Michael Frisby, Cobweb Managing Director, writes...
The end of the year is always a time of reflection for me, when I look back at what has happened in the year just gone, and look forward to what the year ahead might hold.
This time last year, no one could have imagined what 2020 was going to bring, the restrictions we’ve had to endure and the challenges we’ve all had to face. Since the middle of March nearly all our teams have been working from home, and thanks to the IT systems we have in place, we haven’t missed a beat in delivering our services - in fact, in some areas productivity and service SLAs have improved!
In my blog outlining my ‘hot IT topics’ for 2020, I said that it’s those businesses that take advantage of advances in technology that will improve their competitiveness. In fact, it has been technology that has enabled businesses to actually stay in business in many cases during 2020. IT solutions and services have been key to adjusting to meet the restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for flexible and remote working.
And, while news about the potential vaccines is good, it looks as if the ‘new normal’ with increased remote and home working is here to stay, certainly for the foreseeable future.
I know that enabling secure, flexible remote working is going to remain a priority in 2021 for many businesses. Here are some of the key areas we will be focused on to help our customers survive and thrive in these difficult times.
Secure, flexible remote work solutions delivered through modern cloud-based services are the foundation for individual and team productivity, and to be able to provide great experiences for your customers, regardless of where your employees are working from. For me, central to this is Microsoft 365, and I believe we will see a lot of innovation from Microsoft and other ISVs in building solutions that help better engage and support remote workers in the months ahead.
We know that security solutions which keep your users’ identities, their devices, applications, and data safe is always a top priority, but especially now, when those users are working outside of the office environment.
We have seen a big increase in malware and other forms of cyberattacks related to COVID-19, with email still the #1-way businesses are being attacked. Strong identity protection and management solutions combined with comprehensive email protection along with device and backups are now ‘must-have’ solutions. We’ve invested in creating new Security Review services to help customers identify the right level of security protection for them.
The weakest link in IT security, though, is the end-user and end-user education is the key first-line of defence, not just to raise awareness about the different types of attacks to look out for but also on how to use and be productive with the new tools that enable flexible remote working.
This last year has seen the number of daily active users of Microsoft Teams increase from 20m to over 115m. That is amazing growth, due to the communication and collaboration features so many businesses have come to rely on during lockdown in particular.
But Microsoft Teams is much more than a collaboration platform, it is also the hub through which processes can be automated and simplified, saving significant time and costs for any business. Combined with Power Apps and Power Automate we are seeing customers make significant savings whilst also improving the customer experience.
One of the main challenges of remote working, especially during the first lockdown, was being able to connect with people over the phone, due to legacy on-premise telephone systems not supporting remote workers. We are seeing an acceleration of customers moving to cloud telephony, and again Microsoft Teams has brilliant capabilities that integrate telephony along with the other ways of working together, improving productivity and enabling better customer experiences.
Whilst many businesses have already moved their users to Office 365, most businesses still have older applications and solutions running on servers in the office. Accessing these applications from home can be complex and most systems are not set up for remote access. Moving those servers to Microsoft Azure, makes secure remote access much easier, and solutions such as Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) provide remote users with a consistent working experience whatever their location. I predict that growth in moving to Azure and WVD is going to continue throughout 2021.
With workers no longer in the office, and working from home, supporting users has become a lot more complicated for many IT teams.
As providers of IT support to thousands of customers, we know how to support a workforce spread across many different locations. We are seeing a significant increase in the take-up of managed services, looking after the IT systems and remote workers, for much lower costs than in-house teams are set up to deliver. This move to managed services not only frees up time to concentrate on business objectives and tasks, but ensures that every worker and their IT solution is fully supported, no matter where they are working
We all know that, as management consultant Peter Drucker said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and keeping the culture of a business strong when teams aren’t all together in the office can be a significant challenge. It is something we spend a lot of time on here at Cobweb, to keep our teams connected, and we have significantly increased the number of internal all-hands online meetings, all via Microsoft Teams, to keep everyone on the same page.
Whilst working remotely, a key area has been to continue to invest in employee training and development. Taking advantage of webinars and workshops, and training software such as ClipTraining, for example, to deliver just-in-time learning, helps keep teams engaged and everyone motivated.
The final lesson for me that we have taken to heart as we leave 2020 and head into 2021, is that life and the business environment can change at the drop of a hat! It’s essential to be as prepared as possible to be able to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
We’ll be continuing to support our customers throughout the year ahead - and ready to talk about any concerns you may have. We’ll be here, whatever the challenges 2021 brings.
Give your account manager a call to chat through your existing IT infrastructure, there may be a simple upgrade that could bring major benefits. And if you’re new to Cobweb, and would like more information about any of the topics I’ve discussed above - or any of the services and solutions we offer, contact the team on 0333 009 5941 or email email@example.com. We’re here to help.
Wishing you a very Happy Christmas and a more normal and successful 2021!
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