The digital shift emanating from the COVID-19 crisis can serve to enhance workforce productivity, but organizations must be careful to ensure this does not threaten their security and make them more vulnerable to cyber-attacks, according to a panel speaking during the Tech Predictions Mini Summit.
The speakers firstly outlined how the shift to remote working and increased take up of digital technologies is having positive impacts for many organizations. James Maunder, CIO at The London Clinic, noted that “productivity equates to delivery of value and, in some senses, we’ve seen an increase.”
Similarly, at the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD), COVID-19 was viewed as an opportunity to accelerate a modernization program that was already in the making. “Part of that was the move to a mobile-first view of the world – mobile-first in the battlefield, mobile-first in our normal everyday working lives,” explained Charlie Forte, CIO at the MOD. “So we’ve used the COVID experience to really accelerate the delivery of a mobile-first workforce, and if we hadn’t done, we would have been quite challenged in terms of supporting defense outputs.”
However, as has been well-documented over the past year, the move to remote working, where staff are increasingly operating outside the secure perimeters of corporate buildings, has offered more opportunities for cyber-criminals to launch attacks. Forte acknowledged: “The threats substantially increase as you move to forming most of your daily engagement activities on a remote basis rather than being in a building somewhere and all together.”
In his view, awareness education and training is just as important to mitigating the increased threat levels as improving organizations’ technical infrastructure. “Your weakest link is always how people think about and approach their cyber-safety when they are working with anything digital. So we’ve been putting a lot of effort as part of a wider cyber-awareness program into equipping people to think responsibly and to have the education to act responsibly,” added Forte.
There has also been a major focus on enhancing digital skills in the NHS to ensure the growth in services such as online consultations are managed properly. David Farrell, head of digital readiness at Health Education England, highlighted a number of areas in which this is required, such as cybersecurity. This includes for senior leadership, ensuring they “fully understand the threats and opportunities of digital.” Going forward, Farrell highlighted plans to massively expand the number of digital roles in the NHS, up from around 45,000 to 80,000.
The panel went on to discuss the crucial role leaders within organizations have to look after the mental wellbeing of staff, ensuring they do not get too stressed or fatigued while working from home. One consequence of this is that staff are more likely to make errors that enable cyber-incidents to occur. Maunder commented: “There’s a real risk around jumping on the first video call at 8.00 am and staying staring at a screen until 6/7.00 pm. It is incredibly mentally draining and with that mental drain comes a reduction in our creativity, curiosity and emotional intelligence, and therefore our productivity drops.”
Another area organizations should be mindful of as they seek to expand their digital capabilities is the problems that can be caused by legacy IT systems. Remaining patient with IT teams as they balance removing so-called ‘tech debt’ while at the same time delivering advancements is vital in ensuring developments are undertaken safely. Maunder explained: “The challenge I think a lot of organizations have is that we need to deal with that technical debt and create a more sustainable, flexible, innovative future, while at the same time, delivering faster wins for the organization.”