Being almost nine months into the COVID-19 crisis, companies have transitioned part or all of their workforce to remote set-ups, as many physical offices remain closed in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus. However, prior to the pandemic cloud computing had seen significant mainstream adoption, with the vast majority of businesses opting to transition one or more of their critical businesses functions to cloud software.
Cloud services have given businesses the option to move away from managing their physical servers and keeping their business software up and running. Companies already using the cloud have seen a smoother transition to remote working than those who have not. Having secure access to e-mail and files, as well as being able to share screens, conduct virtual meetings, and collaborate on documents are made possible by cloud computing.
If your business has yet to transition any or all of its operations to the cloud—or still have reservations—the following are the key systems that should be a priority:
Email is often one of the first significant workloads we see customers transition to cloud services.
Cloud-based email such as Office 365 and G Suite provides highly available, remote access to email for your employees, which is fundamental in enabling remote work. These services often provide additional security, such as multi-factor authentication, cybersecurity-focused threat protection, data loss prevention, and the ability to work from any device.
Having access to cloud-based emails allows employees many options to continue to work, including from home, from another country, or in isolation if requiring quarantine.
Employers can also avoid capacity issues with their networks and minimize disruption to email services should an outage occur in their own data centres, which may be challenging to remedy.
Technologies: Office 365, G Suite, and Zoho
2. Unified communication
Unified communication (UC) is a set of technologies that allow employees to communicate digitally, providing mechanisms such as group chat, online meetings, voice calling, and web conferencing. Adopting UC tools boosts personal productivity for the employer and employee and also brings about tighter communication, especially when the luxury of in-person meetings is no longer possible.
One of the concerns of shifting workplaces to full telework is that some employers feel they need greater visibility to their employees' status. Employees also require a solution to knowing when a colleague is available or busy to effectively not interrupt each other at inconvenient times. UC tools provide an answer to this in the form of digital presence, which is the ability to indicate the real-time status of a workers' availability to chat or meet and their location.
Technologies: Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Zoom
Real-time collaboration tools allow for multiple workers to access documents, workbooks, complete tasks digitally and simultaneously share, edit, and create together. Collaboration tools increase both the productivity and turnaround time for deliverables and initiatives.
As an example, teams may collaborate on a sales opportunity, including developing a proposal where multiple departments, including sales, delivery, and marketing coordinate a response together remotely and in real time using SharePoint Online and MS Teams. Currently, this is the way BDO operates, with all employees working from home. Edits, versions, and approvals are all managed through the collaboration tools and workflows.
In this example, the files are saved to the cloud, backed up securely with versioning and can be accessed or viewed remotely. It's important to note that robust security policies can be applied to ensure appropriate access control.
Having a cloud backup also provides protection and insurance against ransomware attacks.
Technologies: Google Docs, SharePoint Online, DocuSign, MS Teams, Slack, and Trello
4. Cloud computing
Businesses are looking at cloud computing to provide a wide range of solutions, including accessing highly available, scalable, and secure infrastructure; providing backup and disaster recovery options; and accessing always up-to-date hosted business applications.
Cloud services provide an elastic model to support changing infrastructure needs. Cloud providers include capabilities for scaling based on actual or forecasted demand. For example, businesses can scale access to cloud services to onboard new employees or ratchet down operations, thereby controlling costs and adapting naturally to market conditions. Within the last few weeks, a number of our customers reached out to increase/decrease their cloud software licenses and scale cloud infrastructure to meet the dynamic needs generated by the COVID-19 situation.
Migrating workloads to the cloud reduce the physical burden of maintaining servers and infrastructure on-site, which is often very difficult in a pandemic. Supply chain issues are also surfacing, creating a scarcity of hardware from suppliers in Asia, which is causing problems in maintaining corporate data centres and server rooms. In a downtime scenario, finding the right parts and coordinating a timely response to resolve issues in your data centres can be extremely difficult.
In these difficult times, delaying migrations of business services to the cloud can be catastrophic to a business.
Technologies: Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, Amazon Web Services, Dynamics 365, and Salesforce
5. Data and insights in the cloud
With businesses adopting many software-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service applications in the cloud, it naturally makes sense for their data ecosystem to also reside in the cloud. Cloud data technologies allows clients to connect to both on-premise and cloud data sources and allows businesses to access data any place, on any device, and at any time. Data in the cloud provides businesses the agility and the ability to meet their immediate data needs and grow into more advanced capabilities in the future, such as artificial intelligence or machine learning.
Migrating your data workloads to the cloud reduces the physical burden of maintaining servers and infrastructure on-site, which is often very difficult in a pandemic. It allows your employees access to their data to be able to make data-driven decisions with one less worry about how to access internal systems.
Technologies: Microsoft Azure, Azure SQL, Azure Data Factory, Azure Data Bricks, Power BI
How BDO can help
We recognize that many Canadian businesses, who have already faced the challenge of prioritizing technology decisions affecting their workforce, may still need guidance to fully transition to cloud technology. Our team of professionals is ready to provide seamless support as you engage in your continued efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.
Rob Della Fortuna, Senior Manager, Consulting