Can flexible working become the new normal?
Workers are being told to stay away from work for the immediate future as governments have put its ‘social distancing strategy’ into place to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. The coronavirus outbreak is impacting the normal patterns of working on a scale never seen before. Many companies are encouraging extensive home working and cancelling large gatherings at trade shows and conference halls.
Apple, Google and Amazon are the latest tech giants who have asked their staff to staff away from the office and work from home. For these companies, a change in working practices is relatively simple. They are well suited to technology to make home working possible. For others, the coronavirus crisis has been a wake-up call to update their practices.
This could lead to a permanent culture shift in the way we work. A global poll from 2018 by data and insights company Kantar found a third (32%) valued a job where they could work from home, even in normal circumstances.
More than 1.54 million people already work from home in the UK – a two-fold increase from ten years ago. The BBC found there has been a smaller increase in the number of people who work in different places but with their home as a base. That number has increased by around 200,000 in the 10 years between 2008 and 2018 to 2.66 million.
The official guidance, when ill, is to isolate yourself and work from home if necessary. In more normal circumstances, people can also work from an increasing number of public spaces, including coffee shops, libraries or co-location working hubs. Today, there are thousands of dedicated offices where co-workers can hire desks, rooms or conference centres by the hour. There has even been the rise of the so-called ‘pro-worker’ – those who run their permanent businesses from temporary and fluid accommodation spaces.
Securing a remote location
While self-isolating, driving efficiencies and improving employee work-life-balance, working from home, a coffee shop or a co-location (or pro-location) space is not anywhere near as cyber secure as being in an office. A lot more preparation is required to coordinate the activities of employees and ensure company systems are able to support a critical mass of staff working remotely at a moment’s notice.
Assuming that the Tokyo Olympics is not affected by the virus, more than 3,000 companies in Japan are planning to introduce telecommuting for their staff during the summer. It’s a bid to ease the pressure on the already overcrowded public transport network – testing its ability to withstand cyber-attacks at the same time. It’s based on the success of the London 2012 Olympics in London where 80% of companies employed some form of telecommuting in order to beat the additional traffic and congestion in the city.
These companies have been through a series of dry runs to see if the city systems, and the businesses themselves, can cope with the new workloads.
All this additional demand for remote working will place strains on the existing office and telecoms infrastructure. For the office environment, having hundreds, if not thousands of additional home workers will test a company’s server capability and its VPN bandwidth. It will also distract IT professionals’ time and attention away from looking out for potential cyber security threats. Do organisations have the internal capacity to match the organic – as well as issues-driven – home working demands for the next five to ten years?
More generally, for those workers at home, in cafes and co-working spaces, the question they need to ask is ‘how secure is the Wi-Fi connection that I’m working from?’ They are now reliant on a third-party service and who knows who is sitting on the next table or the opposite booth to snoop on their emails, giving malicious actors the proverbial keys to the enterprise kingdom?
The Identity Factor
The easiest point of entry to your organisation is your users – that includes employees, contractors, virtual workers, freelancers, bots and contingent staff. The hardened security perimeter no longer exists. We are now in a perimeterless world where anyone can access anything from anywhere.
It is forcing companies to take a ‘zero trust’ approach to the ever-expanding cyber-attack surface. This is the ideal time to turn to ‘identity’ as a solution, especially when combined with the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) tools.
Access should now be based on securing enterprise systems at the core and providing privileged access rights to only the most secure personnel. AI and ML tools can spot patterns, based on previous usage history, to alert to suspicious behaviours. The latest identity solutions can provide geolocation alerts if a user sends an email from Brazil, yet is supposed to be in Basingstoke, for instance. Or recognise abnormal access or download activities that aren’t typical for the role or individual in question.
But in order for enterprises to undergo a successful digital revolution, they need to start with security – and identity governance. Once that foundation is in place, and they are able to see everything, govern everything and empower everyone in their organisation, then they can focus on more fundamental business changes that needs to happen.
It is time organisations started using the right tools for the job. Safeguarding IT and cybersecurity professionals from sleepless nights is the key objective of any security operation. Enabling identity solutions at source means they can sleep easy, even if the hackers never do…
By Ben Bulpett, EMEA Director at SailPoint
Amazon Deploys Cashierless Checkout Tech
On June 17th, the first Amazon Fresh store without cashiers will open its doors to the public. Instead of queueing up to scan their products, customers will be able to grab items off the shelves and head out the door without worrying about checkout. The store will also have Amazon package pickups, kiosks, and Amazon One payment systems, which withdraw money at the scan of a palm.
Most importantly, this will be the first time that Amazon has launched its “Just Walk Out” system in a full-size grocery store. ‘Do customers like standing in lines?’ asked Amazon Vice President Dilip Kumar. ‘This fundamentally tackles a problem of how you get convenience in physical locations, especially when people are hard-pressed for time’.
How Do Customers Pay?
When you walk into the store, you can scan a QR code from your phone’s home screen, a credit or debit card linked to your Amazon account, or Amazon One. As you stroll through the aisles and select goods from the shelves, weight sensors and vision cameras will track what you take. Finally, once you’re finished, Amazon will bill your account sans cashier.
Does It Have Any Competitors?
Startups like Standard Cognition, Grabango, and Trigo have received venture capital investments to pilot similar cashierless technology, but they can’t match the sheer scale of Amazon. Instead, their pitch to retail stores is that they won’t try to outcompete them in the marketplace. For the most part, they pose no threat.
How Did Bezos Get Here?
- 1994: Invests US$10,000 of his own money
- 1997: Takes Amazon public
- 1998: Expands into music
- 1999: Patents “1-Click” checkout system
- 2005: Launches Amazon Prime
- 2012: Acquires robotics company Kiva Systems
- 2017: Acquires Whole Foods
- 2020: Amasses massive profits during the pandemic
Over the past twelve months, Amazon Prime has grown from 50 million to 200 million subscribers. At this point, the company can launch whatever its heart desires.
Where Does Amazon Go From Here?
Instead of keeping its cashierless technology to itself, Amazon intends to sell it to other retailers. An Amazon subsidiary, Whole Foods may also integrate it into its checkout lines. At the Newark Liberty and LaGuardia airports, several CIBO Express stores will install cashierless systems. And the company’s plans extend far beyond the United States. In South Korea, Amazon partnered with Hyundai to launch the world’s first cashierless department store; in India, Bezos announced that he aims to remake the nation’s retail economy.
But Amazon will soon pass hands. On July 5th, 2021—27 years after Amazon was first incorporated—Andy Jassy will take over as CEO and Bezos will move on to other projects. Therefore, it remains to be seen what the remainder of 2021 will hold. But if the company continues on its current path, cashierless tech may soon conquer the retail market.