84% of global decision makers accelerating digital transformation plans

Unit4 surveyed business and IT decision makers and users working in service industries in August and September 2020, to understand how well organizations are embracing innovation and adapting to the challenges of the pandemic.

accelerating digital transformation plans

Growing people-centric innovation

The study shows that 84% of global decision makers are accelerating their digital transformation plans, in response to growing demands from users, who want more flexibility to work remotely in the future.

During COVID-19, global decision makers cited three main impacts on their enterprise applications strategies. They have become more agile in their planning (49%) and acknowledge the pace of innovation (42%) has increased, while 35% say it has sped up their investment in moving to the cloud and 24% are more comfortable failing fast.

They’ve also outlined specific priorities to enable workforces to be more productive, which shows that innovation has become much more focused on the needs of users.

As decision makers look ahead to future strategies, the research identifies the top three priorities for users, which decision makers must respond to:

  • Having the freedom to access IT systems so they can work from anywhere
  • Better tools for collaboration
  • Increased automation to reduce their workloads.

Consequently, decision makers say their future IT plans are very people-centric, listing their main objectives as: wanting to enable the flexibility of remote working, creating environments to encourage greater collaboration and empowering employees to be more productive, as well as meeting the demands of customers. Decision makers believe this is achievable by focusing on three tech-based priorities:

  • Building a simple and intuitive user interface and experience – 43%
  • Using automation to simplify and speed up workflows – 39%
  • Enabling users to communicate with enterprise applications using their preferred tools, such as Slack and WhatsApp – 38%

The adaptable organization

As many organizations transitioned to remote working during 2020, a positive outcome has been that 60% of global users say they have been more productive during lockdown. They are also predominantly satisfied that their IT systems have helped them to get the most out of their roles.

It is perhaps unsurprising that 84% of global decision makers want to encourage colleagues to work remotely more often following the lockdown, which is mirrored by 69% of global users who also want the same flexibility.

Clearly, now that organizations have proven their enterprise IT systems can handle the demands of a remote, distributed workforce there is confidence they can sustain the model.

However, there are challenges ahead, as 34% of global decision makers say they must break down silos of information across their organizations and 31% of users are reluctant to change.

On a more positive note a resounding majority (84%) say that the pandemic is forcing meaningful board discussions about future strategy, which clearly shows C-Suite decision makers are engaged.

Traditional on-premise IT systems not capable of reacting to rapid change

77% of global decision makers also believe traditional on-premise IT systems and enterprise applications are not capable of reacting to rapid change, hence why 86% say the cloud offers more flexibility, with more than two-thirds expecting their enterprise applications to be fully cloud-based in the next two years.

“New ways of working, initially broadly imposed by the global pandemic, are morphing into lasting models for the future,” said Mickey North Rizza, program vice president for IDC‘s Enterprise Applications and Digital Commerce research practice.

“Permanent technology changes, underpinned by improved collaboration, include supporting hybrid work, accelerating cloud use, increasing automation, going contactless, adopting smaller TaskApps, and extending the partnership ecosystem. Enterprise application vendors need to assess their immediate and long-term strategies for delivering collaboration platforms in conjunction with their core software.”

“If we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that the business environment can change almost overnight, and as business leaders we have to be able to reimagine our organizations and seize opportunities to secure sustainable competitive advantage,” said Mike Ettling, CEO, Unit4.

“Our study shows what is possible with continued investment in innovation and a people-first, flexible enterprise applications strategy. As many countries go back into some form of lockdown, this people-centric focus is crucial if businesses are to survive the challenges of the coming months.”

How the pandemic has accelerated existing risk trends

COVID-19 has reorganized the risk landscape for chief audit executives (CAEs), as CAEs have listed IT governance as the top risk for 2021, according to Gartner. Analysts said the pandemic is giving rise to new sets of risks while exacerbating long-standing vulnerabilities.

existing risk trends

Gartner conducted interviews and surveys from across its global network of client organizations to identify the top 12 risks, or “Audit Plan Hot Spots,” facing boards, audit committees and executives entering 2021.

Existing risk trends

The report revealed that IT governance is displacing data governance, which was the top entry for 2020 and is in second position for 2021.

“While the pandemic has created new challenges for audit executives to grapple with, what’s most notable is how the current environment has accelerated existing risk trends,” said Leslee McKnight, research director for the Gartner Audit practice.

“The volatility and interconnectedness of the two most important risks, IT and data governance, also shines a light on the importance for firms to rethink their risk governance. Audit leaders should apply dynamic risk governance in order to rethink their approach to designing risk management roles and responsibilities.”

While the top three hot spots audit executives must focus on for 2021 all made appearances in last year’s list, they have all been altered by the nature of working in the pandemic.

IT governance

Abrupt work-from-home mandates have accelerated digital roadmaps, causing many organizations to vault years forward in the space of a few weeks. This move has spurred the rapid adoption of new technologies both on the employee and customer side, presenting new challenges to productivity, consumer preferences and guarding against security vulnerabilities.

CAEs need to assess how new technology adoption may be hobbling their IT departments’ plans, with IT support incident requests doubling in early 2020 to support a huge increase in work-from-home employees.

Additionally, managing access rights for many more remote workers presents new risks such as “privileged user abuse,” which is expected to climb over the next 12 to 24 months.

Data governance

The pandemic means that organizations are expected to collect more sensitive personal information from employees and customers than ever before. Yet, data governance practices are regressing, with fewer dedicated resources to data privacy than in previous years.

Organizations face increasingly complex data environments where their data is housed. Growth in software-as-a-service (SaaS) and delays to upgrading legacy systems have created work environments where data is distributed across disparate platforms, software and servers.

Such complexities continue to test audit executives, with only 45% expressing high confidence in their ability to manage data governance risk.

Cyber vulnerabilities

Cyber vulnerabilities are especially acute this year, due to the rapid organizational changes needed to protect employees and serve customers in the midst of a pandemic.

Despite increased cybersecurity spending, only 24% of organizations routinely follow cybersecurity best practices, this will result in cyberattacks that are expected to cost organizations $6 trillion annually by 2021. Drivers of this risk include lapses in security controls and increased employee vulnerability to social engineering.

More than half of employees are currently using personal devices to do work remotely, while 61% have indicated their employer has not provided tools to secure these devices. Additional security lapses include a lack of attention to employee’s home network security and status of antivirus software.

“The pandemic is forcing many audit and risk executives to address their organization’s deficiencies in the most critical areas,” said Ms. McKnight.

“Inadequate data governance and IT security practices will have even steeper consequences in the current environment than pre-pandemic, particularly when considering the types of data many organizations feel compelled to collect as a result of new health and safety measures.”

Four easy steps for organizations to hand over data control

To stay connected with patients, healthcare providers are turning to telehealth services. In fact, 34.5 million telehealth services were delivered from March through June, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The shift to remote healthcare has also impacted the roll out of new regulations that would give patients secure and free access to their health data.

hand over data control

The shift to online services shines a light on a major cybersecurity issue within all industries (but especially healthcare where people have zero control over their data): consent.

Hand over data control

Data transparency allows people to know what personal data has been collected, what data an organization wants to collect and how it will be used. Data control provides the end-user with choice and authority over what is collected and even where it is shared. Together the two lead to a competitive edge, as 85% of consumers say they will take their business elsewhere if they do not trust how a company is handling their data.

Regulations such as the GDPR and the CCPA have been enacted to hold companies accountable unlike ever before – providing greater protection, transparency and control to consumers over their personal data.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) regulation, which is set to go into effect in early 2021, would provide interoperability, allowing patients to access, share and manage their healthcare data as they do their financial data. Healthcare organizations must provide people with control over their data and where it goes, which in turn strengthens trust.

How to earn patients’ trust

Organizations must improve their ability to earn patients’ confidence and trust by putting comprehensive identity and access management (IAM) systems in place. Such systems need to offer the ability to manage privacy settings, account for data download and deletion, and enable data sharing with not just third-party apps but also other people, such as additional care providers and family members.

The right digital identity solution should empower the orchestration of user identity journeys, such as registration and authentication, in a convenient way that unifies configuring security and user experience choices.

It should also enable the healthcare organization to protect patients’ personal data while offering their end-users a unified means of control of their data consents and permissions. Below are the four key steps companies should take to earn trust when users hand over data control:

  • Identify where digital transformation opportunities and user trust risks intersect. Since users are becoming more skeptical, organizations must analyze “trust gaps” while they are discovering clever new ways to leverage personal data.
  • Consider personal data as a joint asset. It’s easy for a company to say consumers own their own personal data, but business leaders have incentives to leverage that data for the value it brings to their business. This changes the equation. All the stakeholders within an organization need to come together and view data as a joint asset in which all parties, including end-users, have a stake.
  • Lean into consent. Given the realities of regulations, a business often has a choice to offer consent to end-users rather than just collecting and using data. Seek to offer the option – it provides benefits when building trust with skeptical consumers, as well as when proving your right to use that data.
  • Take advantage of consumer identity and access management (CIAM) for building trust. Identity management platforms automate and provide visibility into the entire customer journey across many different applications and channels. They also allow end-users to retain the controls to manage their own profiles, passwords, privacy settings and personal data.

Providing data transparency and data control to the end-user enhances the relationship between business and consumer. Organizations can achieve this trust with consumers in a comprehensive fashion by applying consumer identity and access management that scales across all of their applications. To see these benefits before regulations like the HHS regulations go into effect, organizations need to act now.

Companies rely on crowdsourced security to boost security efforts

61% of organizations perform attack surface discovery to offset frequently changing assets in their attack surface and attack surface expansion, yet 40% of companies perform continuous attack surface management, a Bugcrowd survey reveals.

crowdsourced security solutions

Only one out of five organizations surveyed qualified as a “leader” in how they execute attack surface and vulnerability management, while 49% ranked in the second tier as “fast-followers” and 39% ranked in the bottom tier as “emerging organizations.”

The survey discovered several key differences between leaders and other respondents in their strategy for attack surface and vulnerability management. Of note, 72% of leaders perform continuous attack surface management, signaling attack surface discovery frequency as a sign of maturity.

Augmenting security efforts with crowdsourced cybersecurity solutions

Organizations that qualify as leaders recognize their own limitations and are much more likely to supplement their security efforts with crowdsourced penetration testing and bug bounty programs than the fast-followers and emerging organizations.

In fact, 59% of leaders use bug bounty programs to discover previously unknown or undiscovered attack surface, compared to 43% of fast followers and 34% of emerging organizations.

Furthermore, 41% of leaders plan to use crowdsourced security platforms for penetration testing over the next 24 to 36 months compared to just 19% of fast followers and 27% of emerging organizations.

“This research demonstrates how COVID-19 spurred many organizations to accelerate their digital transformation efforts, thus increasing the size and complexity associated with managing their attack surface,” said Ashish Gupta, CEO, Bugcrowd.

“One factor really separated the more successful organizations from the rest of the pack: the leaders clearly lean more heavily on crowdsourced security solutions to augment their security efforts. This layered approach to security has significantly strengthened their ability to protect their attack surface and mitigate vulnerabilities.”

Distinguishing leaders from less mature organizations

Fast-followers and emerging organizations are far less proactive in performing attack surface and vulnerability discovery compared to leaders. For example, 72% of leaders conduct attack surface discovery on a continual basis, compared to just 52% of fast-followers and 3% of emerging organizations.

Additionally, 59% of leaders perform penetration testing for vulnerability discovery more often than once per month, while only 23% of fast-followers and 3% of emerging organizations do on the same frequency.

However, the less mature companies report higher confidence in their attack surface and vulnerability discovery tooling and technologies, demonstrating a lack of awareness of potential risk.

“There is a stark contrast between what the leaders are doing and what everyone else is doing, and the latter group should take note of the difference,” said Jon Oltsik, Senior Principal Analyst and Fellow, ESG.

“Leading organizations use a diverse combination of tools, automated processes, and integrated workflows to constantly look for problems in their attack surface and vulnerability management. They unify efforts across their organization and are proactive in taking necessary actions to mitigate any risks they discover.

“Perhaps most important, leaders are aware of their limitations and are much more likely to use bug bounties, crowdsourced penetration testing and other external services.”

To uncover security blind spots and stay ahead of rapidly evolving cybersecurity threats, organizations across all security maturity levels can embrace crowdsourced cybersecurity to protect their attack surface and remedy vulnerabilities before they can be exploited.

56% of organizations faced a ransomware attack, many paid the ransom

There’s a continued proliferation of ransomware, heightened concerns around nation-state actors, and the need for acceleration of both digital and security transformation, a CrowdStrike survey reveals.

faced ransomware attack

Proliferation of ransomware leads to more frequent payouts, costing millions

Survey data indicates ransomware attacks have proven to be especially effective, as 56% of organizations surveyed have suffered a ransomware attack in the last year. The COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed increasing concerns around ransomware attacks, with many organizations resorting to paying the ransom.

The global attitude shifts from a question of if an organization will experience a ransomware attack to a matter of when an organization will inevitably pay a ransom. Notable findings include:

  • Concern around ransomware attacks continues to increase, with the stark increase in this year’s findings (54%) compared to 2019 (42%) and 2018 (46%).
  • 71% of cybersecurity experts globally are more worried about ransomware attacks due to COVID-19.
  • Among those hit by ransomware, 27% chose to pay the ransom, costing organizations on average $1.1 million USD owed to hackers.
  • The APAC region is suffering the most when paying the ransom with the highest average payout at $1.18 million USD, followed by EMEA at $1.06 million and the U.S. at $0.99 million.

Fear of nation-state cyberattacks can stifle business growth in post COVID-19 world

Nation-state activity continues to weigh heavily on IT decision makers, as 87% of respondents agree that nation-state sponsored cyberattacks are far more common than people think.

As growing international tensions and the global election year have created a nesting ground for increased nation-state activity, organizations are under increased pressure to resume operations despite the increased value of intellectual property and vulnerabilities caused by COVID-19. Key highlights include:

  • Even with the massive rise in eCrime over the course of 2020, 73% believe nation-state sponsored cyberattacks will pose the single biggest threat to organizations like theirs in 2021. In fact, concerns around nation-states have steadily increased, as 63% of cybersecurity experts view nation-states as one of the cyber criminals most likely to cause concern, consistently rising from 2018 (54%) and 2019 (59%).
  • 89% are fearful that growing international tensions (e.g. U.S.-China trade war) are likely to result in a considerable increase in cyber threats for organizations.
  • Approximately two in five IT security professionals believe a nation-state cyberattack on their organization would be motivated by intelligence (44%) or to take advantage of vulnerabilities caused by COVID-19 (47%).

Digital and security transformation accelerated as business priority

In the wake of these threats, cybersecurity experts have accelerated their digital and security transformation efforts to address the growing activity from eCrime and nation-state actors.

While spend on digital transformation continues to trend upward, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the timeline for many organizations, costing additional investment to rapidly modernize security tools for the remote workforce. Security transformation rollout findings include:

  • 61% of respondents’ organizations have spent more than $1 million on digital transformation over the past three years.
  • 90% of respondents’ organizations have spent a minimum of $100,000 to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 66% of respondents have modernized their security tools and/or increased the rollout of cloud technologies as employees have moved to work remotely.
  • 78% of respondents have a more positive outlook on their organization’s overarching security strategy and architecture over the next 12 months.

“This year has been especially challenging for organizations of all sizes around the world, with both the proliferation of ransomware and growing tensions from nation-state actors posing a massive threat to regions worldwide,” said Michael Sentonas, CTO, CrowdStrike.

“Now more than ever, organizations are finding ways to rapidly undergo digital transformation to bring their security to the cloud in order to keep pace with modern-day threats and secure their ‘work from anywhere’ operations.

Cybersecurity teams around the globe are making strides in improving their security posture by moving their security infrastructure to the cloud and remaining diligent in their incident detection, response and remediation practices.”

Hybrid environments driving positive business impact amid pandemic

Nutanix announced the findings of its survey and research report, which measures enterprise progress with adopting private, hybrid and public clouds. This year, survey respondents were also asked about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on current and future IT decisions and strategy.

hybrid environments

Hybrid cloud is still the frontrunner as the ideal IT infrastructure model (86% of respondents think so), and respondents running hybrid environments are more likely to plan to focus on strategic efforts and driving positive business impact.

Shifting IT’s focus toward remote worker support

The pandemic has shifted IT’s focus toward remote worker support and enabling near-instant infrastructure deployments that reach geographically distributed workforces, spurring increased enterprise progress with cloud expansion.

Additionally, a greater number of respondents running hybrid environments said they were likely to offer more flexible work setups, strengthen their business continuity plans, simplify operations, and increase digital conferencing usage because of the pandemic.

76% of respondents reported the pandemic made them think more strategically about IT, and 46% said their investments in hybrid cloud have increased as a direct result of the pandemic, including public and private clouds.

Additionally, businesses also increasingly rely on multiple public clouds to meet their needs compared to previous years. The report showed that, among those who use public clouds, 63% of respondents use two or more public clouds, or multicloud, respondents are also expecting this number to jump to 71% in the next 12 months.

Enterprises taking key steps toward reaching their IT operating model of choice

Global respondents report taking the initial key steps to successfully run a hybrid environment, including adopting hyperconverged infrastructure in their datacenters and decommissioning non-cloud-enabled datacenters in favor of private and public cloud usage.

Global IT teams are also planning for substantial infrastructure changes; they foresee, on average, hybrid cloud deployments increasing by more than 37 percentage points over the next five years, with a corresponding 15-point drop in non-cloud-enabled datacenters.

Most notably of the many infrastructure categories, respondents reported running a mixed model of private cloud, public cloud, and traditional datacenter more often than any other (nearly 26%) which is likely a precursor to a hybrid cloud deployment.

Remote work is here to stay — and companies are planning for it

In last year’s survey, about 27% of respondent companies had no full-time at-home workers. That number fell 20 percentage points this year to only 7%, as a result of to COVID-19.

By 2022, respondents predict that an average of 13% of companies will have no full-time remote employees at that time, less than half as many as a year ago in 2019, before COVID struck. Improving IT infrastructure (50%) and work-from-home capabilities (47%) have therefore become priorities for the next 12 to 18 months.

Strategic business outcomes, not economics, drive change today

Respondents said their primary motives for modifying their IT infrastructures are to get greater control of their IT resources (58%), gain the flexibility to meet dynamic business requirements (55%), and improve support for customers and remote workers (46%). By contrast, just 27% mentioned cutting costs as a driver.

Educators face unique COVID-19-related challenges and needs

More education-industry respondents cited “ensuring that remote workers have adequate hardware” as a primary challenge than any other issue. 47% also cited providing “adequate communications channels among employees, customers, and clients” as a top challenge.

The education sector is taking the right steps toward transformation, ranking high in private cloud deployments, with 29% of respondents saying they were running private clouds only (substantially more than the 22% global average).

“In January, for many companies technology was considered a basic function of a business, enabling core organizational processes,” said Wendy M. Pfeiffer, CIO of Nutanix.

“Today, technology has taken on an entirely new meaning. It is a complex strategy and it makes or breaks a company’s long-term viability. COVID-19 has accelerated us into a new era of strategic IT and raised its profile considerably, and the findings from this year’s Enterprise Cloud Index reflect this new reality.

“Hybrid cloud is the frontrunner, and it will continue to be as we navigate our mixing of physical and virtual environments and move away from doing business in a single mode.”

CISOs say a distributed workforce has critically increased security concerns

73% of security and IT executives are concerned about new vulnerabilities and risks introduced by the distributed workforce, Skybox Security reveals.

distributed workforce security

The report also uncovered an alarming disconnect between confidence in security posture and increased cyberattacks during the global pandemic.

Digital transformation creating the perfect storm

To protect employees from COVID-19, enterprises rapidly shifted to make work from home possible and maintain business productivity. Forced to accelerate digital transformation initiatives, this created the perfect storm.

2020 will be a record-breaking year for new vulnerabilities with a 34% increase year-over-year – a leading indicator for the growth of future attacks.

As a result, security teams now have more to protect than ever before. Surveying 295 global executives, the report found that organizations are overconfident in their security posture, and new strategies are needed to secure a long-term distributed workforce.

Key observations

  • Deprioritized security tasks increase risk: Over 30% of security executives said software updates and BYOD policies were deprioritized. Further, 42% noted reporting was deprioritized since the onset of the pandemic.
  • Enterprises can’t keep up with the pace: 32% had difficulties validating if network and security configurations undermined security posture. 55% admitted that it was at least moderately difficult for them to validate network and security configurations did not increase risk.
  • Security teams are overconfident in security posture: Only 11% confirmed they could confidently maintain a holistic view of their organizations’ attack surfaces. Shockingly, 93% of security executives were still confident that changes were correctly validated.
  • The distributed workforce is here to stay: 70% of respondents projected that at least one-third of their employees will remain remote 18 months from now.

distributed workforce security

“Traditional detect-and-respond approaches are no longer enough. A radical new approach is needed – one that is rooted in the development of preventative and prescriptive vulnerability and threat management practices,” said Gidi Cohen, CEO, Skybox Security.

“To advance change, it is integral that everything, including data and talent, is working towards enriching the security program as a whole.”

Multi-cloud environments leaving businesses at risk

Businesses around the globe are facing challenges as they try to protect data stored in complex hybrid multi-cloud environments, from the growing threat of ransomware, according to a Veritas Technologies survey.

multi-cloud environments risk

Only 36% of respondents said their security has kept pace with their IT complexity, underscoring the need for greater use of data protection solutions that can protect against ransomware across the entirety of increasingly heterogenous environments.

Need to pay ransoms

Typically, if businesses fall foul to ransomware and are not able to restore their data from a backup copy of their files, they may look to pay the hackers responsible for the attack to return their information.

The research showed companies with greater complexity in their multi-cloud infrastructure were more likely to make these payments. The mean number of clouds deployed by those organizations who paid a ransom in full was 14.06. This dropped to 12.61 for those who paid only part of the ransom and went as low as 7.22 for businesses who didn’t pay at all.

In fact, only 20% of businesses with fewer than five clouds paid a ransom in full, 44% for those with more than 20. This compares with 57% of the under-fives paying nothing to their hackers and just 17% of the over-20s.

Slow recovery times

Complexity in cloud architectures was also shown to have a significant impact on a business’s ability to recover following a ransomware attack. While 43% of those businesses with fewer than five cloud providers in their infrastructure saw their business operations disrupted by less than one day, only 18% of those with more than 20 were as fast to return to normal.

Moreover, 39% of the over-20s took 5-10 days to get back on track, with just 16% of the under-fives having to wait so long.

Inability to restore data

Furthermore, according to the findings of the research, greater complexity in an organization’s cloud infrastructure, also made it slightly less likely that they would ever be able to restore their data in the event of a ransomware attack.

While 44% of businesses with fewer than five cloud providers were able to restore 90% or more of their data, just 40% of enterprises building their infrastructure on more than 20 cloud services were able to say the same.

John Abel, SVP and CIO at Veritas said: “The benefits of hybrid multi-cloud are increasingly being recognised in businesses around the world. In order to drive the best experience, at the best price, organizations are choosing best-of-breed cloud solutions in their production environments, and the average company today is now using nearly 12 different cloud providers to drive their digital transformation.

“However, our research shows many businesses’ data protection strategies aren’t keeping pace with the levels of complexity they’re introducing and, as a result, they’re feeling the impact of ransomware more acutely.

“In order to insulate themselves from the financial and reputational damage of ransomware, organizations need to look to data protection solutions that can span their increasingly heterogenous infrastructures, no matter how complex they may be.”

Businesses recognize the challenge

The research revealed that many businesses are aware of the challenge they face, with just 36% of respondents believing their security had kept pace with the complexity in their infrastructure.

The top concern as a result of this complexity, as stated by businesses, was the increased risk of external attack, cited by 37% of all participants in the research.

Abel continued: “We’ve heard from our customers that, as part of their response to COVID, they rapidly accelerated their journey to the cloud. Many organizations needed to empower homeworking across a wider portfolio of applications than ever before and, with limited access to their on-premise IT infrastructure, turned to cloud deployments to meet their needs.

“We’re seeing a lag between the high-velocity expansion of the threat surface that comes with increased multi-cloud adoption, and the deployment of data protection solutions needed to secure them. Our research shows some businesses are investing to close that resiliency gap – but unless this is done at greater speed, companies will remain vulnerable.”

Need for investment

46% of businesses shared they had increased their budgets for security since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a correlation between this elevated level of investment and the ability to restore data in the wake of an attack: 47% of those spending more since the Coronavirus outbreak were able to restore 90% or more of their data, compared with just 36% of those spending less.

The results suggest there is more to be done though, with the average business being able to restore only 80% of its data.

Back to basics

While the research indicates organizations need to more comprehensively protect data in their complex cloud infrastructures, the survey also highlighted the need to get the basics of data protection right too.

Only 55% of respondents could claim they have offline backups in place, even though those who do are more likely to be able to restore more than 90% of their data. Those with multiple copies of data were also better able to restore the lion’s share of their data.

Forty-nine percent of those with three or more copies of their files were able to restore 90% or more of their information, compared with just 37% of those with only two.

The three most common data protection tools to have been deployed amongst respondents who had avoided paying ransoms were: anti-virus, backup and security monitoring, in that order.

Global trends

The safest countries to be in to avoid ransomware attacks, the research revealed, were Poland and Hungary. Just 24% of businesses in Poland had been on the receiving end of a ransomware attack, and the average company in Hungary had only experienced 0.52 attacks ever.

The highest incident of attack was in India, where 77% of businesses had succumbed to ransomware, and the average organization had been hit by 5.27 attacks.

Managing risk remains a significant challenge

While COVID-19 has created new concerns and deepened traditional challenges for IT, organizations with complete insight and governance of their technology ecosystem are better positioned to achieve their priorities, a Snow Software survey of 1,000 IT leaders and 3,000 workers in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Australia reveals.

managing risk challenge

The challenge of managing risk

In fact, mature technology intelligence – defined as the ability to understand and manage all technology resources – correlated to resilience and growth. Of the IT leaders classified as having mature technology intelligence, 79% were confident in their organization’s ability to weather current events and 100% indicated that innovation continues to be a strategic focus for their organization.

“IT teams around the world had to contend with extraordinary challenges this year due to the impact of COVID-19,” said Alastair Pooley, CIO at Snow.

“The complexities, risks and budget concerns IT departments traditionally face have been exacerbated, and a rapid acceleration of digital transformation and cloud adoption has brought new issues to the forefront. Now more than ever, IT leaders need to be in a position to quickly adapt to these macro trends as they define their top technology priorities in 2021.”

Technology management has become increasingly difficult

Many IT leaders indicated increases in technology spend across the board – on software, hardware, SaaS and cloud – over the past 12 months. Faced with more complex ecosystems, it is no surprise that 63% also reported technology management had become more difficult.

As anticipated budget restrictions go into effect for 2021, IT leaders will need to demonstrate the value of their investments and ensure proper governance over their entire technology stack.

Improved employee perception of IT

Employee perception of IT has improved, but differing perceptions on technology management and procurement hint at potential issues. While 41% of workers believe that access to technology has improved, there remains a 22-point gap between IT leaders and employees on how easy it is to purchase software, applications or cloud services.

This is not the only area where IT leaders and workers have varying views. Though they agree that security is the number one issue caused by unmanaged and unaccounted for technology, awareness of additional issues drops dramatically after that, with 16% of workers believing it causes no business issues whatsoever.

The data suggests continued challenges ahead for organizations as they try to reduce risk across the board.

Vendor audits a looming but potentially underestimated risk in 2021

87% of IT leaders said they had been audited by a software vendor over the last 12 months.

The vendors that audited the most were Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Adobe and SAP. Yet only 51% said they were concerned about audits over the next 12 months, an answer that varied wildly based on geography – 81% of US leaders said they were concerned compared to just 30% in Germany and 42% in the UK.

Based on 2020 trends as well as vendor behavior following the 2008 recession, it appears European IT leaders are significantly underestimating this risk.

Organization’s top IT priorities

Organization’s top IT priorities are inherently at odds with each other and often align with the IT department’s biggest challenges. IT leaders reported that their organization’s top priorities in 2020 were adopting new technologies (38%), reducing security risks (38%), reducing IT spend (38%).

They paralleled the biggest challenges IT leaders faced over the past 12 months with managing cybersecurity threats (43%), implementing new technologies (40%) and supporting remote work (39%). Juggling these conflicting and difficult priorities became even more complicated in light of COVID-19.

Few meeting the bar for mature technology intelligence

Strong technology intelligence enabled IT leaders to more effectively tackle their top priorities and challenges. Just 14% of IT leaders met the bar for mature technology intelligence. This elite group outpaced other respondents in their ability to support digital transformation, reduce risk, enable employees and control spend.

“As we collectively look ahead to 2021, it’s more important than ever that CIOs and IT leaders strike the right balance between managing risk and remaining agile in the face of continued unpredictability,” said Pooley.

“It is clear from the data that a comprehensive understanding of technology resources and the ability to manage them is a key differentiator. IT leaders can use the insights to endure challenging periods like the pandemic, as well as embrace innovation to drive future growth and resilience.”

Enterprises embrace Kubernetes, but lack security tools to mitigate risk

Businesses increasingly embrace the moving of multiple applications to the cloud using containers and utilize Kubernetes for orchestration, according to Zettaset.

embrace Kubernetes

However, findings also confirm that organizations are inadequately securing the data stored in these new cloud-native environments and continue to leverage existing legacy security technology as a solution.

Businesses are faced with significant IT-related challenges as they strive to keep up with the demands of digital transformation. Now more than ever to maintain a competitive edge, companies are rapidly developing and deploying new applications.

Companies must invest in high performance data protection

The adoption of containers, microservices and Kubernetes for orchestration play a significant role in these digital acceleration efforts. And yet, while many companies are eager to adopt these new cloud-native technologies, research shows that companies are not accurately weighing the benefits of enterprise IT innovation with inherent security risks.

“Data security should be a fundamental requirement for any enterprise organization and the adoption of new technology should not change that,” said Tim Reilly, CEO, Zettaset.

“Our goal with this research was to determine whether enterprise organizations who are actively transitioning from DevOps to DevSecOps are investing in proper security and data protection technology. And while findings confirm that companies are in fact making the strategic decision to shift towards cloud-native environments, they are currently ill-equipped to secure their company’s most critical asset: data.

“Companies must invest in high performance data protection so as it to secure critical information in real-time across any architecture.”

The conclusions

  • Organizations are embracing the cloud and cloud-native technologies: 39% of respondents have multiple production applications deployed on Kubernetes. But, companies are still struggling with the complexities associated with these environments and how to secure deployments.
  • Cloud providers offer considerable influence with regards to Kubernetes distribution: A little over half of those surveyed are using open source Kubernetes available through the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). And 34.7% of respondents are using a Kubernetes offering managed by an existing cloud provider such as AWS, Google, Azure, and IBM.
  • Kubernetes security best practices have yet to be identified: 60.1% of respondents believe there is a lack of proper education and awareness of the proper ways to mitigate risk associated with storing data in cloud-native environments. And 43.2% are confident that multiple vulnerable attack surfaces are created with the introduction of Kubernetes.
  • Companies have yet to evolve their existing security strategies: Almost half of respondents (46.5%) are using traditional data encryption tools to protect their data stored in Kubernetes clusters. Over 20% are finding that these traditional tools are not performing as desired.

embrace Kubernetes

“The results of our research substantiate the notion that enterprise organizations are moving forward with cloud-native technologies such as containers and Kubernetes. What we were most interested in discovering was how these companies are approaching security,” said Charles Kolodgy, security strategist and author of the report.

“Companies overall are concerned about the wide range of potential attack surfaces. They are applying legacy solutions but those are not designed to handle today’s ever-evolving threat landscape, especially as data is being moved off-premise to cloud-based environments.

“To stay ahead of what’s to come, companies must look to solutions purposely built to operate in a Kubernetes environment.”

The evolving role of the CTO

Since spending more time at home, my appetite for reading has increased. In fact, I recently picked up again one of my favorites – J. R. R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. In the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, a conversation between Frodo and Gandalf goes something like this:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us…”

CTO role

The CTO role keeps changing

Such is also the fate of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Many things are beyond their control. Yet, in times of crisis, CTOs are relied upon. They often peer into the future and must address dangers to the business and contend with many unknowns. The key to being a successful CTO is deciding the best things to do with what’s in front of us.

Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has placed extensive demands on CTOs who have had to redesign or redistribute technology resources in rapid order with minimal time to research, strategize and execute.

In partnership with IT managers, hybrid work environments had to be constructed and deployed to accommodate remote workers. The number one priority (in addition to equipping employees with devices) was to secure the distributed network against evolving cybersecurity threats.

Now the question is: where do we go from here? Years’ worth of digital transformation progress was made in a matter of weeks. How will we now maintain and scale these systems for years to come? How do we future proof for other disruptions? These questions are what CTOs and their staff are now grappling with.

Being a CTO is about more than just choosing technology solutions or making sure people can work from home successfully. The CTO role is changing to encompass supply chain resiliency, communications solutions and support for sales teams, preventing technological surprise and meeting broader business unit needs.

In this environment, a CTO’s unique combination of technical and institutional knowledge has only become more vital. The CTO must be much more than a technical expert. They must be knowledgeable about every aspect of the business from HR to Finance and everything in between.

Clearly communicating the evolving role of tech across sales, security and more

According to Deloitte, more than half of CEOs say that tech leaders in their companies will be key drivers of business strategy. Filling that role means wearing many hats, the specifics of which differ from enterprise to enterprise.

The CTO doesn’t necessarily even sit in the same place in every management hierarchy. For example, depending on who runs the IT department, the CIO reports to the CTO, and vice versa. The common thread: CTOs have to be versatile.

Some companies see the CTO as an interface between the firm’s customers and its knowledge, capabilities and products. This is largely a sales leadership role, where a CTO can use their technical expertise to connect services and clients. Other times, the CTO is charged with ensuring employees can interact with one another, enabling collaboration, communication and innovation.

What’s important for any organization today, whether it’s an SMB, federal agency or large enterprise, is that the role of the CTO is adaptable to manage disparate tasks: from serving as a C-suite partner advising on operational decisions to counseling customers on specific services.

Of course, CTOs must understand technology in great detail, but they also need to be able to articulate how technology works in a way that average individuals understand.

They must be able to communicate clearly with decision-makers from all departments on issues ranging from cybersecurity to sales enablement platforms to secure supply chains. This is what we call a “T” shaped individual: depth in their specific field of expertise and breath in all other business areas. The best CTOs are truly Renaissance individuals.

Meeting transformation with expansive knowledge and sharp agility

Research from McKinsey demonstrates that companies that are aware of new technologies and work to build them into their operating models tend to be more successful than those that do not. The responsibility for finding those technologies, understanding them and incorporating them into an enterprise’s strategy at the proper scale falls squarely on the CTO.

Greater digitization has only increased the number of innovative technologies CTOs need to track. The market for global digital transformation products and services is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 22.5 percent from 2020 to 2027.

Greater digitization has also made CTOs more valuable because it has dramatically and substantially expanded their sphere of influence. Increased reliance on technology throughout companies offers CTOs more insights into lines of business and back-office operations.

These insights can be valuable in finding efficiencies and opportunities to innovate. What’s more, the increased reliance on technology means CTOs often have visibility into talent, operations, and partners as well.

As more potential disruptions loom, the fact that every organization looks at its technology roles differently is a good thing, because the people filling those roles also have diverse backgrounds and will bring their own unique perspectives to the job. For example, my own strong background in engineering combined with a doctorate in economics has given me a different view on technologies from some of my peers.

The circumstances surrounding the COVID pandemic have made the blend of deep institutional knowledge and a wide breadth of technical aptitude an essential combination for any agile CTO.

Exploring the progress organizations are making in their investments towards digital resiliency

Overall investments in digital resiliency have increased steadily throughout the year as businesses prioritize or accelerate adoption of cloud, collaborative, and digital transformation projects, IDC reveals.

OPIS

Security has also been a major investment area, driven by the shift to more remote work and accelerated cloud adoption in 2020.

“Digital resiliency refers to an organization’s ability to rapidly adapt to business disruptions by leveraging digital capabilities to not only restore business operations, but also capitalize on the changed conditions,” said Stephen Minton, VP in IDC‘s Customer Insights & Analysis group.

“As the COVID-19 crisis has shown, the ability to respond quickly and effectively to unexpected changes in the business environment are critical to an organization’s short-term success. To prepare for future business disruptions, organizations need plans that will enable them to rapidly adapt as opposed to just respond.

“Investments in digital capabilities not only enable an organization to adapt to the current crisis but also to capitalize on the changed conditions.”

The Digital Resiliency Investment Index

The Digital Resiliency Investment Index is comprised of two factors – digital core investments and digital innovation investments.

Digital core investments are comprised of spending on the core components of digital resiliency: cloud, security, collaborative support for remote workers, and digital transformation projects. This score should increase over time as organizations shift budget away from traditional and legacy IT spending and toward these core components of digital resiliency.

Digital innovation investments are measured using a monthly survey of enterprises on their current and anticipated IT investment focus, including how much new or reallocated spending is targeted at digital resiliency and business acceleration versus crisis response measures. This score should also increase over time as organizations shift their spending focus back to building a digital enterprise.

Overall, investments in cloud, collaboration, and security have managed to grow throughout 2020, despite a decline in overall IT spending.

In recent, months, the focus on resiliency has increased as organizations realize the importance of being prepared for future business disruptions. As a result, digital resiliency spending is expected to accelerate in 2021 as the global economy improves.

Resiliency investments by location

On a geographic basis, resiliency investments grew fastest in Asia/Pacific, in line with the region’s overall response to the pandemic. Investments in the United States improved noticeably in October, which may reflect a combination of short-term and long-term factors.

Meanwhile, Europe’s results declined slightly in October as the region returned to crisis response mode with a surge in coronavirus cases and new socio-economic restrictions.

“The next several months may put increased pressure on some organizations to respond to second waves of COVID infections and economic lockdowns, which will be reflected in our monthly surveys throughout the winter,” said Minton.

“What we have learned already this year is that the organizations which were among the early adopters of cloud, digital, and collaborative technologies were best-positioned for a crisis no one could have predicted.

“Digital resiliency in the coming 6-12 months will to some extent reflect the speed at which others were able to pivot their tech investments in 2020, even as overall budgets were constrained by economic uncertainty.”

Quantum computers: How to prepare for this great threat to information security

The race is on to build the world’s first reliable and truly useful quantum computer, and the finish line is closer than you might think – we might even reach it this decade. It’s an exciting prospect, particularly as these super-powerful machines offer huge potential to almost every industry, from drug development to electric-vehicle battery design.

quantum computers threat

But quantum computers also pose a big security problem. With exponentially higher processing power, they will be able to smash through the public-key encryption standards widely relied on today, threatening the security of all digital information and communication.

While it’s tempting to brush it under the carpet as “tomorrow’s problem”, the reality of the situation is much more urgent. That’s because quantum computers don’t just pose a threat to tomorrow’s sensitive information: they’ll be able to decrypt data that has been encrypted in the past, that’s being encrypted in the present, and that will be encrypted in the future (if quantum-resistant algorithms are not used).

It’s why the NSA warned, as early as 2015, that we “must act now” to defuse the threat, and why the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is racing to standardize new post-quantum cryptographic solutions, so businesses can get a trusted safety net in place before the threat materializes.

From aviation to pharma: The industries at risk

The harsh reality is that no one is immune to the quantum threat. Whether it’s a security service, pharmaceutical company or nuclear power station, any organization holding sensitive information or intellectual property that needs to be protected in the long term has to take the issue seriously.

The stakes are high. For governments, a quantum attack could mean a hostile state gains access to sensitive information, compromising state security or revealing secrets that undermine political stability. For pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, a quantum computer could allow competitors to gain access to valuable intellectual property, hijacking a drug that has been in costly development for years. (As we’re seeing in the race for a COVID-19 vaccine, this IP can sometimes have significant geopolitical importance.)

Hardware and software are also vulnerable to attack. Within an industry like aviation, a quantum-empowered hacker would have the ability to forge the signature of a software update, push that update to a specific engine part, and then use that to alter the operations of the aircraft. Medical devices like pacemakers would be vulnerable to the same kind of attack, as would connected cars whose software is regularly updated from the cloud.

Though the list of scenarios goes on, the good news is that companies can ready themselves for the quantum threat using technologies available today. Here’s how:

1. Start the conversation early

Begin by promoting quantum literacy within your business to ensure that executive teams understand the severity and immediacy of the security threat. Faced with competing priorities, they may otherwise struggle to understand why this issue deserves immediate attention and investment.

It’s your job to make sure they understand what they’re up against. Identify specific risks that could materialize for your business and industry – what would a quantum attack look like, and what consequences would you be facing if sensitive information were to be decrypted?

Paint a vivid picture of the possible scenarios and calculate the cost that each one would have for your business, so everyone knows what’s at stake. By doing so, you’ll start to build a compelling business case for upgrading your organization’s information security, rather than assuming that this will be immediately obvious.

2. Work out what you’ve got and what you still need

Do a full audit of every place within your business where you are using cryptography, and make sure you understand why that is. Surprisingly, many companies have no idea of all the encryption they currently have in place or why, because the layers of protection have been built up in a siloed fashion over many years.

What cryptographic standards are you relying on today? What data are you protecting, and where? Try to pinpoint where you might be vulnerable. If you’re storing sensitive information in cloud-based collaboration software, for example, that may rely on public key cryptography, so won’t be quantum-secure.

As part of this audit, don’t forget to identify the places where data is in transit. However well your data is protected, it’s vulnerable when moving from one place to another. Make sure you understand how data is moving within your business – where from and to – so you can create a plan that addresses these weak points.

It’s also vital that you think about what industry regulations or standards you need to comply with, and where these come into play across the areas of your business. For industries like healthcare or finance, for example, there’s an added layer of regulation when it comes to information security, while privacy laws like the GDPR and CCPA will apply if you hold personal information relating to European or Californian citizens.

3. Build a long-term strategy for enhanced security

Once you’ve got a full view of what sensitive data you hold, you can start planning your migration to a quantum-ready architecture. How flexible is your current security infrastructure? How crypto-agile are your cryptography solutions? In order to migrate to new technology, do you need to rewrite everything, or could you make some straightforward switches?

Post-quantum encryption standards will be finalized by NIST in the next year and a half, but the process is already underway, and the direction of travel is becoming clearer. Now that finalist algorithms have been announced, businesses don’t need to wait to get quantum-secure – they must simply ensure that they design their security infrastructure to work with any of the shortlisted approaches that NIST is currently considering for standardization.

Deploying a hybrid solution – pairing existing solutions with one of the post-quantum schemes named as a NIST finalist – can be a good way to build resilience and flexibility into your security architecture. By doing this, you’ll be able to comply with whichever new industry standards are announced and remain fully protected against present and future threats in the meantime.

Whatever you decide, remember that migration can take time – especially if your business is already built on a complex infrastructure that will be hard to unpick and rebuild. Put a solid plan in place before you begin and consider partnering with an expert in the field to speed up the process.

A risk we can’t see

Just because a risk hasn’t yet materialized, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth preparing for (a mindset that could have come in handy for the coronavirus pandemic, all things considered…).

The quantum threat is serious, and it’s urgent. The good thing is that we already have all the ingredients to get a safety net in place, and thanks to strong mathematical foundations, we can be confident in the knowledge that the algorithms being standardized by NIST will protect businesses from even the most powerful computers.

The next step? Making sure this cutting-edge technology gets out of the lab and into the hands of the organizations who need it most.

Direct digital transformation investment to approach $6.8 trillion by 2023

Despite a global pandemic, direct digital transformation (DX) investment is still growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.5% from 2020 to 2023 and is expected to approach $6.8 trillion as companies build on existing strategies and investments, becoming digital-at-scale future enterprises, according to IDC.

direct digital transformation investment

Digital transformation investment predictions

Prediction 1: accelerated DX investments create economic gravity. The economy remains on course to its digital destiny with 65% of global GDP digitalized by 2022 and will drive over $6.8 trillion of direct DX investments from 2020 to 2023.

Prediction 2: digital organization structures and roadmaps mature. By 2023, 75% of organizations will have comprehensive digital transformation implementation roadmaps, up from 27% today, resulting in true transformation across all facets of business and society.

Prediction 3: digital management systems mature. By 2023, 60% of leaders in G2000 organizations will have shifted their management orientation from processes to outcomes, establishing more agile, innovative, and empathetic operating models.

Prediction 4: the rise of the digital platform and extended ecosystems. By 2025, driven by volatile global conditions, 75% of business leaders will leverage digital platforms and ecosystem capabilities to adapt their value chains to new markets, industries, and ecosystems.

Prediction 5: a digital first approach. While “digital first” prevails in every experience, 60% of enterprises will invest heavily in digitalizing employee experience in 2021, transforming the relationship between employers and employees.

Prediction 6: business model reinvention. By 2021, at least 30% of organizations will accelerate innovation to support business and operating model reinvention, fast-tracking transformation programs to future-proof their businesses.

Prediction 7: sustainability and DX. By 2022, the majority of companies will realize greater value by combining digital and sustainability, giving rise to digitally driven and sustainably enabled projects as the de-facto standard.

Prediction 8: digitally native cultures. To thrive in digital supremacy economy, 50% of enterprises will implement the organizational culture optimized for DX in 2025, based on customer-centric and data-driven.

Prediction 9: accelerating digital experiences. By 2022, 70% of all organizations will have accelerated use of digital technologies, transforming existing business processes to drive customer engagement, employee productivity, and business resiliency.

Prediction 10: business innovation platforms. By 2023, 60% of G2000 companies will build their own business innovation platform to support innovation and growth in the new normal.

According to Shawn Fitzgerald, research director, Worldwide Digital Transformation Strategies at IDC, “Organizations with new digital business models at their core that are successfully executing their enterprise-wide strategies on digital platforms are well positioned for continued success in the digital platform economy.

“Our 2021 digital transformation predictions represent areas of notable opportunity to differentiate your own digital transformation strategic efforts.”

60% of organizations have accelerated their zero trust projects

The COVID-19 pandemic has not impacted the adoption of zero trust technology globally, a Pulse Secure report reveals. In fact, 60% of organizations said they have accelerated zero trust implementation during the pandemic.

zero trust projects

The report surveyed more than 250 technology professionals. The newly published report examines how enterprises are moving forward with zero trust networking initiatives, where they’re being successful in doing so and how COVID-19 has affected the forward movement of those projects.

Formalized zero trust projects putting orgs ahead of the DX curve

The research found that the main difference between those who were successful in moving their zero trust initiatives forward were those that started out with formalized zero trust projects.

Those that had dedicated budgets and formal initiatives (69%) were far more likely to continue accelerating those projects throughout the pandemic, while those that had ad hoc zero trust projects were more likely to stall progress or stop entirely.

“The global pandemic has had some profound effects on the enterprise – with remote working being rolled out on an unprecedented scale, increased leverage of cloud resources and applications, and the transition to greater workplace flexibility,” said Scott Gordon, CMO at Pulse Secure.

“The findings indicate that organizations that advance their initiatives and planning towards zero trust process and technology implementation will be ahead of the digital transformation curve and much more resilient to threats and crises.”

The research went further into enterprises’ efforts to bring about zero trust networking in their environments. 85% of respondents have defined zero trust initiatives. However, 42% have received added budget for their projects. The projects that did receive added budget were more likely to persist through the pandemic.

Enterprises were overwhelmingly positive about their success in pursuing zero trust networking, with 94% indicating degrees of success; 50% labeled their efforts as successful and 44% of respondents indicating somewhat successful.

Bringing together security and networking teams

Dedicated zero trust projects tend to be interdisciplinary, bringing together security and networking teams. In 45% of such projects, security and networking teams have a zero trust partnership in which they formally share tools and processes. In 50% of cases, enterprises created a taskforce from both teams to pursue zero trust.

The three primary ways in which they collaborated were by coordinating access security controls across different systems (48%), assessing access security control requirements (41%) and defining access requirements according to user, role, data, and application (40%).

However, the survey found that collaboration is not without its own roadblocks. 85% of respondents in zero trust taskforces and partnerships found themselves struggling with cross-team skills gaps (33%), a lack of tools and processes that might facilitate collaboration (31%), and budget conflicts (31%).

“Enterprises are clearly accelerating efforts to adopt zero trust networking initiatives,” said Shamus McGillicuddy, VP of Research at Enterprise Management Associates.

“The survey shows that organizations that move forward with formal initiatives and budget are more likely to achieve implementation success and operational gain. We appreciate Pulse Secure’s support and sponsorship of this report that organizations can use to benchmark and progress their zero trust programs.”

Additional key findings

  • Prime zero trust benefits: When asked what they consider to be the prime benefit of zero trust networks, IT operations agility (40%), improved governance risk and compliance (35%), breach prevention (34%), reducing the attack surface (31%), and unauthorized access mitigation (28%) ranked among the strongest responses.
  • Hybrid IT remote access: Respondents are applying hybrid IT requirements to Secure Remote Access requirements within their zero trust network strategy, while 62% wanted cloud application access, half of enterprises access to public and private cloud resources and applications.
  • IoT device exposures: Respondents discussed their position towards IoT devices which cannot be provided with the user identities on which zero trust is based and how they intend to create access policies for them. 36% said that devices would receive tailored access privileges based on function and characteristics; others said that all devices would receive a generic minimum level of access privileges (28%) and that untrusted devices would have limited network access with no access to high risk or compliance zones (23%).

Most businesses are rethinking how they work

In the wake of COVID-19, nearly 72 percent of U.S. based businesses have been rethinking how they work, 58 percent of businesses feel remote working is enabling them to hire a more distributed workforce, and 8 out of 10 businesses are already retooling to provide improved customer and employee experiences that enable new ways of working, Avaya reveals.

rethinking work

According to the survey, 3 out of 4 businesses say they have focused more on employee and team communication since COVID-19:

  • 66 percent of mid-sized companies, those with 251-500 employees, have seen collaboration and communications technology increase in priority due to COVID-19
  • 57 percent of businesses reported some struggle with remote communication and fatigue
  • 32 percent reported employees having difficulties adapting to the new technology and communications tools available to them

“Work from Anywhere is creating new business models the world is adapting to, and it has become clear that trying to adopt a ‘business as usual, but remote’ approach is not enough,” said Simon Harrison, SVP and CMO, Avaya.

“COVID has accelerated digital transformation projects and put a new focus on customer and employee experiences, which have never mattered more. Additionally, new processes and new solutions need to completely change the way teams work together. Change has become a constant and embracing the cloud and the new experience economy, an opportunity.”

Technology decision makers are rethinking business at every level

  • 72 percent of businesses have been revisiting their overall business model due to the changes brought on by COVID-19
  • An even larger number, 80 percent, are rethinking their customer experience
  • 77 percent are examining their employee experience
  • 75 percent are rethinking their sales approach

Businesses focused on investing in communication and collaboration

83 percent of businesses responded that they thought their technology stack was prepared for remote working – however, many businesses did have to implement new technologies to improve their work-from-anywhere capabilities, including 65 percent adding video conference tools, 54 percent adding chat/messaging software and 53 percent adding project collaboration tools.

85 percent of businesses reported they plan on making the new technologies they have adopted during this time a permanent addition to their tech stacks.

Tech priorities are shifting

71 percent of tech decision makers reported faster adoption of new technologies in their organization due to COVID-19. Most companies also had a shift in technology priorities with 52 percent increasing investment in collaboration software, second only to spending on security, which nearly two-thirds of businesses increased.

Mid-sized companies with 251-500 employees have seen the biggest shifts in priorities, including increases in spending for security (74 percent), collaboration (66 percent), contact center software (59 percent) and contact tracing (53 percent). Overall, company owners and CEOs are more likely to say AI has increased in priority (46 percent).

Organizations need to understand risks and ethics related to AI

Despite highly publicized risks of data-sharing and AI, from facial recognition to political deepfakes, leadership at many organizations seems to be vastly underestimating the ethical challenges of the technology, NTT DATA Services reveals.

AI ethics

Just 12% of executives and 15% of employees say they believe AI will collect consumer data in unethical ways, and only 13% of executives and 19% of employees say AI will discriminate against minority groups.

Surveying 1,000 executive-level and non-executive employees across industries in North America in early 2020, the results indicate that organizations are eager to increase the pace of transformation.

AI and automation technologies play a vital role, helping businesses improve decision-making, business processes and even workplace culture. In fact, 61% say that AI will speed up innovation, and respondents say the technology is beginning to support improvements to efficiency (83%) and productivity (79%). Yet, there are many challenges with adoption and implementation, with ethical considerations and data security among the top few.

“AI presents one of the great leadership opportunities and challenges of our time. Leaders must be diligent in striking the balance, but they don’t have to go it alone,” said Eric Clark, Chief Digital Officer, NTT DATA Services.

“Our study outlines how businesses can take full advantage of emerging technologies and accelerate transformation, while taking necessary precautions on the path to responsible and secure adoption of artificial intelligence.”

Ethics and effectiveness of AI

For AI to be effective and avoid ethical pitfalls, businesses need to ensure that AI isn’t being programmed with biases that could lead to ethically charged decision-making or that cause AI to malfunction in some way.

One-quarter of executives and 36% of employees say they have experienced AI ignoring a command, and about one-fifth of both groups say AI offered them suggestions that reflected bias against a marginalized group.

Organizations do not have money or time to waste on technology investments gone wrong—so they must pivot their organizations to focus on agility, talent, change management, ethics, and other pressing issues.

Automation’s impact on the modern workforce

Modernizing the workforce means giving all employees access to the data and technologies that help them achieve optimum productivity. Most executives and employees believe that AI and automation will help improve employee effectiveness.

71% of executives say AI will make employees more efficient, 69% say it will improve employee accuracy, and 61% say it will speed up innovation. For this to happen, leaders need to invest in reskilling their workforce to get the most value out of emerging technologies.

Empowering the workforce through technology not only helps improve the bottom line, it helps drive employee retention – with 45% of employees responding they would be motivated to stay by education opportunities.

“The study overall paints a realistic picture of what we are seeing in the market,” said Tom Reuner, Senior Vice President at HFS Research.

“Going forward, enterprises will have to manage talent, organization, culture and provide the right environment for the new workforce, which seeks interesting projects and looks for meaning and motivation. AI technologies and methodologies are a critical enabler on that journey.”

AI adoption to create culture of speed, reinvention

Businesses and entire markets are being remade in terms of opportunity, operations and customer expectations, and there is no going back to the old pace of innovation. In fact, 47% of those surveyed believe failing to implement AI in some way will cause them to lose customers to competitors, and 44% think the bottom line will suffer.

However, few employees at companies surveyed think the pace of change at their organization is fast enough. In fact, less than one-third of executives and employees describe the pace of technology change, process change, or executive decision-making at their company as fast.

Even fewer—just 18% of employees and 19% of executives—say culture, which plays a major role in determining how workers respond to adjustments in technology and processes, changes quickly. This creates an opportunity for AI to drive sweeping change and speed up the pace of innovation and technology adoption.

Enterprises should strive for composability to be resilient during uncertainty

CIOs and IT leaders who use composability to deal with continuing business disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors will make their enterprises more resilient, more sustainable and make more meaningful contributions, according to Gartner.

composable business resilience

Analysts said that composable business means architecting for resilience and accepting that disruptive change is the norm. It supports a business that exploits the disruptions digital technology brings by making things modular – mixing and matching business functions to orchestrate the proper outcomes.

It supports a business that senses – or discovers – when change needs to happen; and then uses autonomous business units to creatively respond.

For some enterprises digital strategies became real for the first time

According to the 2021 Gartner Board of Directors survey, 69% of corporate directors want to accelerate enterprise digital strategies and implementations to help deal with the ongoing disruption. For some enterprises that means that their digital strategies became real for the first time, and for others that means rapidly scaling digital investments.

“Composable business is a natural acceleration of the digital business that organizations live every day,” said Daryl Plummer, research VP, Chief of Research and Gartner Fellow. “It allows organizations to finally deliver the resilience and agility that these interesting times demand.”

Don Scheibenreif, research VP at Gartner, explained that composable business starts with three building blocks — composable thinking, which ensures creative thinking is never lost; composable business architecture, which ensure flexibility and resiliency; and composable technologies, which are the tools for today and tomorrow.

“The world today demands something different from us. Composing – flexible, fluid, continuous, even improvisational – is how we will move forward. That is why composable business is more important than ever,” said Mr. Scheibenreif.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, most CIOs leveraged their organizations existing digital investments, and some CIOs accelerated their digital strategies by investing in some of the three composable building blocks,” said Tina Nunno, research VP and Gartner Fellow.

“To ensure their organizations were resilient, many CIOs also applied at least one of the four critical principles of composability, gaining more speed through discovery, greater agility through modularity, better leadership through orchestration, and resilience through autonomy.”

Composable business resilience

Analysts said that these four principles can be viewed differently depending on which building block organizations are working with:

  • In composable thinking, these are design principles. They guide an organization’s approach to conceptualizing what to compose, and when.
  • In composable business architecture, they are structural capabilities, giving an organization the mechanisms to use in architecting its business.
  • In composable technologies, they are product design goals driving the features of technology that support the notions of composability.

“In the end, organizations need the principles and the building blocks to intentionally make composability real,” said Mr. Plummer.

The building blocks of composability can be used to pivot quickly to a new opportunity, industry, customer base or revenue stream. For example, a large Chinese retailer used composability when the pandemic hit to help re-architect their business. They used composable thinking and chose to pivot to live streaming sales activities.

They embraced social marketing technology and successfully retained over 5,000 in-store sales and customer support staff to become live streaming hosts. The retailer suffered no layoffs and minimal revenue loss.

“Throughout 2020, CIOs and IT leaders maintained their composure and delivered tremendous value,” said Ms. Nunno. “The next step is to create a more composable business using the three building blocks and applying the four principles. With composability, organizations can achieve digital acceleration, greater resiliency and the ability to innovate through disruption.”

Machine identity related cyberattacks grew by 433% between 2018 and 2019

The machine identity attack surface is exploding, with a rapid increase in all types of machine identity-related security events in 2018 and 2019, according to Venafi. For example, the number of reported machine identity-related cyberattacks grew by over 400% during this two-year period.

machine identity related cyberattacks

“We have seen machine use skyrocket in organizations over the last five years, but many businesses still focus their security controls primarily on human identity management,” said Kevin Bocek, VP of security strategy and threat intelligence at Venafi.

Digital transformation initiatives are in jeopardy because attackers are able to exploit wide gaps in machine identity management strategies. The COVID-19 pandemic is driving faster adoption of cloud, hybrid and microservices architectures, but protecting machine identities for these projects are often an afterthought.

“The only way to mitigate these risks is to build comprehensive machine identity management programs that are as comprehensive as customer, partner and employee identity and access management strategies.”

Key findings

  • Between 2015 and 2019, the number of reported cyberattacks that used machine identities grew by more than 700%, with this amount increasing by 433% between the years 2018 and 2019 alone.
  • From 2015 to 2019, the number of vulnerabilities involving machine identities grew by 260%, increasing by 125% between 2018 and 2019.
  • The use of commodity malware that abuses machine identities doubled between the years 2018 and 2019 and grew 300% over the five years leading up to 2019.
  • Between 2015 and 2019, the number of reported advanced persistent threats (APTs) that used machine identities grew by 400%. Reports of these attacks increased by 150% between 2018 and 2019.

“As our use of cloud, hybrid, open source and microservices use increases, there are many more machine identities on enterprise networks—and this rising number correlates with the accelerated number of threats,” said Yana Blachman, threat intelligence researcher at Venafi.

“As a result, every organization’s machine identity attack surface is getting much bigger. Although many threats or security incidents frequently involve a machine identity component, too often these details do not receive enough attention and aren’t highlighted in public reports.

“This lack of focus on machine identities in cyber security reporting has led to a lack of data and focus on this crucial area of security. As a result, the trends we are seeing in this report are likely just the tip of the iceberg.”

How tech trends and risks shape organizations’ data protection strategy

Trustwave released a report which depicts how technology trends, compromise risks and regulations are shaping how organizations’ data is stored and protected.

data protection strategy

Data protection strategy

The report is based on a recent survey of 966 full-time IT professionals who are cybersecurity decision makers or security influencers within their organizations.

Over 75% of respondents work in organizations with over 500 employees in key geographic regions including the U.S., U.K., Australia and Singapore.

“Data drives the global economy yet protecting databases, where the most critical data resides, remains one of the least focused-on areas in cybersecurity,” said Arthur Wong, CEO at Trustwave.

“Our findings illustrate organizations are under enormous pressure to secure data as workloads migrate off-premises, attacks on cloud services increases and ransomware evolves. Gaining complete visibility of data either at rest or in motion and eliminating threats as they occur are top cybersecurity challenges all industries are facing.”

More sensitive data moving to the cloud

Types of data organizations are moving into the cloud have become increasingly sensitive, therefore a solid data protection strategy is crucial. Ninety-six percent of total respondents stated they plan to move sensitive data to the cloud over the next two years with 52% planning to include highly sensitive data with Australia at 57% leading the regions surveyed.

Not surprisingly, when asked to rate the importance of securing data regarding digital transformation initiatives, an average score of 4.6 out of a possible high of five was tallied.

Hybrid cloud model driving digital transformation and data storage

Of those surveyed, most at 55% use both on-premises and public cloud to store data with 17% using public cloud only. Singapore organizations use the hybrid cloud model most frequently at 73% or 18% higher than the average and U.S. organizations employ it the least at 45%.

Government respondents store data on-premises only the most at 39% or 11% higher than average. Additionally, 48% of respondents stored data using the hybrid cloud model during a recent digital transformation project with only 29% relying solely on their own databases.

Most organizations use multiple cloud services

Seventy percent of organizations surveyed were found to use between two and four public cloud services and 12% use five or more. At 14%, the U.S. had the most instances of using five or more public cloud services followed by the U.K. at 13%, Australia at 9% and Singapore at 9%. Only 18% of organizations queried use zero or just one public cloud service.

Perceived threats do not match actual incidents

Thirty-eight percent of organizations are most concerned with malware and ransomware followed by phishing and social engineering at 18%, application threats 14%, insider threats at 9%, privilege escalation at 7% and misconfiguration attack at 6%.

Interestingly, when asked about actual threats experienced, phishing and social engineering came in first at 27% followed by malware and ransomware at 25%. The U.K. and Singapore experienced the most phishing and social engineering incidents at 32% and 31% and the U.S. and Australia experienced the most malware and ransomware attacks at 30% and 25%.

Respondents in the government sector had the highest incidents of insider threats at 13% or 5% above the average.

Patching practices show room for improvement

A resounding 96% of respondents have patching policies in place, however, of those, 71% rely on automated patching and 29% employ manual patching. Overall, 61% of organizations patched within 24 hours and 28% patched between 24 and 48 hours.

The highest percentage patching within a 24-hour window came from Australia at 66% and the U.K. at 61%. Unfortunately, 4% of organizations took a week to over a month to patch.

Reliance on automation driving key security processes

In addition to a high percentage of organizations using automated patching processes, findings show 89% of respondents employ automation to check for overprivileged users or lock down access credentials once an individual has left their job or changed roles.

This finding correlates to low concern for insider threats and data compromise due to privilege escalation according to the survey. Organizations must exercise caution when assuming removal of user access to applications to also include databases, which is often not the case.

Data regulations having minor impact on database security strategies

When asked if data regulations such as GDPR and CCPA impacted database security strategies, a surprising 60% of respondents said no.

These findings may suggest a lack of alignment between information technology and other departments, such as legal, responsible for helping ensure stipulations like ‘the right to be forgotten’ are properly enforced to avoid severe penalties.

Small teams with big responsibilities

Of those surveyed, 47% had a security team size of only six to 15 members. Respondents from Singapore had the smallest teams with 47% reporting between one and ten members and the U.S. had the largest teams with 22% reporting team size of 21 or more, 2% higher than the average.

Thirty-two percent of government respondents surprisingly run security operations with teams between just six and ten members.

Global spending on cloud services to surpass $1 trillion in 2024

The COVID-19 pandemic has largely proven to be an accelerator of cloud adoption and extension and will continue to drive a faster conversion to cloud-centric IT.

global spending on cloud services

Global spending on cloud services to rise

According to IDC, total global spending on cloud services, the hardware and software components underpinning cloud services, and the professional and managed services opportunities around cloud services will surpass $1 trillion in 2024 while sustaining a double-digit compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.7%.

“Cloud in all its permutations – hardware/software/services/as a service as well as public/private/hybrid/multi/edge – will play ever greater, and even dominant, roles across the IT industry for the foreseeable future,” said Richard L. Villars, Group VP, Worldwide Research at IDC.

“By the end of 2021, based on lessons learned in the pandemic, most enterprises will put a mechanism in place to accelerate their shift to cloud-centric digital infrastructure and application services twice as fast as before the pandemic.”

Strongest growth in the as a service category

The strongest growth in cloud revenues will come in the as a service category – public (shared) cloud services and dedicated (private) cloud services. This category, which is also the largest category in terms of overall revenues, is forecast to deliver a five-year CAGR of 21.0%.

By 2024, the as a service category will account for more than 60% of all cloud revenues worldwide. The services category, which includes cloud-related professional services and cloud-related management services, will be the second largest category in terms of revenue but will experience the slowest growth with an 8.3% CAGR. This is due to a variety of factors, including greater use of automation in cloud migrations.

The smallest cloud category, infrastructure build, which includes hardware, software, and support for enterprise private clouds and service provider public clouds, will enjoy solid growth (11.1% CAGR) over the forecast period.

Factors driving the cloud market forward

While the impact of COVID-19 could have some negative effects on cloud adoption over the next several years, there are a number of factors that are driving the cloud market forward.

  • The ecosystem of tech companies helping customers migrate to cloud environments, create new innovations in the cloud, and manage their expanding cloud environments will enable enterprises to meet their accelerated schedules for moving to cloud.
  • The emergence of consumption-based IT offerings are aimed at leveraging public cloud-like capabilities in an on-premises environment that reduces the complexity and restructures the cost for enterprises that want additional security, dedicated resources, and more granular management capabilities.
  • The adoption of cloud services should enable organizations to shift IT from maintenance of legacy IT to new digital transformation initiatives, which can lead to new business revenue and competitiveness as well as create new opportunities for suppliers of professional services.
  • Hybrid cloud has become central to successful digital transformation efforts by defining an IT architectural approach, an IT investment strategy, and an IT staffing model that ensures the enterprise can achieve the optimal balance across dimensions without sacrificing performance, reliability, or control.