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CloudTweaks | 2 Guys 2 Desks – Vocal Vaccine

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Lowe’s CIO: Don’t try to solve the wrong problem

Lowe’s CIO and EVP Seemantini Godbole has a vivid memory of the final pre-pandemic days in the office. 

“One day, I was just standing in my office looking through my window, and I’m seeing this line of people,” said Godbole. “Some people were carrying a monitor in one hand, and in the other I see a mousepad, a mouse.”

The sudden shift to remote work and the equipment needs of employees were far from the only thing that would change in the months ahead. The company needed to beef up the scalability of its website, launch digital tools to enable curbside pickup and support remote work — all of it quickly and simultaneously. 

“What I remember is there was a lot going on at the same time,” Godbole said of those early pandemic days.

CIOs faced new pressures this year, with organizations asking more of tech leadership as businesses reimagined operations. For Godbole, a combination of calmness, focus and data helped support IT priorities as the company adapted.

“When you see me in all these situations, it’s not like we’re going crazy,” said the CIO, a Target alum who joined the company in 2018. “We are actually very calm.”

With cooler heads, leadership can best understand what problems actually need solving while a company manages multiple elements of disruption — from enabling work from home in short-notice or mapping an IT roadmap to meet new business requirements. 

“I’m a big fan of not solving the wrong problem because sometimes you’re running really hard, but running in the wrong direction,” Godbole said.

Launching new digital capabilities at Lowe’s was made easier by the ability to build its software in-house. It’s been an internal mandate since 2018, when the company began an IT overhaul and set aside $500 million each year devoted to reversing years of underinvestment in IT

In July, the company ticked off another milestone in its IT overhaul roadmap: a full migration to the cloud which allowed Lowes.com to manage online traffic that Godbole said compared to Black Friday levels all through Q1 and Q2.

Upgrades to the company’s IT help websites stay online, but they also play a role in enabling more data-driven decision making, a desirable trait often found among companies that beat their revenue goals.

“We read a lot of data throughout this process,” Godbole said of the adjustments Lowe’s underwent during the pandemic. The company tracked metrics such as the status of contact centers, cancellation rates and associate morale in order to monitor how the company performed.

Data is also helping Lowe’s improve its client-facing systems. Work is underway at the retailer to improve the search and recommendation components of its website. The site should tailor the experience depending on what a client is looking to buy, and should complement it with services accordingly. 

“For example, you’re trying to buy a ceiling fan,” Godbole said. “And you’re wondering ‘How am I going to install it?’ We should give you options to do that right there while you’re buying your ceiling fan, so we make the experience complete. That’s the journey we are going on.”

Video call fatigue is setting in, Robert Half finds

Dive Brief:

  • Since the start of the pandemic, 38% of employees say they have experienced video call fatigue, according to a Robert Half survey published Nov. 12.
  • The most common video call pet peeve was technical issues followed by too many meeting participants and people talking over each other. Nearly one-quarter of respondents (24%) said they find virtual meetings inefficient and exhausting and would prefer to communicate through email or phone.
  • One in four employees (26%) said the practicality and novelty of videoconferencing wore off over the past eight months. With workers strapped for time, Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half, called on companies to determine the goal of a video call before setting them up, he said in the announcement. 

Dive Insight:

While an overload of meetings is a known workplace problem, the pandemic has exacerbated the issue with organizations conducting most meetings virtually, according to Robert Half’s findings.

While many are still working remotely, organizations may not need every meeting in a virtual format. Instead, different, shorter meetings could offer a replacement, according to Robert Half.

An April study from Clockwise found employees were spending more time in both one-on-one meetings and team meetings. Clockwise said this increased the amount of “fragmented time” on employees’ schedules, which prevents people from doing focused work. Employees also were working about an extra hour per week. 

Experts that spoke with HR Dive about running online meetings effectively suggested making sure digital safety is a priority, keeping cameras on as much as possible and running meetings with a more intentional, deliberate format that actively solicits the opinions of team members. They also suggested canceling or moving meetings if they were not necessary.

Like screen fatigue, the related challenge of employee burnout existed before the pandemic and may be getting worse during it. A study from BetterUp found resilience, particularly among front-line managers, can go a long way in overcoming difficulties. BetterUp’s chief innovation officer was one of two experts who shared how employees and managers can build the capacity for resilience.

Other ways employers are combating employee burnout or fatigue include schedule flexibility and increased benefits such as accommodations for working parents, mental health support and leave.

VMware edges into blockchain. Will enterprises bite?

Two years since its beta announcement, software company VMware announced the general availability of its enterprise-grade blockchain platform, VMware Blockchain, on Wednesday.

The company’s platform lets businesses deploy decentralized applications in a multiparty environment, according to a company announcement. The description of the tool fits blockchain’s target use case in the enterprise software market, which often involves the need for immutable transactions across multiple stakeholders. 

Though desktop virtualization was historically the core of VMware’s offering, it’s “no longer an accurate viewpoint” to think of the company solely as a niche provider, said Homan Farahmand, senior research director at Gartner.

Think of the blockchain launch as another step toward establishing an end-to-end digital foundation, Farahmand said.

The challenge ahead for the vendor is to find the fit between the technology, the problems it can help solve and CIOs in search of solutions. Amid dwindling budgets for emerging technologies, prospective clients will need to see examples of successful deployments that can help make the case for blockchain in the enterprise.

“What VMware needs to do is really prove that it can deliver,” said Bennett.

The vendor can point to two companies working to deploy its blockchain platform, with support from technology partner Digital Asset: Broadridge Financial Solutions and the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).

VMware first started looking into blockchain a few years ago, in the same way as just about every vendor did, as nobody wanted to miss that wave,” said Martha Bennett. “Many vendors gave up again when they realized that this technology isn’t an instant money maker but a long-term strategic play. VMware didn’t.”

Last year the company infused Kubernetes into its vSphere platform, a sign of flexibility within its strategy for competing in the cloud market.

“Many organizations are looking for providers that can offer production-grade advanced blockchain features such as high performance, scalability, privacy, interoperability and a rich ecosystem of developers and tooling to future-proof their investment,” said Farahmand.

The blockchain opportunity

How big is the market opportunity in blockchain? Global IT budgets took a hit this year in light of COVID-19, and so, too, did worldwide blockchain spend: reaching $4.3 billion, or a 7.7% contraction from IDC’s previous forecast.

But by 2023, global blockchain budgets are expected to reach $14.4 billion, signaling further opportunity down the road.

As VMware enters the competition alongside existing enterprise blockchain providers —  including IBM and Oracle — it will need to prove to the market there is added value in selecting its technology. 

One way it can get there is to provide concrete examples of what problems its blockchain platform can solve, and of the business and operational upsides it presents.

The continued presence of established players, and the entrance of new competitors, signals a certain stage of advancement. IBM, for example, has seen how deployment of blockchain services can catalyze the use of other cloud services within its existing offering.

Given blockchain’s maturity, enterprise leaders no longer need to turn to proofs of concept in order to confirm if the technology works, said Martha Bennett, VP, principal analyst at Forrester.

“We know that it will,” Bennet said. The question then becomes whether or not blockchain is an appropriate solution to any specific use case or industry. 

Failure to align the enterprise problem at hand, the capabilities of a specific technology such as blockchain and the resources a platform would require can lead to sunken costs and missed expectations in enterprise adoption. 

Blockchain capabilities are designed to enable a “frictionless programmable economy,” according to Farahmand. Friction points exist across many assets found in multiparty processes, such as:

  • Financial transactions
  • Insurance claims
  • Securities trade
  • Capital market
  • Trade finance
  • Supply chain management, logistics and transportation
  • Healthcare
  • Public services and records. 

“If the organization is struggling with friction in the current value chain, blockchain may play a role as a stepping stone toward disintermediation and decentralization,” said Farahmand.

In the case of ASX turned to VMware’s new platform to support increasing transaction volumes. The technology “can help financial services firms transform data, preserve privacy and confidentiality, and remove manual processes,” said Dan Chesterman, CIO of ASX, in the announcement. 

Fixing this issue can also unlock new kinds of customer and tokenized assets that can create new markets, economies and value streams.

“One of the huge attractions of a blockchain network is the transparency it provides and the data sharing capabilities,” said Bennett. “That has its downside in that not everybody is supposed to see everything for all kinds of reasons.

Similar to their appetite for technology platforms in AI, in deploying blockchain platforms CIOs will seek platforms that can provide clear business results, which is partly the result of a post-COVID prioritization of resources

Projects in the enterprise blockchain that haven’t yet gotten off the ground are influenced by a lack of certainty over whether or not the technology can scale to what the business needs it to, according to Bennett.

“That’s really where, from an enterprise perspective, the value is in VMware: if that software really lives up to its promise,” said Bennett. “What we now need to see is the deployment.”

CloudTweaks | Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Will Go Mainstream

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) technology enables remote users to access their desktop from anywhere using an internet connection. This technology has been around for a couple of decades but never received wide-scale corporate acceptance. Covid-19 has put the spotlight back on VDI and 2020 might well be the tipping point for this technology to go mainstream. Here are the top five reasons why:

  1. Covid-19 has drastically altered the future of work

The pandemic has surged the adoption of work from home practices across organizations. Businesses are now demanding technology that is more secure, scalable, mobile and cost-effective. Enterprises are shifting focus to centralized VDI technologies such as Windows Virtual Desktop from Microsoft and Virtual Apps and Desktops from Citrix that promise to be leaner and more secure. Since the bulk of the processing is done on servers in the cloud, enterprises don’t need to deploy expensive hardware for employees to access resources. This also simplifies device management, support and security. None of the connecting devices store any sensitive data so this approach is extremely secure for remote workers. Software updates and patches can be easily applied across all access device hardware efficiently and securely, ensuring everyone is up to date.

  1. Cloud has kickstarted VDI acceptance

There is no debate that the demand for cloud-based computing has skyrocketed. Per Gartner research, public cloud services are set to grow by 19% in an IT market that is expected to decline by 8% overall in 2020. Previously, organizations were hesitant to move critical workloads to the cloud due to security concerns but with Microsoft alone investing more than B on public cloud security and employing over 3,500 global cybersecurity experts the industry is coming to terms with the fact that public cloud is becoming more secure than traditional datacenters. We have already witnessed traditional on-premise applications like Microsoft Office moving to the cloud with Microsoft 365 now VDI looks set to follow suit.

According to IDC, the evolution in public cloud has also given rise to two major use-cases in VDI:

  • Desktop-as-a-service (DaaS): Traditionally, desktop virtualization will use an on-premise datacenter to supply hosted desktop images. DaaS providers on the other hand, use the power of the cloud to supply desktop images. This dramatically simplifies management and maintenance as everything can be handled in the cloud infrastructure. Gartner expects the DaaS market spend to grow by a whopping 95% in 2020.
  • Digital workspaces: The rise in complexity in the working environment has reached a level that can no longer be sustained. The growth in adoption of cloud services is changing how employees work. Desktop machines and traditional software is being replaced by internet browsers and web applications on simple portable devices. Workers and IT admins need a more streamlined, focused and automated ‘Single Pane of Glass’ approach that can work across various systems and tools. This has given rise to the digital workspace customer. The digital workplace market alone is expected to touch $50Bn by 2027.
  1. Non-Persistent desktops now offer a persistent user experience

Two of the limitations to wide-scale adoption of VDI historically has been cost and experience. Enterprises wanting to deliver a consistent user experience to their users had to invest in super-expensive dedicated hardware to support each individual virtual machine (i.e. persistent desktops). In contrast, non-persistent desktops offer significant cost savings but do not retain user settings/preferences and spin up a new machine every time a user logs on to their virtual desktop. VDI providers such as Citrix and Microsoft have overcome this challenge by adding a personalization layer on top of non-persistent machines, thus enabling a persistent experience to a non-persistent desktop. Non-persistent VDI alone will witness an 18% growth rate through 2026.

  1. 5G will transform virtual desktop connectivity and experience

The internet is the backbone of VDI. Unless you have the best available connectivity, using a virtual desktop can be a poor experience and frustrating since you are sending keystrokes and mouse movements to a remote machine while receiving screen updates. Absence of low latency can potentially disrupt user experience and productivity. 5G connectivity aims to kill network latency, and this will not only boost user experience but also greatly enhance productivity while using virtual desktops.

  1. Changing generations and evolving worker preferences

Every new generation that enters the workplace has interacted with technology in a different way while growing up. For example, when Baby Boomers first started using PCs, they had an operating system with applications installed onto it and that’s how they expected to interact with it. In contrast, Millennials consume technology differently. It’s more like a Facebook/Twitter type feed that they’re used to. They want to see important stuff appear at the top of the screen, have routine work automated and don’t want to be navigating through multiple programs to access data. Digital Workspaces deliver just that via VDI and has the ability to automate routine tasks providing users with customized views based on their preferences and tapping into a range of collaboration apps.

With the shift from physical desktops to virtual having already begun, the VDI market is looking at a CAGR of 16% and expected to reach 2.5 billion in five years. A post-Covid world promises to accelerate this transition as businesses of all sizes need to facilitate their entire workforce with secure access to business-critical applications — regardless of device, browser or location.

VDI solutions have matured and the infrastructure that underpins VDI has also matured. VDI is now less costly, more stable, and no longer constrained to use-cases in specific verticals. VDI is a logical extension to the cloud and 5G only promises to further its growth.

By Gary Taylor

IT spending lessons from the oft resource-constrained nonprofit world

In the corporate world, even constrained by economic uncertainty and budget cuts, organizations allocate scarce resources toward technology to provide a competitive advantage. 

It’s different in parts of the nonprofit sector. 

“Technology in the corporate world is usually to try and help the bottom line,” said Rui Lopes, CIO at the nonprofit HIAS, founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. With limited resources, the goal for every branch of HIAS is to help the beneficiary. 

In the technology stack, this leaves little room for upgrades or extra tools, even with the support of corporate partners providing technology services.  

HIAS is an international nonprofit working toward humanitarian aid and refugee assistance. Its beneficiaries, refugees and displaced people, represent some of the most vulnerable populations in the world. 

Headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, HIAS operates globally, providing services for refugees in 16 countries including Kenya, Costa Rica and Venezuela. The bulk of its revenue is allocated toward refugees and immigration, in the U.S. and internationally. 

In 2019, HIAS brought in $58.4 million in revenue, earned from a combination of contributions, grants and government aid, among others, according to its annual report. Of its expenses, which totaled $59.9 million, 80% went to refugee assistance. Just 14%, or $8.5 million, was allocated toward management and general support.  

For Lopes, the answer to the resource constraints became a platform approach, where services are integrated under one provider, in this case Microsoft Dynamics 365.  

It follows the 80-20 rule, he said. Technology platforms need to do 80% of what an organization needs to be impactful and efficient. The last 20%, HIAS can fill in. 

Cloud technology made the shift toward platforms possible. It also solved operation challenges for global organizations, even in locations with limited bandwidth. Saving money comes from modernization of a technology stack to streamlining solutions. 

“When I came to HIAS, the organization, for all intents and purposes, their IT was Jurassic Park,” Lopes said. “The organization had not matured, had not been educated on, had not seen the benefits of a digital transformation, of an IT strategy, of an expansion of IT resources around the world.” 

It takes education and patience to sway stakeholders technology requires investments. To succeed, Lopes had to connect investments to the beneficiary so people could see the benefits. 

“If you can eliminate complexity, it trickles down into the spending,” Lopes said. Frugality is emphasized and Lopes is called to be creative, because the need for laptops or physical equipment never disappears. 

The corporate world is complex and sprawling, he said. If organizations fail to look at their technology sprawl in totality and minimize complexity, spend becomes exponential. 

The case of the case management system

The adoption of a platform-based system became a pilot in Kenya, where HIAS has several branch offices. There, an individual may seek services from several of its branch offices and in each case provides basic information.

“As we came into that Kenya pilot, the issue was, the data’s all over the place. It’s in somebody’s laptop, it’s written on somebody’s paper on somebody’s desk because that’s how the process happens,” Lopes said. 

This can pose a risk to securing personally identifiable information. In Kenya, where it’s a criminal offense to have gay sex, if a LGBT refugee’s information got into the wrong hands, it could put that person in danger, Lopes said.

The answer in adopting the system became simplicity. Before HIAS adopted the Dynamics platform, behind the scenes it had to understand what’s possible with the platform and which part of the “existing solution can be customized, and if it’s customized how far we should customize,” said Alex Mouratchanidis, IT Developer & Business Analyst with HIAS.  

“If we customize, are we going outside the best-practice spectrum or we’re still staying in the industry standard,” Mouratchanidis said. 

The tech team worked to standardize the entire system so it required less customization for individual end users. They also had to consolidate disparate information in a logical way to import it into the platform. 

As it completes the Kenya pilot, the goal for HIAS is to have all core system intake in all its countries on the platform in 2021. 

The case management system secures and makes records accessible to all staff on a centralized platform, Lopes said. IT can permission “almost everything, from data to user level.” 

“We are centralizing that data, we are creating one source of truth,” Lopes said. “Our data is now more accurate. 

“We do not have the resources to hire a project management office, a series of project managers, tons of developers,” Lopes said. “So if you synthesize that, all it boils down to is we need a platform, we need a development platform that is very easy to put together [and] minimize the custom coding.”

Do not disturb: Setting time-off boundaries when work is just a click away

No one does their best work when they’re feeling burnt out. Tired eyes from too many virtual meetings and lack of work-life balance as the lines blur between home and office overextend workers’ abilities — especially among tech leadership. 

In a prior role, TIBCO CIO Rani Johnson said she once went 60 hours straight in the office until her boss sent her home. High expectations and a reliance on IT teams to support business infrastructure keeps the pressure high.

It wasn’t until Johnson moved to Austin, Texas that she realized work-life balance was possible. Seeing employees accomplish the same amount of work in less time proved to her overworking does not enable productivity. 

TIBCO CIO Rani Johnson

TIBCO

“I used to run track when I was younger, and if you run too fast or too hard, too long, you get stress fractures, and that will pull you out of the race,” Johnson said. “We have to take care of ourselves and our teams, because ultimately it’s just going to slow us down.”

For Mark Greville, VP of architecture at Workhuman, burnout took a physical toll. When he neglected to take time for himself, long hours at work caused panic attacks affecting his well-being and job performance. 

Without time to recharge, IT execs can suffer from stress-related illness and mental health struggles that push them. Plus, with remote work, employees are available whenever and wherever. 

Gone are the days of taking a week off from work and fully disconnecting when mobility keeps us connected, according to Greville. 

Spending time with loved ones, whether virtual or in-person, and disconnecting from work this holiday season is crucial to recharging. Fully disconnecting from work starts with setting boundaries long before the break. 

Mark Greville, VP of architecture at Workhuman

Workhuman

Setting time-off boundaries to recharge

Struggling to disconnect from work or catching up on deadlines during time off hinders the ability to refresh during breaks, and leaders commonly struggle with managing leisure and work.

“I don’t think any leader is super successful at work-life balance,” Johnson said. 

Knowing full well the importance of time off, Johnson admits that she still may do some work on the weekends but she usually waits until Monday morning to hit send. Only sending non-urgent communications during work hours sets the expectation that she’ll only be available when she’s on the clock and employees shouldn’t feel the expectation to log on during off hours. 

The same collaboration tools that keep the workplace so connected can also be used to enforce boundaries. Listing offline hours in emails and configuring do not disturb hours into collaboration tools builds boundaries into work culture.

“You’re basically training on best practices for your collaboration tools that are configured with hours that are considered to be ‘do not disturb’ or configured with hours that are sleep hours,” Johnson said. 

Frequent work interruptions on a day off may signal leadership shortcomings. 

By setting up teams that can function without the leader present and empowering employees to overcome hurdles without calling the boss, IT leaders can usually enjoy a day off without interruption. 

“There’s a few questions to be asked if I’m getting a call on my day off: Have I empowered a team correctly? Is there something maybe a little off with that?” Greville said. “It’s important to make sure the team is empowered to make their own decisions.”

Empowered teams stem from proper delegation of tasks. Good leaders give their teams the autonomy to get work done and grow as employees, as opposed to taking everything on themselves, according to Greville. 

Leaders should set the ground rules of who is responsible for what tasks while they’re away before taking time off, Greville said. Discipline and delegation cut Greville’s work weeks back to the standard 40 hours. 

“If we were to do all the tasks that were in front of us, we could probably work 24 hours a day,” Greville said. “So, there’s a discipline that needs to be brought in about choosing to do things, and then choosing to switch off at certain times as well.”

Workplace culture starts with leadership setting the example and expectations. When a leader feels overworked, there’s a good chance their team does too, and the whole unit’s productivity and culture suffers.

Leadership work-life balance raises employee morale, too

Recognizing signs of burnout in yourself and prioritizing time-off builds more effective, savvy leadership. Employees should feel the importance of those boundaries trickle down.

Tech culture stereotypes portray young employees working long hours to prove their value to the business. But that model isn’t sustainable, it’s certainly not “attracting the next generation of technologists,” said Johnson. 

There’s greater value in employees who accomplish objectives consistently and do great work, as opposed to being available 24/7. Leadership should shy away from making heroes of the people who fail to strike the proper work-life balance, according to Johnson. 

“If you burn yourself out and burn your team out, you all cannot produce and meet your business objectives,” Johnson said. “After a while, it creates a culture that people don’t want to be a part of, and then you’ll see attrition, you’ll see health concerns in your team and you’ll start to see more absence.”

Like salary, employers commit time off to workers as a form of compensation. When this commitment is broken, by last minute work obligations on a day off or unrealistic expectations about availability, it degrades team morale. 

“It’s very important that organizations take responsibility to encourage people to disconnect during holiday time particularly with … the added stresses of family and the various commitments around them,” Greville said. 

Lack of willingness to prioritize time off as a company also limits workplace diversity. Companies can miss out on crucial talent when they don’t accommodate holiday leave or consider employee obligations outside of work.

“When there was more time allowed for people to take care of themselves, there’s more different communities that can participate,” such as people with families or of various age groups, according to Johnson.

Technologists grapple with privacy, bias as AI inches closer to customers

In the coming years, enterprise leaders can expect to see AI applications sprint beyond back-office tasks, and focus more sharply on where their brand intersects with customers. 

“What we’ve seen historically is it’s been all the behind the scenes,” said Jordan Fisher, co-founder and CEO of Standard Cognition, speaking on a Forbes CIO Next Virtual Series Wednesday. “Things are locked behind a computer screen.”

But AI is growing closer to customer and employee touchpoints, Fisher said. The shift can deliver improvements in the workplace or customer experience, though experts caution against over-hyping the results AI can yield for businesses. Lack of access to data and skills frequently stands between tech leaders and the results they aspire to.

“For me, it’s all about how do we meet the person where they are and give them the best possible experience, whether they’re doing a job or whether they’re shopping,” said Fisher, whose company makes an AI-powered computer vision platform for retail checkout.

In the customer lifecycle, technology that can provide insights about customer engagement with a product, service or brand has “a lot of applicability, because you can capture that in-the-moment experience,” said Rana el Kaliouby, co-founder and CEO of Affectiva, speaking on the panel Wednesday.

“You can use these insights offline to optimize experience or, even better, you can provide just-in-time support, which is where a lot of the applications in the industry are moving toward,” said el Kaliouby. 

But efficient AI products can’t operate without data that guides decisions, such as a consumer’s most frequent purchase or their preferred store location. Challenges in the space involve data privacy, and the safe-keeping of personally identifiable information. Concerns also touch on how algorithms make decisions about the consumers they interact with, and where their assumptions come from.

Enterprise tech players, including Google, Amazon and IBM, have expressed their desire to have a clear government framework around regulating AI.

The ethical implications of data collection made el Kaliouby decide her company would not participate in projects in the surveillance space.

“Often, consumers are not really aware that they’re being monitored, and there’s no transparency around how their data is being used,” said el Kaliouby. “I’m a huge advocate for thoughtful regulation. I do think we need to work very closely with government and legislators and civil liberties.”

Data analytics systems can also replicate the bias of its creators, amplifying skews that seep into algorithms throughout the creation process and can eventually impact humans. Thorough validation frameworks can help technologists stave off the risk of generating biased AI products.

Enterprise software promises to enable the augmented worker by automating tasks formerly performed by humans. Robotic process automation in particular delivered efficiency gains for companies undergoing the impacts of the pandemic. But in that replication process, biases can slip by, said Fisher. 

“Even if you think you’re doing the right thing, and just listening to what your labelers are saying in order to train your algorithms, that’s actually the easiest way to get bias,” he said.

These risks became clearer as automation laggards quickly embraced the technology in the face of increased demand or a reduced workforce. Once processes become automated they are unlikely to revert to previous versions.

Employees suffer stress, decrease in work quality due to IT skills gap

Dive Brief:

  • The IT skills gap still troubles 80% of managers in North America and 78% of managers worldwide, according to Global Knowledge 2020 IT Skills and Salary Report, a survey of 9,505 members of the workforce. 

  • The number of IT decision-makers who report skills gaps has rapidly increased since Global Knowledge began asking about it in 2015, with a marginal tick down between 2019 and 2020. Increased stress on existing employees and difficulty meeting quality objectives are the top two impacts of skill gaps on organizations, according to the report. 

  • While some blame the rapidly changing technology landscape for creating the gap as employees can’t keep up with emerging skill sets, employers are now reporting a lack of soft and professional skills widening the divide.

Dive Insight:

Companies demand a certain set of soft skills from IT leadership, including strong communication, to guide transformation projects and connect with employees. As soft skills requirements start to touch every role, the already stark IT skills gap holds firm. 

IT decision-makers say the skills gap persists because of technology change exceeding skills development programs, difficulty attracting candidates with the skills needed and lack of investment in skills training as the top reasons behind the skills gap, according to the Global Knowledge report. 

As those leaders up training for existing employees to fill the gap, 67% believe the rift costs employees between three and nine hours or work per week in productivity. 

Analysts and leadership largely blamed the rapid acceleration of technology for the shift. Lack of cloud knowledge or data science acumen acted as scapegoats fixed by certification and upskilling courses. 

But IT professionals today are integrated with all lines of business — especially as they work to support remote work. No longer just a resume differentiator, workplaces demand soft skills such as teamwork, adaptability and conflict resolution from all employees. 

CompTIA predicts retraining for professional skills, not hard skills, will help close the IT skills gap in 2021, according to the IT Industry Outlook 2021

“The fact that IT pros are interacting much more with all lines of business, whether that’s marketing, human resources or the front office, has only accentuated the need for professional skills,” CompTIA said. “To assemble this kind of IT workforce, many companies will have to provide retraining for their IT pros in the year ahead.”

Employers are seeking flexibility/adaptability, leadership and strong work ethics as the top three soft skills for potential new hires, according to a CompTIA survey of 1,500 business and tech executives globally earlier this year. 

With the mass shift to remote work, these soft skills only became more crucial. Providing the tools to keep employees productive and troubleshooting tech for coworkers largely falls on IT teams, expanding their footprint throughout the business and requiring the new set of skills.

Infrastructure-as-a-Service Security Responsibilities

Updated: 11.19.2020

What is IaaS?

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) allows you to rent computing resources from a third party that you then access through the web. You essentially outsource having to set up or manage up racks, servers, storage, cooling equipment, power, or a physical place to house it all. You simply pay for only the computing capacity you need, and leave the dirty work of maintaining and securing the computer hardware to someone else, without incurring any upfront capital costs. See additional tips

It’s no secret many organizations rely on popular cloud providers like Amazon and Microsoft for access to computing infrastructure. The many perks of cloud services, such as the ability to quickly scale resources without the upfront cost of buying physical servers, have helped build a multibillion-dollar cloud industry that continues to grow each year.

Still, even though cloud has helped many companies, there are tradeoffs with cloud services such as Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) that organizations need to be aware of. With IaaS, a cloud provider maintains basic IT infrastructure such as servers, storage, and networks on your behalf, which is convenient but also raises concerns at the same time.

Why are IT pros worried about cloud security?

With On-Premises infrastructure, you have complete visibility and control over everything. You can physically see your infrastructure, and if something goes wrong, you have the power and ability to take immediate actions to fix issues.

But with cloud services, you need to trust your provider to properly secure your environment and respond to any security incidents in a timely manner, and as the data shows, many IT departments are hesitant to relinquish control and are afraid of outages or data loss that might occur in the cloud.

Adding to the worries, if a security incident occurs on cloud infrastructure, there’s sometimes confusion over who’s ultimately responsible for addressing the problem because there’s shared security responsibility between you and the provider. Who needs to take actions to remedy an issue depends on where in the stack the security incident actually occurred. Therefore, it’s critical for cloud users to know who’s responsible for what.

How IaaS security responsibilities are divided

The two dominant cloud players, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, have both documented what they are responsible for as cloud providers when it comes to security. For example, in their shared responsibility model, Amazon Web Services has helpfully broken AWS security responsibilities into two main buckets:

Security of the cloud” = everything the provider does, including:

  • Securing global cloud infrastructure, including physical access to data center facilities where your IT resources are housed
  • Protecting the physical networking, compute, and storage resources, so you don’t have to worry about setting up servers or storage hardware, patching firmware, or installing and properly disposing of drives, etc.
  • Securing Hypervisors that host and manage your VMs running on cloud infrastructure

Security in the cloud” = everything you’re responsible for, including:

  • Guarding data generated or collected by your applications
  • Maintaining secure operating system, network, and firewall configurations
  • Identifying and accessing control mechanisms tied to any platforms or applications you manage
  • Protecting information by ensuring data integrity, using encryption, and properly using identity management technologies

How security responsibilities differ between Iaas, PaaS, and SaaS

Microsoft also draws a clear line that separates what cloud Service Providers and cloud customers are responsible for. Their March 2016 document entitled Shared Responsibilities for Cloud Computing goes one step further by breaking down responsibility areas across different cloud models including IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS.

With all three service models, the cloud provider is solely responsible for physical security of infrastructure. And like with AWS all Azure users, regardless of what cloud model they take advantage of, are responsible for data classification and availability to make sure sensitive customer data is properly handled across all of the cloud models. But there are varying degrees of responsibility when it comes to end-point protection, identity & access management, application level controls, network controls, and host infrastructure. As a general rule of thumb, the more control over infrastructure you have, the more security responsibility you have as well, with IaaS providing the most control and responsibility, followed by PaaS, and then SaaS.

How to stay on top of cloud security

In summary, a first step towards securing cloud infrastructure and data is understanding what you’re responsible for so you can take appropriate action. The cloud providers try to make this very clear so you know what you’re getting into when you sign up for their services.

But just because the providers make some promises, you still need to be careful. Providers like Amazon Web services and Azure are not typically on the hook for data loss or a breach due to labor disputes, utility failures, natural disasters, orders of government, or acts of terrorism or war. They also include language in their service agreements that state you are still responsible for backing up and archiving your content in case of a disaster… so even when the cloud provider is on the hook for security, you still need a solid “plan B” just in case.

By Peter Tsai