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Sourcing and Procurement

Tech aids mobility and connectivity shift for businesses battered by COVID-19 crisis

The novel coronavirus has created an unrest across the world. Acknowledging the threat that COVID-19 can inflict, majority of the countries world over have announced a complete lockdown, banned all domestic and international travels, and have urged people to stay at home as a precautionary measure. In line with the directive, corporations have also moved all their operations to the cloud and online platforms, to ensure employees are working from home and avoiding physical gatherings. Fortunately, the advancements in Information technology (IT) has made the transition a swift one.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to tighten its grip across the world, including the US, work from home, or telecommuting, has become more of a mandate than a choice. The situation has compelled corporations to evaluate and upgrade their technology infrastructure in a bid to provide easy and secure remote access to their employees, wherever they may be.

However, the transition is not as easy as it appears to be. Telecommuting entails numerous concerns in terms of information security, business continuity plan, and change in procurement processes and policies. In this first article, as part of a series, we attempt to cover the intrinsic factors of the transition.

Managing demands

The “new normal” is becoming the order of the world. The shift in work culture has put greater stress on requirement of hardware devices, such as laptops, tablets, smartphones, wireless routers, and hotspot devices. This has aggravated the need to have better connectivity between the systems.

The “new normal” is becoming the order of the world. The shift in work culture has put greater stress on requirement of hardware devices, such as laptops, tablets, smartphones, wireless routers, and hotspot devices. This has aggravated the need to have better connectivity between the systems.

The transition has made the role of IT procurement management even more critical now. The situation has put to test the skills of IT Procurement teams, especially their ability to quickly source and identify new supply chains and inventory sourcing in the times of crisis.

While there are companies that are sourcing only refurbished systems, assuming the situation to be temporary, a majority of others are bracing up for the long-term impact of the global pandemic. The ability to be agile in both sourcing and procuring the required devices to address the immediate need, is a common quest all firms share in the present situation.

As we learn and evolve our functions to suit the current crisis, the processes developed thereby, should be included in a Business Continuity Plan (BCP). We will discuss in detail the need for it in the next part of the series.

Revisiting Security Amidst Shift in Connectivity

IT professionals, like healthcare workers, are also burning the midnight oil to minimize the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and limit losses in business operations and productivity. With employees working from home, data security concerns are the top priority for companies. According to a study conducted by OpenVPN in 2019, 90% of the 215 IT professionals surveyed acknowledged that data security is a vulnerability associated with remote working.

Enabling the entire workforce to work from home brings with itself a plethora of problems. An employee would typically use an Internet Service Provider (ISP) for connecting their devices with either a hard-wired ethernet connection, or by using wireless access points (Wi-Fi). Personal wireless connections are often unmanned and are not secure. These may be susceptible to hacking or can be publically accessed by anyone within the signal range.

The risk of security breach increases if the companies are not abreast with technological advancements and updated IT tools. As per the OpenVPN study, 24% of all companies surveyed, haven’t updated their security policy for remote working, in over a year.

Data risk mitigation – COVID-19 and beyond

The companies that are mindful of the need for a robust IT backup, have established virtual private network (VPN), a remote access system that securely connects devices to the company’s intranet, providing secure access to data and programs.

Microsoft, for instance, is using split tunneling to ease segregation of critical and latency-sensitive traffic. When using a VPN, following are the key points companies must keep in mind, in order to mitigate the risks of a security breach:

  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): It is an additional layer of security that mandates the user to verify his/her identity by punching in multiple credentials, such as authentication code, after feeding the username and password.
  • Remote Access Control: It allows the user to connect to the enterprise network by providing valid credentials.
  • Endpoint Device Security: The security measure uses encryption and application control to secure the end points. The security offers access to an enterprise network by creating secured point of entry.
  • Wireless Secured Password Usage: It enables connecting to VPN using a wireless password. The password must be a combination of alphabets, numbers, and symbols.

Who will bear the brunt?

With COVID-19 cases on a rise, experts predict that the work-from-home culture is here to stay for the long-term. In fact, many are considering the current situation as an opportunity to gauge the productivity of employees while working from home, in order to opt for a mix of remote and in-office workforce, once the crisis subsides.

Adopting a mixed workforce can also prove to be cost effective for the companies. In general, enterprise-based connectivity and bandwidth is faster, but also costs a fortune, with multi-year contractual obligations. Foremost, the current situation demands that these contracts be reviewed immediately to revise the terms and conditions related to expiry or renewal clauses.

Inversely, employees working from home are putting a significant strain on home internet connectivity also. Users often face issues such as slow internet speed and excessive consumption of data. Organizations are doing all they can to allocate sufficient network capacity, wherever needed, to match the higher daily consumption of bandwidth by the employees. IT departments are reeling under pressure of adding extra VPN capacity into the network, which can take hours, days, or even weeks to implement. Typically, adding users to the VPN network in bulk requires the companies to acquire a license at hefty costs, increasing concerns of higher cost and investment for the companies.