In June 2020, Larato surveyed UK mid-market enterprises, to establish how these businesses handled the challenges of operating in a COVID-19 world. The survey captured the views of over 100 mid-market leaders – CEO, CFO, CIO, CTO, Head of IT – across all sectors in companies employing up to 5,000 people.
Immediately following the lockdown in the UK, most companies were primarily focussed on how best to efficiently retain an instantly dispersed workforce and what cost savings and operational changes could be made to ensure the survival of their business. The challenge was how to implement new working practices whilst ensuring critical business functions continued both uninterrupted and securely. Many organisations did not have sufficiently agile business continuity plans that could be implemented within the extraordinary timescales required. The speed at which lockdown took place uncovered inflexibilities in existing systems and ruthlessly highlighted infrastructure that was not up to date enough to cope with the requirements suddenly asked of them.
Predictably, many organisations had to act quickly to provide interim solutions for their employees to transition from working in an office environment to working from home. Some companies found that even dealing with the fundamental basics like sourcing laptops and business-grade broadband was extremely demanding, due to the global shortage of devices and lack of available connections from service providers. In the early stages of the pandemic, just staying operational took precedence, and the normal business considerations of system scalability, functional longevity and security were forced lower down the priority list for many enterprises. Temporary compromises were made and recorded so that they could be revisited and adjusted as necessary.
For organisations working in regulated industries such as defence or health and social care, how sensitive information is stored, managed, and accessed is highly-controlled. Even in the unregulated sectors, GDPR and data security is taken with the utmost seriousness.
We found that security was the single biggest technology challenge most organisations struggled with when lockdown was enforced: 53% of respondents rated it as their top IT challenge. Furthermore, 74% said that their customers are now more, or much more, concerned about cybersecurity and data protection than they were pre-pandemic.
The enterprises we surveyed indicated a real desire to change their relationships with IT suppliers. CEOs specified a desire to work more with external partners because they recognise that distributed workforces need more remote support and are exposed to more cybersecurity threats. Delivering resilient, robust, high-performance IT has become significantly more complicated.
Enterprises know they need to look to partners for state-of-the-art cybersecurity expertise to counter the reported boom in the cybercrime economy, which is an existential threat to those companies affected, explaining why 65% of those questioned believe that the cyber risk to their organisation has increased, or significantly increased, due to the pandemic.
Above all other needs, these enterprises want their technology suppliers to deliver responsive and reliable support, tailored to their specific requirements. 94% reported technology as important or critical to the future of their organisations and 20% have introduced new security technologies during the pandemic which they intend to continue using in the future. 40% confirmed that their IT investment will increase next year.
Overall, the survey showed that organisations are now looking at how they can restructure and what technology can do for them. Because of COVID-19 and the new technologies that they have had to implement, many are on a learning curve about just how much this new way of working can help them improve their productivity and decrease their operational costs. For example, the collaborative working tool of choice throughout lockdown, Microsoft Teams, when configured to protect against data loss and used with Direct Routing, provides not only enhanced security, but significant and commercially-compelling cost savings, with the ability to dynamically flex to match the size of a distributed workforce.
Looking to the future, flexibility will be at the core of a successful business. Less fixed office space, easily-adaptable cost models and a reduced dependence on a small number of customers and markets all feature as lessons learned by our respondents. With the strong possibility of further lockdowns as the virus threatens to return, using an outsourced workforce and supplier model could prove highly-beneficial in uncertain and disruptive times.