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Pandemic lessons to enforce long-term IT strategy

Pandemic lessons to enforce long-term IT strategy

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The pandemic has been a learning curve for all and businesses have had to evolve in a short space of time. Emma Maslen, VP and GM for EMEA and APAC, Ping Identity, discusses the lessons executives are learning in light of the pandemic and how they’re adapting enterprises to the new normal. 

The pandemic has been transformational, to say the least. Vaccines have been developed and rolled out at historical speeds, and expectations from everyday life have changed in ways we never thought would be possible. Enterprise IT has also gone through its own profound changes. Almost overnight, businesses had to reconsider how they secure their networks and how their employees and customers access their online information.

Ping Identity’s C-Suite survey demonstrates this evolution within the boardroom. In late-2020, over 1,300 executives around the globe were surveyed to see how the pandemic impacted working conditions and mindsets towards security.

Perhaps the largest visible change to working life was the acceleration of remote work. Shortly after the beginning of the pandemic, governments ordered their citizenry to lockdown – staying in their houses for sometimes months at a time. In order to preserve Business Continuity and overcome the problem of their suddenly vacant offices, business enabled remote working on a massive scale. This often involved onboarding hundreds if not thousands of stressed employees onto a technology that businesses had never planned to accommodate for more than a handful of people. Though mass remote work came suddenly, many adapted well and it’s now looking as though it won’t be just an emergency measure but a staple of the post-pandemic norm.

In fact, executive respondents believe that remote work is here to stay. An average of 47% said that over a quarter of their employees would be working mostly remotely into 2022. In the UK, that expectation is even higher at 54%, compared with 52% in the US and 50% in France.

As a result, businesses are helping their employees secure their home networks for the long term potential of remote work. Nearly half (44%) of executives said they were providing new safe passwords for home routers and Wi-Fi networks, 42% said they were helping tether mobile devices for backup access in case of outages and 30% were providing additional routers.

This shift has also forced the boardroom to take a newfound interest in IT, the pandemic shedding light on its importance and entrenching it deeper within enterprise strategy. A total of 37% of executives say that they have increased the size of their IT departments in the wake of the pandemic. That increased investment also signifies an increased responsibility they’ve put in IT departments to protect the business and its revenues. Two-thirds (70%) of executives believe that security is the sole or majority responsibility of the IT departments.

This can be seen most clearly in the way they are architecting their networks. During the pandemic, security teams could no longer depend on existing perimeters, or the walls that kept threats out and sensitive data inside, to secure their borderless workforce. With most, if not all, of their employees working from home on potentially insecure and unreliable devices and computers – enterprises needed to find a new way to secure their networks – in whatever form.

Hence – an accelerating interest in identity security. Over half (55%) have invested in new identity security capabilities since the start of the pandemic. A total of 60% have increased their existing identity security investments and over the next 12 months, 79% believed they would be increasing their investments in Identity and Access Management (IAM). They also believe those technologies are important to more than just security – 85% believe they are critical for mobile and user experiences too.

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) has been particularly popular. One-third (38%) of executives estimate that before the pandemic, around half of their employees were using MFA. Now, nearly two-thirds (64%) report that over half of their employees are using MFA.

Zero Trust architectures have also mounted in popularity over the course of the pandemic. The majority of executives (83%) say that they have deployed some kind of Zero Trust element in their environments.

Zero Trust seems like a good choice for enterprises that can no longer rely on their traditional office-and-perimeter bound networks. In such networks, anyone that can get on the network is automatically granted an incredible amount of trust – commonly based on a single username and password combination. In Zero Trust architecture, no trust is automatically granted to any entity – be it the network, user or device. Instead, those entities are constantly authenticated using a variety of contextual factors as they move through the network. It makes sense from that point of view that over the next 12 months, 71% of executives believe they will be increasing their investments in Zero Trust.

Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. Many of these trends were mounting in popularity before the pandemic, but have been solidified under the pressures of global events. Perimeters were already giving way under the strain of new standards of working and new technologies. By the same token, identity security technologies were increasingly being recognised as a way to secure those new technologies and ways of working. In that sense, the data from this survey doesn’t quite show a full step change in how executives are thinking about IT and security post-pandemic, but rather that their thinking is finally catching up.

The profundity of that recognition shouldn’t be understated. Amid uncertain economic conditions, executives are actually investing in new IT and security technologies. They hope that these will protect them not just from pandemic-like shocks, but moving ahead into the post-pandemic landscape. That’s a remarkable show of faith at a time when the market doesn’t have a lot to spare.

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