InterviewsOutlookWomen in Technology

Outlook 2021: Remote Working Brings Along Increased Productivity and Efficiency

Gihan Kovacs, the Senior Country Sales Manager for Forcepoint, speaks about 2021 opportunities

How was 2020 for the industry and your company?
2020 has been a year of incredible change for this industry, and change is continuing. Even before the Coronavirus pandemic, we had already seen a large amount of vendor consolidation occurring, and this will continue in the future.

The reason for this is because cybersecurity has needed to transform from an old-world focused on infrastructure issues and point products, to a new world focused on solving business problems and looking at converged solutions designed to address whole-company, risk-based problems.

Prior to COVID-19, only ten percent of workers in the UAE reported working from home one to two days per week, compared to a global average of 62 percent, according to a 2019 survey by International Workplace Group. For our region, this has been an even more enormous transition for organisations – and the literal overnight speed was unprecedented.

For our teams at Forcepoint, remote working was already well established. Our top priority was to continue to support our customers and partners during the pandemic, which I believe we did well. Just as important however was safeguarding our 2700+ employees. This was critical to us, and now all our teams are working remotely. As you can imagine, the first half of the year saw us deliver a great deal of advice and guidance to businesses seeking to transition, at scale, to remote working processes.

What sort of opportunities did 2020 bring along?
No-one could have prepared for the pandemic, and even though it has had terrible personal effects, once workers were at home and safe, there was still a silver lining. The way that our customers can now work has, in my view, changed for the better.

In 2018 and 2019 we saw a huge trend in companies transitioning to the cloud, however at that time due to the shortage of cloud security expertise and the lack of hybrid solutions that span cloud and legacy, companies were challenged to build in system-wide security. However, 2020 really put this into practice as many more began their transition to the cloud and we saw a huge investment in cloud security.

Adapting to a new way of working means developing strong partnerships cross-functionally across organizations. While people started with their business continuity plans, scaling internet and VPN access, they then needed to examine both legacy and cloud apps, and add mitigation against shadow IT or increased risks of phishing attacks.

On the flip side to this opportunity, there is a greater likelihood of a data breach or other cyberattack stemming from the expanded, yet largely unprotected, a perimeter that comes with a remote workforce. Cybersecurity has become even more of a competitive differentiator for every company as they embrace this new way of working. Those that didn’t get it right might expect to see future disruptions to their business in the form of regulatory fines and productivity losses due to downtime and breaches.

Did you face any challenges in 2020?
In the current global climate, organizations have been trying to navigate through the unchartered business territory as their global workforces have shifted to a large-scale remote work model seemingly overnight, and naturally I myself had this shift along with my peers.

While business continuity plans are developed for external events beyond our control, they aren’t generally intended to cover an entire global workforce going remote within a matter of weeks and it was definitely a shift in how we work, especially when we are used to being face-to-face and visiting our customers on-site. Definitely initially, it was a new adjustment for everyone I spoke to personally managing day-to-day work and the work-life balance of the requirements of children for online schooling, and I smile when I say sure many can relate to this well.

What were your key achievements in 2020?
Our responsiveness and fast adjustment to our new way of remote working were instrumental to our continued success this year. With the significant support of our Forcepoint leadership team, I do consider it a huge achievement to really continue business as usual despite the typical challenges that can be faced by such a large work-life transition. In fact, looking back, our activity and customer/prospect meetings have trebled!

Going through such challenges brought us closer together as a team, with everyone supporting each other, and checking in on one another, especially different regions just becoming extensions of our local teams. It has been a very supportive culture. Fortunately, with the cloud and security solutions that we provide, we were immediately available to support our existing and new customers and work with them to ensure a seamless migration to hybrid or full cloud, in a very fast timeframe.

What promises does 2021 bring along?
I think we will see more cybersecurity leaders and decision-makers looking seriously at how a SASE architecture can help them improve how they safely connect their users to the data, applications, and resources they have. We see more organisations looking at building a converged networking and security architecture that brings together a wide range of essential capabilities for connecting and protecting users wherever they work—at home, in an office, at remote locations, or on the road.

The need for SASE is emerging as security evolves to meet the needs of digital transformation, which will be a big part of 2021. We will see more enterprises looking for answers and security solutions for the four following business challenges:

  1. Protecting user access against advanced threats
  2. Enabling reliable and secure connectivity
  3. Protecting data access everywhere
  4. Continuously assessing user risk and connected trust.

According to you, which technologies will be in demand in 2021?
Companies that are transitioning to remote working are beginning to experience increased productivity and efficiency. It is likely we are going to see an era of permanently working from the home workforce. I expect we will be seeing more remote or hybrid offices, cloud security, and digital transformation. As a result, I see a lot of focus and discussions on converged platforms around cloud security, data protection, and insider threat. Along with these transitions, digital transformation data protection, and the ability to move “left of loss” through behavioural analytics will be more critical.

What will be your key focus areas for 2021?
In alignment with the change in how we work, we will be definitely focusing strongly on our cloud technologies and continuing to support customers in their remote journey especially when it comes to protecting their digital crown jewels. Business leaders will need to consider the changing nature of insider threat when everyone is working remotely. As employees embrace new ways to work with colleagues and partners, people need to be more diligent with how they handle sensitive company information, especially at remote workplaces.

We must not forget that compliances are still critical, as people need to adhere to global IT standards (GDPR, ISO, NIST, and so on), and people working remotely, often on home, shared wifi and in some cases on shared devices, need to operate with a higher level of understanding of how to keep data secure. Organisations cannot protect what they cannot see, and providing visibility into data and data movement and access will be key.

What would you like to do differently in 2021, when compared with 2020?
While many businesses have contingency and business continuity plans, I don’t think anyway was prepared for this kind of unpredictable global pandemic. So, at the moment, it is hard to say what we would do differently – I believe we all did the absolute best we could. I believe the way in which many organizations in the Middle East and Forcepoint continued business as usual in such a short time frame is something of an achievement.

I would see 2021 more about building on the current new Remote Working Strategy to ensure more enhanced Security and focus around protecting IP and understanding more about human behaviour. The basic blocks are now in place, and it’s now about building on those to have a holistic security programme.

Do you plan to enter new markets or add new products/applications to your portfolio in 2021?
We will continue to develop our converged platform and strengthen our dynamic solutions – Dynamic Risk Protection, Dynamic Enterprise Protection, and Dynamic User Protection.

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Chris Fernando

Chris N. Fernando is an experienced media professional with over two decades of journalistic experience. He is the Editor of Arabian Reseller magazine, the authoritative guide to the regional IT industry. Follow him on Twitter (@chris508) and Instagram (@chris2508).

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