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CIO refresher for 2021: Trends and resolutions to get you up to speed

AMEinfo has compiled insights from industry insiders for the CIOs of the region to prepare for the coming months.

2021 is finally here, and while we look forward to a brighter year ahead, CIOs (Chief Information Officers) must equip their companies with the right tools, information and foresight as new threats lurk on the horizon Partha Narasimhan, CTO of Aruba, shares four major trends that CIOs now face that can make or break an organization’s IT program Edwin Weijdema, Global Technologist, Product Strategy at Veeam, shares three cybersecurity resolutions every business should consider in the new year

2021 is finally here, and while we look forward to a brighter year ahead, CIOs (Chief Information Officers) must equip their companies with the right tools, information and foresight as new threats lurk on the horizon.

AMEinfo has compiled insights from industry insiders for the CIOs of the region to prepare for the coming months.

The Four 2021 Networking Trends Every CIO Needs to Know

Partha Narasimhan, CTO of Aruba, has shared with AMEinfo four major trends that CIOs now face that can make or break an organization’s IT program: 

  1. The rise of the hybrid workforce and how that will evolve during and after the pandemic;
  2. The changing role of network security integrated across the fabric of the network;
  3. Graduating from uptime networking metrics to user satisfaction metrics, examining networking holistically as part of the broader IT technology stack;
  4. Staying the course in implementing automation in networking operations, despite challenges posed by the LAN, WAN and Cloud.

1. The Hybrid Workforce is Here to Stay 

Despite recent advances in vaccines for COVID-19, many roles may still not fully return to the office until late 2021, and in many cases, not at all. After speaking with CIOs from across the country, what is clear is that some amount of remote working will remain after the pandemic exits. That admission portends profound changes for physical office spaces, corporate culture, connectivity, and networking. 

For IT, this crisis has presented enormous challenges, but there is a silver lining. CEOs and their boards of directors have come to recognize the impact that IT can have on the business, including how fast change can be implemented, even under such stressful circumstances. 

As a result, IT has a seat at the table in pushing forward ambitious forms of digital transformation, even accelerating existing planned transitions, emboldened with how the workforce has adapted to what has become known as the “new normal.” 

Read: Hackers are buying your personal data for as little as 50 cents

2. Security Must Be Viewed Dynamically – from Endpoints, to the Edge, to the Cloud

With the maturation of the cloud and the growth of edge networking with its myriad endpoints – all accelerated by the explosion of IoT – how security is defined and implemented is now becoming part of the network architecture, and not some bolted-on component of the enterprise IT environment. 

With the rise of remote working and the hybrid work environment, CSOs and CIOs are clamoring for a connected security approach. When looking at network design principles of the past, security experts essentially started with a policy and then designed a network topology that in turn satisfied policy, which meant that topology and policy were tightly coupled. That dynamic is drastically changing. Networking solutions have evolved to offer significant degrees of separation, where policy gets programmed only when and where it is needed

3. End-User Satisfaction is King 

Key IT metrics are also evolving. It’s no longer sufficient to just keep the network infrastructure up and running. The metric du jour is user satisfaction which, from the CIO standpoint, is tied to employee productivity that can ultimately impact business profitability. 

Ultimately, CIOs want insights beyond the network itself and into availability and performance applications that the users and business leaders care about. They are not as interested in how esoteric aspects of the network are performing, but rather, they’re more concerned about whether a specific user had a poor Zoom experience.

4. Staying the Course on Automation in Network Operations 

Tied to understanding the needs and experience of end users is the maturation of network automation. But automation progress is not equal across the entire networking paradigm. In the data center, which is a more controlled environment when compared to the WAN or LAN, adoption is farther along. Changes in a data center are driven mostly in a naturally hierarchical structure and is thus easier to understand and manage through automation scripts. 

The Edge (both LAN and WAN), on the other hand, is a more chaotic environment because changes are triggered by factors that are not totally within IT’s control – namely human and device behavior patterns that are constantly changing. There is a big need for leveraging AI and machine learning models to sense changes as soon as they occur and respond to the ones that seem persistent, even if for a short period of time. The maturity of deployed solutions that provide this learning component of automation at the Edge will improve significantly in 2021. There will also be significant progress in combining these with APIs and other automation tools that will deliver on the promised efficiencies and insights that IT leaders crave. 

Read: What happens when the tech companies that power our homes suffer an outage?

Three Cybersecurity Resolutions Every Business Needs in 2021

Edwin Weijdema, Global Technologist, Product Strategy at Veeam, shares with AMEinfo three cybersecurity resolutions every business should consider in the new year.

1. Watch out – Dark Clouds are on the horizon

Businesses haven’t been the only ones accelerating their digital transformation this year – cybercriminals have been hard at it too. 

There has been a sharp rise in ‘Dark Clouds’ as cybercriminals have migrated to the cloud, often for the same reasons businesses have – cloud allows them to avoid big up-front capital expenses, pay monthly for their shady businesses and scale up only when they need to. Coupled with the ability to access information from anywhere, it’s no wonder we’re seeing cybercriminals innovate. 

Data exfiltration has become so valuable it’s now the backbone of all cyberattacks. And it may only take one breach to ruin your reputation and relationship with your customers. That’s why not having an effective cybersecurity program in place puts your business continuity at risk. Because, come 2021, you’re either going to be one of those proactive organizations aggressively looking to strengthen your systems ahead of time, or the other type of business not doing that – and becoming more vulnerable with every passing day. 

2. Team up – cybersecurity has turned personal

Between collaborating cybercriminals, the upwards trajectory of data growth and the distributed workforce, the risk factor for every business is accelerating. 

This is one reason why we expect to see most businesses increase their general IT spending by around 5-10% in the new year, despite the economic impact of the pandemic. And we expect most of that allocation to go towards IT security. 

But even with these investments, it won’t be enough to cover all the potential threat vectors. So, businesses will still be forced to place strategic bets across their people, processes and technology in the hope of covering their weakest points.      

It’s impossible for every business to get this mix perfectly right, so business leaders need to also strategize how best to avoid cyberattacks. Too often, businesses expect their security team to handle this. But most of the time, this leads to an over-reliance on IT professionals who are already stretched thin by constantly putting out fires. That’s why making sure every member of the company plays in the cybersecurity challenge is key. 

But don’t let the collaboration end there – your entire ecosystem of peer-like organizations, experts, suppliers, vendors and even the government should be aligned and geared towards combating this threat. 

Cybercriminals are already working together on a large scale, sharing information about critical vulnerabilities, breached systems and targets extremely fast. So, don’t fight alone; work with contacts in your local law enforcement agency – for example NESA, The National Electronic Security Authority in the UAE, to figure out how to best utilize risk management models and resiliency plans. 

By ensuring you follow government regulations, the increased alignment and information sharing between the government and private organizations will help speed up the identification of threats and lead to faster resolutions.  

Read: The UAE is leading innovation in the $546 billion global smart cities market

3. Gear up – look to hybrid security and intelligent backup to stay ahead 

Technology is always going to be the heart of your cybersecurity fight, but no one product is going to maximize your cybersecurity state – you need to invest in your desired outcome. To do that, organizations need to look for software-defined models integrated with external services – a hybrid security approach. 

A hybrid security approach which has your internal security teams connected to external cybersecurity experts and law enforcement will keep you the most secure, while also helping raise the experience level of your security teams.  

We’re already seeing some organizations combine application owners, backup, analytics and security teams in a new (virtual) data management team. This way, they can tackle the challenges around exposed data, service level expectation and risk growth in the most beneficial and economical way. 

At its crux, the takeaway here is that in getting prepared for the cyberthreats of 2021, you will also be putting your business ahead of competitors and boost your productivity. 

So, don’t just choose a supplier or buy a new product – build an ecosystem that will stand by your side when the cybersecurity battle starts to heat up.