With working from home now firmly a part of “the new normal,” the challenge for most IT leaders today is to quickly take the lessons learned during this rapid transition period and turn them into meaningful long-term strategies.
The need for the cloud
Among the many lessons learned, however, two seem to stand out more prominently than others. First and foremost, as if IT leaders didn’t already have enough reasons to move systems to the cloud, working from home would seem to have removed all doubt about making the transition. The need to provide access to applications and data anywhere, anytime, and on any device in this new work environment begs for cloud solutions and only highlights one of the most worrisome drawbacks of on-premises technology.
Secondly, if the importance of cloud technologies was the first lesson of working from home, the importance of cloud communications technology seems to have followed closely behind. While the use of online meetings surged dramatically following the shift to working from home, other online collaboration tools—such as team messaging and cloud-based phones—witnessed similar growth.
Cloud security is a big concern
In the past, IT leaders often cited security as one of their chief concerns about moving more applications and data to the cloud, although those concerns appear to have waned in recent years. And with many companies shifting to cloud communications solutions as a key element of their work-from-home strategies, many have also learned important lessons about how to build more trust in cloud solutions.
Building that trust is largely dependent upon choosing a strong cloud provider, said Curtis Peterson, Chief Technology Officer at RingCentral. “They should be providing that level of security, encryption, visibility, and analytics in order for you to trust the cloud,” he said during a recent webinar on the topic.
Peterson noted that many of his clients struggled with traditional VPN technology for security when the rapid transition to working from home first happened. “The bad news is [traditional VPNs] did not live up to their expectations and scale,” he said. “I’ve talked to several CIOs that had to tell people they could only work from home two or three hours a day and then they had to give up their VPN license to another colleague.”
Unfortunately, most of these VPNs were built for an architecture based on connecting decentralized applications, where data centers reside on premises. This kind of hub-and-spoke model is difficult to scale, however, especially when some remote workers opt to use their own personal devices at home. “So when we had to fire up home machines and other machines, IT help desks were overwhelmed everywhere trying to configure and load VPN clients onto those devices and getting them to connect into the network so those people continue to work,” said Peterson.
And there’s the added issue of VPN software itself needing to be secure. “VPNs are like any other application out there,” he said. “So it actually expands your security footprint rather than contracting it.”
The RingCentral approach to security
Fortunately, said Peterson, there’s a new model for fixing this situation—a full cloud approach. As an example, he said, “At RingCentral, we actually provide all the security you need instead of a VPN tunnel. All of our data is secured in transit at rest, and any data that we have to have reside in the application is encrypted and has an expiration. It eliminates that need for an extra VPN.”
RingCentral’s products are also meant to be used on multiple devices, so there’s no need to set up VPNs for each, he noted.
To help with authentication, Peterson recommended dropping your reliance on a VPN authentication model and using a Single Sign-on approach with two-factor authentication. “You can put all of your apps in one page,” he said. “Your end user can log in to one place and those apps are vetted for security so you know they’re accessing them in a secure way.”
Peterson also strongly recommended taking advantage of the analytics than can be done with cloud communications solutions. With so many people working from home, he said, it’s simply not possible to “walk the halls” to see who’s actively working or not. He was careful to note, however, that too many analytics dashboards dilutes the ability to generate real insights about the business.
The ability to get a comprehensive view is possible in unified communications solutions like RingCentral’s. “You probably have bunches of apps to monitor,” he said. “You can’t have one of your apps with multiple dashboards underneath it. You need to be able to monitor this from one place. Segregating out that information is not a good way of managing that data.”
An added benefit of analytics for communications apps is the ability to monitor employee workloads, Peterson said. “I might notice an employee’s first meeting is at 5:00 a.m. and their last meeting is at 10:00 p.m.,” he said. “That’s too long of a workday. Being able to set alerts on this and understand what’s going on inside of the employee is very, very useful.”
For more information about cloud security, listen to Curtis Peterson’s webinar, “Building Trust in the Cloud.”
Originally published Jul 09, 2020, updated Jan 28, 2021