Every aspect of our lives – work, education, travel, leisure and more – has been turned upside down.
Coping is the order of the day for now, but we already are planning for the return to “normal.” That process will take months, and the “new normal” will look far different. As a result, businesses must adapt and transform their thinking to address the challenges posed by the pandemic and its aftermath.
BT Federal provides a global suite of network and professional services to the US government. As general counsel, my role includes managing legal and compliance risk, data protection and HR issues. The safety of our employees, stakeholders, and customers has always been top of mind. With COVID-19, we must use technology and collaboration tools to continue working safely and securely.
One of the biggest changes is moving from the traditional, centralized office model to a more distributed, virtual model. The new model creates several challenges. First, bandwidth utilization moves from the core network to the periphery. Quality of service among a distributed of end-users can be a challenge, as not everyone has the same in-home network quality, and that can affect productivity, quality of service and security.
The second challenge is security. Security is grounded in the “CIA triad” of confidentiality, integrity, and availability. The COVID-19 environment presents challenges in all three. Ensuring confidentiality of data when people are working at home requires secure technologies and solutions. That is a lot easier to do when everybody is working within the controlled confines of an office environment. When people are working from home, it requires looking at confidentiality with a new eye. It pays to recheck everything from VPNs to home network security to policies governing working from home (including when employees can print documents and making sure that they know how to store and destroy information appropriately). Availability may also require re-architecting your network: it may be time to upgrade your network to boost throughput. From an infrastructure perspective, it may also be time to roll out that long-deferred migration to the cloud to ensure that data information is secure, safe from tampering, and always available to those who need it (including auditors and others seeking to verify compliance with regulations and laws). Your offices may be closed, but you can still ensure that data is stored securely rather than scattered among the laptops of your remote workforce.
The final challenge is adjusting to the “new normal” of life with temperature checks, social distancing, mask-wearing and other measures designed to ensure workplace safety. Our highest priority is the health and safety of our employees while also protecting their privacy. It is much easier to gather and store information than it is to delete it, but this is a good time to try to be far more intentional about what information is important to gather and retain and to improve data minimization and deletion practices. When developing new practices oriented around gathering information such as temperature data from people before they can enter the office, think about how much information is necessary and how long it needs to be retained. Then develop and follow policies to ensure that your enterprise minimizes data collection and retains data for no longer than is necessary. Then take the lessons from this effort and work to expand them to other aspects of operations that involve data handling.
The COVID19 pandemic forced enterprises to innovate on a massive scale and on tight timeframes. Technology and reliable communications were key factors in enabling such an agile response. As the immediate effects of the lockdown slowly ease, it is time to identify and retain the many innovations that ensued. At the same time, we must continue to build on that work and continue to use secure and reliable technology and network services to become even more innovative and agile and to do it in a compliant and secure manner.