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How Covid-19 spurred Singapore's digital transformation

By Andy Lee,  managing director, Cisco Systems, Singapore 

During the circuit breaker, you may have come across this meme: “Who led the digital transformation of your company? A chief executive officer, a chief technology officer or Covid-19?” 

It may have been a light-hearted take on what is the biggest crisis we have faced in recent history, but there is some amount of truth in it. 

The importance of digital transformation has been talked about for many years. It is also one of the key priorities of the Singapore government; many businesses across the country have been adopting technology and harnessing its power to overcome key challenges and unlock new growth opportunities.

The scale of the impact of technology adoption on businesses has never been more apparent than now. The circuit breaker measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 were heavily reliant on digital technology – right from collaboration platforms to cloud-based services and cybersecurity solutions. It became the lifeline of all businesses irrespective of their size or industry sector.

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Even as the government starts to ease some restrictions in Phase Two of Singapore’s re-opening, the pace of technology adoption is unlikely to slow. This trend will be driven by three elements: cloud, caution, and collaboration. 

 
Cloud-based platforms allow companies to scale up and pivot to a remote workforce almost instantly. Photo: achillephoto.com 

The rise of cloud computing

Touted as one of the biggest technology trends of recent times, the pandemic has underlined cloud computing’s importance further. Business leaders are looking to build an agile and resilient infrastructure that can enable them to provide better experiences for their customers and employees even during extreme events and unforeseen conditions like we have seen of late.  

Cloud ranks among the top solutions on this front. At Cisco, we have seen the benefits firsthand. As companies saw their entire workforces move into a remote working arrangement, the demand for our Webex platform rose at an unprecedented rate. Being a cloud-based platform, our Webex platform was  able to add millions of new users across the region, enabling thousands of businesses to continue their operations seamlessly. 

Given the success companies have seen with cloud-based collaboration platforms and their agility, leaders will surely explore moving other aspects of their technology infrastructure to the cloud. 

However, there is unlikely to be a widespread shift due to two main reasons: compliance and cost. From a compliance perspective, companies need to ensure they protect consumer data and adhere to specific regulations, especially in critical sectors such as banking and healthcare. For these businesses, on-premise solutions offer a relatively higher degree of security and governance as well as workload stability. At the same time, depending on the size of the organisation, on-premise solutions can also be more cost effective. 

What this means is that companies will increasingly move towards a hybrid cloud setup, with some of their applications and infrastructure being cloud-based, while others being on-premise. To make this work efficiently,  companies will need to ensure they have full visibility of their entire network, have a certain degree of automation, and can capture and analyse data across the entire IT infrastructure and turn that into actionable insights. 

As the world moved to remote work, security and complexity are top concerns for CIOs globally. Photo: achillephoto.com

Caution against security risks 

A move to hybrid cloud solutions will bring new challenges as well, not least on the cybersecurity front. As company data and applications sit on multiple platforms across a range of cloud networks, and employees and customers access resources and services from multiple devices and networks, the IT teams will need to keep all this secure. They need to be able to verify users and devices in real time even as they jump from one WiFi connection to another to ensure access is being granted to the right set of users.   

At the same time, as we get used to the “new normal” of flexible working and learning, the use of collaboration platforms will continue to grow. It will be important to ensure that these platforms have adequate levels of security, especially for users who are at a greater risk due to their lack of knowledge about security settings configuration. 

The growing use of digital services also means an increasing amount of data. This ranges from personal information, financial and health records, to details on services consumed. Hackers across the world will continue to try and steal this data and their attacks will continue to become more and more sophisticated. 

Businesses have been adopting cybersecurity solutions to protect themselves. However, in many cases, the approach has been reactive. Every time a business uncovers a problem, they seek a specific solution to patch it. While some point solutions may be best suited for specific problems, they often tend to work in silos. Instead of simplifying things, they add complexity as each new solution adds another layer to the company’s infrastructure.

Business executives across the world are admitting that this is a challenge for them. Globally, 1,300 chief information officers (CIO) were polled in Cisco’s CIO Perspectives 2020 survey, and the top two challenges facing CIOs are security and complexity.

What companies need is a simplified approach to security, something of a platform approach which transforms their security infrastructure from a series of disjointed solutions into a fully integrated environment. We have recently made Cisco SecureX, the broadest and most integrated cloud-native security platform aimed at simplifying and enhancing the way businesses manage security. The platform is available globally. 

 Collaboration between educational institutions, corporations and government is needed to accelerate the digital transformation agenda of the nation. Photo: achillephoto.com

Collaboration to develop talent pool  

With every business going digital in some form, the demand for skilled professionals in the sector will grow at a rapid pace. One of the areas where this is already being felt is cybersecurity. Depending on which data you look at, there is a shortage of between two and three million cybersecurity professionals across the globe. 

The situation is no different in Singapore. There is an urgent need to develop local talent capabilities to meet the current and future needs. There are shortages in both capacity and capabilities. Certain specific skill sets such as systems architecture design, behavioural analytics, and digital forensics are acutely in short supply. 

There is also inadequate expertise in cybersecurity support sectors, such as cyber insurance, where both effective frameworks and sufficient knowledge are needed to accurately assess the value at risk. Unaddressed, this could hinder the implementation of any cybersecurity agenda, and by extension, the overall digital transformation of the nation.  

To address this, collaboration is needed between all stakeholders — educational institutions, corporations and government. The educational institutions need to work with the industry to design and develop courses and curriculums that enable students to learn critical skills needed to forge a career in this space. 

Companies also need to start looking at re-skilling some of their staff, empowering them to take on a new career path. At Cisco, we are proud to be playing our part with the Cisco Networking Academy. It has supported the training of nearly 70,000 students in Singapore over the past two decades. Over 1,474 students have undertaken cybersecurity courses to date, and the academy has trained more than 10 million students globally since its inception. 

Policymakers need to facilitate all of this by creating a regulatory environment which not only demands a high level of accountability, but also empowers the stakeholders to collaborate more. This is especially critical for threat intelligence to ensure they stay a step ahead of the cyber-attackers. 

In the times we are living today, companies need the tools, talent and  a secure landscape  to successfully ride the wave of digital transformation.

For secure, cloud-based collaboration tools, visit cisco.com/webex to learn more about Cisco Webex, the vendor of choice for 95 per cent of Fortune 500 companies.

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