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CXOs Should Refine Their Hybrid Work Model: Vivek Sharma, India MD, Lenovo ISG

hybrid work

Since Covid-19 upended our lives, employees around the world have settled into the patterns of mandatory remote work. Now, as companies try to decide the best way forward for their workers, the future of workplace will likely be a hybrid model. Organizations therefore need to act and adapt to the circumstances with the right policies and technology, which would not only enable them to tackle challenges related to IT infrastructure and keep operations running, but also ensure minimal cyber threats and a seamless hybrid work experience. In a recent interaction with CXOToday, Vivek Sharma, Managing Director – India, Lenovo Infrastructure Solutions Group (ISG), discusses ways in which businesses can navigate through the workplace transition and ensure sustainable operations.

We are nearly two years into the pandemic, according to you what continues to affect business continuity in India?

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted growth for economies worldwide, the term ‘business continuity’ gained significance in the business strategy of several organisations, with most creating the role of ‘Director or Head of Business Continuity’. Initially, during the pandemic, several businesses battled higher cost implications of investing in interim technology fixtures, and some continue to do so even today as they recover their revenue losses, thereby affecting profitability; others who adopted new-age tech with a long-term sustenance vision have been able to fare better. Cash flow interruptions also posed challenges for some large businesses but majorly disrupted operations for SMEs and start-ups. Besides the legacy issues of working with outdated software and applications, from the lens of IT technology, obstacles such as system downtime, issues in data back-up and recoveries, vendor-lock ins, non-scalable infrastructure especially during disasters are mainly the growth impediment factors. A McKinsey & Company report indicates that organizations believe digitization, AI, automation, and tech enablement will continue driving profitability in the future, thereby positively affecting business continuity.

Digitizing operations also require adequate security measures. However, realistically limited investments on security continue to obstruct India Inc.’s business continuity plan (BCP). A Cisco report indicates that 37% of cybersecurity technologies used by businesses in India are considered outdated by their security teams, Take VPN for example; since the revolution of remote working in 2020, many organizations continued to rely upon VPN for work operations, evident by its 600% growth in H121. This proves to be an interim solution but with an increased security risk. Using VPN increases end-user dependability for hardware and system performance and limits control for data protection and issues management. This is where Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) benefits and has proven to be a prudent investment for enterprises, even for those with lean or no IT departments, which only authorized employees can access from any device, anywhere. Data and applications don’t have to reside on the employee’s device, it provides better security &control, improves uptime, and provides better data availability.

As the hybrid workplace is poised to be the next big disruption, it will be important for CXOs to strengthen their IT infrastructure to enable seamless experiences that positively impact business continuity.

What are the key business drivers of the hybrid work model?

In 2022, businesses will continue to refine their hybrid model roll-out strategies. Understanding and managing the end-user experience will be crucial for CXOs to help their organizations operate in the hybrid environment. Technology will no doubt continue to be the biggest driver of growth for hybrid work models. Hybrid will heavily rely on a robust & secure IT infrastructure to ensure a seamless transition from a work from home model. According to the LinkedIn Future of Work Survey, 86% of Indian professionals believe that the hybrid work model will provide them with an opportunity to strike a perfect balance between their professional and personal life. Employers will have access to global talent and collaborate with experienced professionals that fit their needs. It is important to note that no matter where the workforce is located, the responsibility rests on CTOs, CISOs& CXOs to provide the right IT infrastructure solutions that ensure seamless access to central resources without end-point vulnerability concerns, strengthening the digital workplace.

Additionally, the hybrid work model will have a significant impact on the climate given that the number of people commuting will be halved or lower than before, thereby further reducing carbon emissions. Businesses will also have the opportunity to reduce capital expenditure of office spaces and invest in operational expenses. To further reinforce the focus on OpEx consumption-based models, such as Lenovo TruScale, offers businesses of all sizes with an ‘everything-as-a-service platform’. This translates to the flexibility, scalability, and agility they need to stay competitive with a cloud-based consumption model and predictable expenses for hardware and service inclusions, allowing them to further optimize their CapEx and OpEx. Businesses that have opted for these models are benefiting from managed costs, IT, and best-in-class services, allowing them to focus on their BCP. Lenovo is bringing all of its as-a-Service offerings under TruScale to provide a truly global solution that makes everything from the pocket to the cloud via a single contract.

What according to you are the challenges that need to be overcome in the Hybrid workspace?

As the pandemic-evoked necessity of a lockdown subsides and the workforce returns to operate in the hybrid work model CXOs will have to double their efforts in ensuring that their systems and employees are safeguarded. Lenovo’s Future of Work and Digital Transformation Report highlights three key hybrid work challenges and how to solve them:

  • Managing data security and privacy – Data breaches and their cost implications are top concerns and may become one of the biggest challenges if not addressed in time. During the pandemic, India quickly became one of the most cyber attacked countries as brute force attacks rose by 197% as soon as the country went into a lockdown. A multi-level approach is necessary for businesses to thrive and the technology must be up-to-date and strategies to replace devices must be implemented. An all-in-one hardware/software solution is important to secure the flexible workforce of the future and with our everything-as-a-service offering, we are working towards creating a smart and future-ready workplace.
  • Maintaining control of IT solutions – Not being in control of IT solutions to manage data efficiently and as per business requirements was challenging for IT leaders during the pandemic, especially to upgrade or downgrade them based upon business requirements. Hybrid cloud combines the hardware resources of public clouds with private clouds and on-premise data centers. A hybrid cloud management approach makes use of cloud infrastructure making it efficient, secure, and adaptive to modern-day requirements; saving IT time and money while allowing for full visibility of an entire fleet of devices, also allowing IT leaders to quickly scale up existing servers and online infrastructure and remain in control of whatever digital solutions they put in place next.
  • Finding additional resources to help employees – One of the largest obstacles during the pandemic was to allocate resources to employees working remotely that affected workflow and employee productivity. Providing work-related equipment and technological solutions would offer better mobility and help increase workforce effectiveness. Data exchanged between end-point devices, controlled and secured with VDI solutions, would no longer be vulnerable and susceptible to cyber attacks and data breaches. Furthermore, it would also allow businesses to control the movement of confidential information within the employee network.

Fortunately, there are more than enough IT infrastructure solutions such including hybrid cloud and edge servers, that can help CXOs implement better security controls over their hybrid workplace infrastructure.

How can businesses use smart IT solutions to safeguard the hybrid workplace? What are some more smart IT solutions that businesses can rely upon?

A mix of various smart IT solutions is the right direction for businesses to take to gain a competitive edge and safeguard their mission-critical data.

  • Starting with hybrid cloud deployment, CXOs can strike the right balance between the data that rests on public & private cloud/ on-prem and off-prem data management solutions. With the priority on data security, data classified as general information can be hosted on the public cloud, whereas mission-critical and sensitive data can be stored over private infrastructure.
  • Looking at data centers, as workloads increase IT leaders have been relying on AI to reduce the additional burden on IT teams to manage the IT infrastructure. AI can help automate the movement of workloads to the most efficient infrastructure in real-time, either inside the data center or a hybrid cloud set-up which comprises on-prem, cloud, and edge solutions.
  • From an end-user computing perspective, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solutions offer a good balance between security and accessibility. VDI can help enterprises to clone desktops of individual employees, which can be hosted on a central server, allowing only authorized employees to access their data from any device, located in any location – either in an office or in a remote environment.
  • Software-defined infrastructure (SDI) solutions are another option that can deliver an all-in-one cloud system on-premise. Businesses can use building blocks of software to virtualize infrastructure components of compute, storage, and networking. SDI can provide the ease and speed of a public cloud with the security and control of on-premise IT. This is especially important given growing concerns of data localisation & the need to ensure sensitive information stays on-prem.
  • Moving to a hybrid work model requires flexibility, on-demand support, and customizable solutions across the organization. Infrastructure-as-a-Service solutions such as Lenovo TruScale offer organizations ultimate flexibility in how they leverage their IT infrastructure, services, and software, providing them with the public cloud experience along with the security and control of an on-premises solution. With op-ex and cap-ex concerns, as well as data security fears in a remote work environment being top of mind for customers, we have been advising a more strategic and long-term approach with TruScale.

Last but not the least, with more and more data acquisition and decision making getting pushed closer to the edge i.e., outside the datacenter, businesses are actively evaluating the deployment of edge servers as part of their infrastructure landscape. The edge servers support enterprise application workloads and also offer essential cyber security capabilities such as key-encrypted storage, and physical security features such as a locking bezel, as well as intrusion and tamper-detection mechanisms.

Since most offices are now being propelled into returning to the office, what is the rate of adoption of such solutions in India? Is Lenovo seeing an increase in the demand for these solutions?

From a business point of view, we have met strong customer demands from banks, governments, healthcare institutions, and enterprises for datacenter transformation including Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solutions to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on employee productivity and data security. Overall, our Q2 growth would paint a positive picture, given that Lenovo’s Infrastructure Solutions Group delivered record performance, led by all-time high revenue of almost $2B, up 34% YoY, with India having a significant contribution to those numbers.

As we draw closer towards the end of 2021, which has already seen some instances of a return to the office, what is your outlook on business continuity for the hybrid workplace for 2022?

Organizations are paying a lot more attention to their infrastructure and application landscape modernization and a hybrid workplace is a necessary consideration while doing so. The pace of digital transformation or adoption has increased and we do not see this reversing.  Balancing OPEX and CAPEX is gaining a higher share of importance among CXOs given that it has a direct impact on business continuity plans.

As businesses implement the hybrid work model, CXOs will have the responsibility to empower a hybrid workplace where location, accessibility, and hybrid collaboration requirements will be different and more dynamic.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at [email protected]