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Your Questions Answered – IT Strategy for 2021

IT directors and business owners have to ask themselves if they have the best possible IT strategy in place for 2021. Of course, each strategy needs to be tailored to an organisation’s individual needs, but in this post, we will look at how the right decisions can be made to ensure your IT strategy optimises efficiency and security.

The World is Changing…  

Spotify has recently joined the growing list of tech companies that have decided to keep allowing employees to work from home even after Covid-19.  As we’ve discussed before, many people prefer working from home, and would rather have flexibility on whether they can work remotely or in an office.  

In a survey carried out by Claromentis, it was found that 73% of UK workers want to split their time working between the home and office after the pandemic. Why not? For many, the current situation allows for a better work-life balance.  

Across many sectors, remote working is here to stay, and most companies won’t be going back to the old ‘normal.’ The ‘new normal’ is a changed landscape where employees are no longer consistently accessing data or applications from a secure office environment.  

In fact, the new normal is one of increased demand, increased cyber-security risks, increased number of endpoints, cloud computing usage, remote workforces, mass change in service delivery…it’s a long list.  

With this shift in mind, IT directors and business owners have to ask themselves if they have the best possible IT strategy for 2021. Of course, each strategy needs to be tailored to an organisation’s individual needs, but in this post, we will look at how the right decisions can be made to ensure your IT strategy optimises efficiency and security.  

Transforming Mindsets. 

But in a way, wasn’t this transition towards digitalisation, cloud computing, and remote working happening anyway? Has Covid-19 simply been a catalyst in shunting this new landscape forward?  

Before considering IT strategies for 2021, it is essential for a change in mindset to occur. Digitalisation and remote work aren’t temporary.  

Perhaps in the past, or even now, IT directors may have thought of users operating outside the safety of an enterprise network as ‘rogues.’ Covid-19 increased the number of rogue users, so temporary solutions were swiftly put in place to temporarily deal with abnormalities until normality resumed. 

But with traditional normality now being questioned, organisations need to move away from the idea of a classic, corporate network. ‘Rogue’ users and their home offices need to be synonymous with what is considered to be the enterprise network.  

Transform your mindset and consider what will become the new working digital landscape for your organisation before strategic decisions are made. Some of the temporary solutions put in place must become permanent solutions, and both the office and home environment need to be protected and optimised, in order for an organisation to be fully secure and productive.  

Once you have considered how you connect all your remote workers and scale the solution so resource can be accessed by all users who require it, thoughts then turn to the effort & cost involved in maintaining all those new systems and configurations, and how they can be streamlined. 

Conflicting Strategic Points of View.  

It can be difficult to understand the best way to adapt to what is happening right now. Many IT teams may conflict over what the best IT strategy for 2021 is.  

The fact is, there is no right or wrong answer. The extent of distributed working is felt to a different degree depending on each sector and individual organisation. For example, one organisation may decide to do a 50/50 split between office and remote working, whereas another may decide to go completely remote. Again, there isn’t a one size fits all IT strategy that will work for everyone.  

As an IT director, ask yourself what you need to do in your unique situation to provide safety and productivity to your organisation – what strategy works for you. For example, if the plan of action is to permanently have 40% of work done remotely, with sensitive data and applications being accessed daily, then your strategy needs to be tailored to this distinctive outcome. 

First and foremost, what is your business’s unique situation? What do you need to provide to keep your particular organisation safe and efficient?   

The key to answering these questions is visibility.  

There needs to be clarity and data on how IT is being consumed within your company, and how it will continue to be consumed. What percentage of the workforce is working from home, and what is the forecast for this percentage after lockdown. Exactly how much data is being accessed across the WAN and will this continue to be the case. Where, why, and how are applications being accessed, and what is the prediction for post-covid.  

When building an IT strategy for 2021, assumptions can’t be made. Ultimately, poor strategy and bad investments lead to detrimental effects. Frustration will arise amongst the IT team, time and money will be wasted, and business goals won’t be achieved. The more data available, the better the IT strategy. 

Every strategic move has to be backed by data that has been collected, as again, a bad decision can be a costly one.  

Supporting a Remote Workforce.  

As we have said, the world is changing, COVID-19 has affected both businesses and people alike. As much as working from home has its benefits, there are challenges the remote workforce will face. Some employees may find it hard to manage their time effectively, some may find it hard to maintain concentration, and others may find it hard to keep up with technological changes.  

A key part of your IT strategy for 2021 should be supporting the remote workforce through these difficult times and investing in solutions that solve the issues that they are experiencing.  

Employees cannot be left in the dark, especially when it comes to the cyber-security threats of remote working. The last thing an IT team needs is human error being the reason behind a business’s cyber-defensive downfall. Invest in educating the remote workforce, but remember, the mindset should be that remote staff are not ‘rogues’. Users at home are the same as users in the office. They are both a part of YOUR enterprise network.  

Cover the basics: the fundamentals of cyber-security that you feel every member of staff should know. For example, are your employees aware of what makes a strong password? If not, help them to understand. This one simple change in digital behaviour can alleviate the stress users may feel when working away from the office, whilst also mitigating the risks of remote working. 

IT strategy for 2021 - Supporting a remote workforce

Have your users got what they need?  

When forming an IT strategy, organisations should also look to talk to their employees and find out exactly what they think is needed. Why? Because visibility and data are essential in cyber-security. You may have an idea of the security solutions or applications you want to invest in, but do these ideas actually fix the issues your remote workers are facing?  

Through staff surveys and monitoring, increase the tangible data your company has on what the issues are and what solutions the remote workforce may need. 

You may find members of staff feel there is a knowledge gap, and that they haven’t been made aware of the threats. Users may feel that not enough effort is being put into communicating what the correct processes are when accessing data. Some of the remote workforce may identify that certain applications actually hinder their productivity.  

Talk to your network’s users, increase visibility, and help yourself to paint a detailed picture of what exactly is going on in your business. Then, when it comes to expanding your IT strategy, you will find it far easier to decide what investments and solutions are needed in your organisation, and how effective current applications and processes actually are.  

Increased data, understanding, and visibility leads to better decisions being made.  

Managing a Distributed IT Estate  

A component of your IT strategy in 2021 needs to be the consideration of effectively managing a distributed IT Estate. 

Remember, the mindset we are aiming for is the idea of the hybrid WAN world. Both the office environment and the wider network of remote users, cloud applications, etc, are one and the same: they are a part of your business.  

Older, more traditional methods, of managing and securing the IT estate no longer provide the levels of control digital organisations and IT directors need. Essentially, they weren’t built with remote working and cloud computing in mind.  

“In cloud-centric digital business, users, devices, and the networked capabilities they require secure access to are everywhere… What security and risk professionals in a digital enterprise need is a worldwide fabric/mesh of network and network security capabilities that can be applied when and where needed to connect entities to the networked capabilities they need access to.”- Gartner Report.  

IT directors need ways to simplify the management of the distributed IT estate to reduce the risks that come from it. In addition, traditions need to be updated to boost application performance and user experience.  

There are two modern networking technologies that IT directors need to focus on here: SD-WAN and SASE.  

Software-Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN) is a ‘software-centric approach to managing the wider enterprise network. For IT teams, it provides a simple, centralised management method that improves connectivity between the office, remote users, and the cloud. The main objectives are to reduce complexity, gain visibility, prioritise application performance and maintain secure connectivity. 

SASE, on the other hand, is built more with the cloud in mind. Much like the distributed IT estate, SASE has a distributed architecture. It is a cloud-based infrastructure that offers WAN and security as a simplified cloud service rather than an enterprise centre. The security of SASE very much follows the zero-trust approach also allowing for increased performance and data protection. A benefit of SASE is its tailored approach to remote worker connectivity or as Palo Alto put it ‘Any user, Any application, from anywhere’. 

Two different approaches with a similar end goal: to simplify the management of a geographically separated IT estate. As an IT director, it is important that you make processes as easy as possible in order to reduce the risks of human error and security threats.  

Finding a solution that makes managing your distributed IT more effective, needs to be a part of your IT strategy for 2021. Ask yourself if SD-WAN or SASE (or both) can help you and your team.  

Shrinking Budgets, Increasing Demands. 

One of the biggest impacts the pandemic has had in the business world is the inevitable financial strain that has come from lockdown. Of course, this loss of capital and profit has been mostly unavoidable, but a lot of businesses will now look to cut certain budgets.  

As an IT director, it is essential that you help your business understand the importance of IT during these times. Now more than ever, IT teams need to be empowered and well funded.  

As when businesses review their budgets, they may ask themselves if they still need to invest in their IT teams. Show them the answer is yes. Demonstrate your value, and make it clear exactly why you need investment.  

One thing is for sure, for a vast number of organisations, business operations would have come to a complete halt if IT teams didn’t make remote work and smooth digital operations a possibility. In this fractured world, IT has been consistent and adaptable. 

An effective IT strategy for 2021 needs to be well-funded and backed.  

Cost Consolidation and Smart Investments  

IT teams need to be well-funded, that’s a given. But, what with the economic strain brought on by the pandemic, this isn’t a clear cut case of simply pouring money into your ‘new’ IT estate. On a positive note, distributed working has actually opened up the possibility of rethinking budgets and scaling back on certain expenditure.   

Analyse the current IT estate, collect as much data as possible, and ask users exactly what their experiences have been.  

Where are the majority of your users working, and what applications are they using?  

Where are applications being hosted, and where is data being accessed from?  

How sensitive is the data being accessed? Is it being protected effectively?  

Do you have efficient control over the wider-area network?  

Once the IT estate has been reviewed, think of what is likely to become a permanent mainstay of the company. Consider the new digital landscape. If remote working is indeed to stay, which is very likely is for most organisations, then budgeting needs to reflect this outcome.  

Smart investments will be calculated and considerate of the near future (2021). They will have to take into account the data that you have found for your organisation.  

If a business is constantly expanding its network and compounding the pressure put onto IT teams. Then smart investments need to be made into managing the wider network.  

If your particular company decides to reduce office-based work by 40%, then maybe there is a chance to reduce spending by 40% in this area. For example, you could scale down the traditional Firewall that protects the office, and reallocate spending into protecting the remote workforce.  

Part of your IT strategy for 2021 needs to be reviewing your budget, reallocating funds where possible, and making smart investments into the areas of your IT estate that need it most.  

In summary, when establishing an IT strategy for you and your organisation for 2021, you need to first collect as much data as possible to get a firm grasp on what is actually happening, and what is likely going to happen.  

With a changed mindset that considers the nature of the changing landscape, welcome digitalisation and make your strategy and investments adapt to it.  

This doesn’t necessarily mean increased spending and a change in philosophy for your company. You will find that by updating and moving past traditional methods, you can cut the costs whilst boosting performance, security and productivity.  

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