security measures, such as network access control, strong policies for document management, and use of robust encryption technologies, so that even if data is stolen or accessed by non-authorised people, it cannot be read.

A new, post-Olympics culture

Working from home PCs, tablets and smartphones is a big cultural shift for many, and has to be supported by other types of behaviour-related change. All the security tools and policies in the world are useless without the appropriate security training; human error is the first cause of data security breaches, and if people don’t understand why they have to implement a certain security measure that will add time to their work, they will circumvent it.

So, as organisations evolve and adapt to more flexible ways of working, they shouldn’t forget the data. Hardware can be replaced, but can they afford to lose the list of their clients to their competitors? Organisations must make users aware of the responsibility this new-found work freedom allows. They, and not just the IT department, are now custodians of the data and responsible for its security so you have an obligation to make them aware of this.  Data security should be included in everyone’s induction training and the promotion of good practice should be a continuous feature.

With the Olympics and technology innovations pushing companies towards more flexible ways of working, the revolution may be coming sooner than we think. But it is important to understand that everyone needs to be ready, not just the IT department, in order for it to take place without the company incurring a new risk that may outweigh all the benefits.

David Tuck, Principal Consultant 

This article can be found in the July/August edition of London Business Matters (page 40):

http://www.londonbusinessmatters.co.uk/archive/2012-07/index.html

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