Industry Spotlight for August – Future of Work

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The Future of Work is here, now. Organisations were faced with unprecedented challenges of coping with the work-from-home model, when COVID-19 hit earlier this year. Many organisations managed the pivot very successfully, but all organisations were impacted in some way. Various trends have emerged over the last few months, that are likely to persist long after the immediate COVID-19 measures are removed by countries. In the Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal study, we find that organisations will continue to cater for remote employees (Figure 1) and keep a firm eye on employee experience (EX).

Organisations will continue to Enable Remote working 2020-21

August has seen these clear trends in the Future of Work

#1 Tech companies leading from the front in embracing the Future of Work

As the pandemic continued to spread across the globe, various companies adopted the work from home model at a scale never seen before. While it is still unclear how the work model will look like, many companies continue to extend their remote working policies for the remaining year, and some are even thinking of making it a permanent move.

Tech companies appear to be the most proactive in extending remote working. Google, Microsoft, and AWS have all extended their work from home model till the end of the year or till the middle of next year.  Earlier in the month Facebook extended its work from home program until mid-2021 and are also giving employees USD 1,000 to equip their home offices. This appears to be a long-term policy, with the company announcing in May that in the next 5-10 years, they expect 50% of their employees to be remote. Similarly, Salesforce and Uber also announced that they would be extending remote working till the mid-next year, and are providing funding for employees to set up the right work environment.

In Australia, Atlassian has made work from home a permanent option for their employees. They will continue to operate their physical offices but have given employees the option to choose where they want to work from.

Some organisations have gone beyond announcing these measures. Slack has talked about how they are evolving their corporate culture. For example, they have evolved their hiring policies and most new roles are open to remote candidates. Going forward, they are evaluating a more asynchronous work environment where employees can work the hours that make sense for them. In their communique, they are open about the fluid nature of the work environment and the challenges that employees and organisations might face as their shift their work models.

Organisations will have to evaluate multiple factors before coming up with the right model that suits their corporate culture and nature of work, but it appears that tech companies are showing the industry how it can be done.

#2 Tech companies evolve their capabilities to enable the Future of Work

Right from the start of the crisis, we have seen organisations make technology-led pivots. Technology providers are responding – and fast – to the changing environment and are evolving their capabilities to help their customers embrace the digital Future of Work.

Many of these responses have included strengthening their ecosystems and collaborating with other technology providers. Wipro and Intel announced a collaboration between Wipro’s LIVE Workspace digital workspace solution and the Intel vPro platform to enable remote IT support and solution. The solution provides enhanced protection and security against firmware-level attacks. Slack and Atlassian strengthened their alliance with app integrations and an account ‘passport’ in a joint go-to-market move, to reduce the time spent logging into separate services and products. This will enable both vendors to focus on their strengths in remote working tools and provide seamless services to their customers.

Tech companies have also announced product enhancements and new capabilities. CBTS has evolved their cloud-based unified communications, collaboration and networking solutions, with an AI-powered Secure Remote Collaboration solution, powered by Cisco Webex. With seamless integration of Cisco Webex software, Cisco Security software, and endpoints that combine high-definition cameras, microphones, and speakers, with automatic noise reduction, the solution now offers features such real-time transcription, closed captioning, and recording for post-meeting transcripts. 

Communication and Collaboration tools have been in the limelight since the start of the crisis with providers such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack introducing new features throughout. In August Microsoft enhanced the capabilities of Teams and introduced a range of new features to the Teams Business Communications System. It now offers the option to host calls of up to 20,000 participants with a limit to 1,000 for interactive meetings, after which the call automatically shifts to a “view only” mode.  With the possibility of remote working becoming a reality even after the crisis is over, Microsoft is looking to make Teams relevant for a range of meeting needs – from one-on-one meetings up to large events and conferences. In the near future, the solution will also allow organisations to add corporate branding, starting with branded meeting lobbies, followed by branded meeting experiences.

While many of these solutions are aimed at large enterprises, tech providers are also aware that they are now receiving a lot of business from small and medium enterprises (SMEs), struggling to make changes to their technology environment with limited resources. Juniper has expanded their WiFi 6 access points to include 4 new access points aimed at outdoor environments, SMEs, retail sites, K-12 schools, medical clinics and even the individual remote worker. While WiFi 6 is designed for high-density public or private environments, it is also designed for IoT deployments and in workplaces that use videoconferencing and other applications that require high bandwidth.

#3 The Future of Work is driving up hardware sales

Ecosystm research shows that at the start of the crisis, 76% of organisations increased investments in hardware – including PCs, devices, headsets, and conferencing units – and 67% of organisations expect their hardware spending to go up in 2020-21. Remote working remains a reality across enterprises. Despite the huge increase in demand, it became difficult for hardware providers to fulfil orders initially, with a disrupted supply chain, store closures and a rapid shift to eCommerce channels. This quarter has seen a steady rise in hardware sales, as providers overcome some of their initial challenges.

Apart from enterprise sales, there has been a surge in the consumer demand for PCs and devices. While remote working is a key contributor, online education and entertainment are mostly prompting homebound people to invest more in hardware. Even accessories such as joysticks are in short supply – a trend that seems to have been accelerated by the Microsoft Flight Simulator launch earlier this month.

The demand for both iPad and Mac saw double-digit growth in this quarter. Around half of the customers purchasing these devices were new to the product. Apple sees the rise in demand from remote workers and students. Lenovo reported a 31% increase in Q1 net profits with demand surges in China, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

 #4 The impact on Real Estate is beginning to show

The demand for prime real estate has been hit by remote working and organisations not renewing leases or downsizing – both because most employees are working remotely and because of operational cost optimisation during the crisis. This is going to have a longer-term impact on the market, as organisations re-evaluate their need for physical office space. Some organisations will reduce office space, and many will re-design their offices to cater to virtual interactions (Figure 1). While now, Ecosystm research shows that only 16% of enterprises are expecting a reduction of commercial space, this might well change over the months to come. Organisations might even feel the need to have multiple offices in suburbs to make it convenient for their hybrid workers to commute to work on the days they have to. Amazon is offering employees additional choices for smaller offices outside the city of Seattle.

But the Future of Work and the rise of a distributed workforce is beginning to show an initial impact on the real estate industry. Last week saw Pinterest cancel a large office lease at a building to be constructed near its headquarters in San Francisco. The company felt that it might not be the right time to go ahead with the deal, as they are re-evaluating where employees would like to work from in the future. Even the termination fees of USD 89.5 million did not discourage them. They will continue to maintain their existing work premises but do not see feel that it is the right time to make additional real estate investments, as they re-evaluate where employees would like to work from in the future.  

There is a need for organisations to prepare themselves for the Future of Work – now! Ecosystm has launched a new 360o Future of Work practice, leveraging real-time market data from our platform combined with insights from our industry practitioners and experienced analysts, to guide organisations as they shift and define their new workplace strategies.   


Ecosystm Principal Advisors; Tim Sheedy (Technology), Ravi Bhogaraju (People & Organisations), and Mike Zamora (Infrastructure & Offices) provided holistic view of what the Future of Work will look like.
Ecosystm Engage Future of Work

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Tech Spotlight for May – Cybersecurity

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5/5 (2) In his blog, The Cybercrime Pandemic, Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Andrew Milroy says, “Remote working has reached unprecedented levels as organisations try hard to keep going. This is massively expanding the attack surface for cybercriminals, weakening security and leading to a cybercrime pandemic. Hacking activity and phishing, inspired by the COVID-19 crisis, are growing rapidly.” Remote working has seen an increase in adoption of cloud applications and collaborative tools, and organisations and governments are having to re-think their risk management programs.

We are seeing the market respond to this need and May saw initiatives from governments and enterprises on strengthening risk management practices and standards. Tech vendors have also stepped up their game, strengthening their Cybersecurity offerings.

Market Consolidation through M&As Continues

The Cybersecurity market is extremely fragmented and is ripe for consolidation. The last couple of years has seen some consolidation of the market, especially through acquisitions by larger platform players (wishing to provide an end-to-end solution) and private equity firms (who have a better view of the Cybersecurity start-up ecosystem). Cybersecurity providers continue to acquire niche providers to strengthen their end-to-end offering and respond to market requirements.

As organisations cope with remote working, network security, threat identification and identity and access management are becoming important. CyberArk acquired Identity as a Service provider Idaptive to work on an AI-based identity solution. The acquisition expands its identity management offerings across hybrid and multi-cloud environments. Quick Heal invested in Singapore-based Ray, a start-up specialising in next-gen wireless and network technology. This would benefit Quick Heal in building a safe, secure, and seamless digital experience for users. This investment also shows Quick Heal’s strategy of investing in disruptive technologies to maintain its market presence and to develop a full-fledged integrated solution beneficial for its users.

Another interesting deal was Venafi acquiring Jetstack.  Jetstack’s open-source Kubernetes certificate manager controller – cert-manager – with a thriving developer community of over 200 contributors, has been used by many global organisations as the go-to tool for using certificates in the Kubernetes space. The community has provided feedback through design discussion, user experience reports, code and documentation contributions as well as serving as a source for free community support. The partnership will see Venafi’s Machine Identity Protection having cloud-native capabilities.   The deal came a day after VMware announced its intent to acquire Octarine to extend VMware’s Intrinsic Security Capabilities for Containers and Kubernetes and integrate Octarine’s technology to VMware’s Carbon Black, a security company which VMware bought last year.

Cybersecurity vendors are not the only ones that are acquiring niche Cybersecurity providers. In the wake of a rapid increase in user base and a surge in traffic, that exposed it to cyber-attacks (including the ‘zoombombing’ incidents), Zoom acquired secure messaging service Keybase, a secure messaging and file-sharing service to enhance their security and to build end-to-end encryption capability to strengthen their overall security posture.

Governments actively working on their Cyber Standards

Governments are forging ahead with digital transformation, providing better citizen services and better protection of citizen data.  This has been especially important in the way they have had to manage the COVID-19 crisis – introducing restrictions fast, keeping citizens in the loop and often accessing citizens’ health and location data to contain the disaster. Various security guidelines and initiatives were announced by governments across the globe, to ensure that citizen data was being managed and used securely and to instil trust in citizens so that they would be willing to share their data.

Singapore, following its Smart Nation initiative, introduced a set of enhanced data security measures for public sector. There have been a few high-profile data breaches (especially in the public healthcare sector) in the last couple of years and the Government rolled out a common security framework for public agencies and their officials making them all accountable to a common code of practice. Measures include clarifying the roles and responsibilities of public officers involved in managing data security, and mandating that top public sector leadership be accountable for creating a strong organisational data security regime. The Government has also empowered citizens to raise a flag against unauthorised data disclosures through a simple incident report form available on Singapore’s Smart Nation Website.

Australia is also ramping up measures to protect the public sector and the country’s data against threats and breaches by issuing guidelines to Australia’s critical infrastructure providers from cyber-attacks. The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) especially aims key employees working in services such as power and water distribution networks, and transport and communications grids. In the US agencies such as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) have issued guidelines on safeguarding the country’s critical infrastructure. Similarly, UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) issued cybersecurity best practices for Industrial Control Systems (ICS).

Cyber Awareness emerges as the need of the hour

While governments will continue to strengthen their Cybersecurity standards, the truth is Cybersecurity breaches often happen because of employee actions – sometimes deliberate, but often out of unawareness of the risks. As remote working becomes a norm for more organisations, there is a need for greater awareness amongst employees and Cybersecurity caution should become part of the organisational culture.

Comtech received a US$8.4 million in additional orders from the US Federal Government for a Joint Cyber Analysis Course. The company has been providing cyber-training to government agencies in the communications sector. Another public-private partnership to raise awareness on Cybersecurity announced in May was the MoU between Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) and Capgemini Netherlands. With this MoU, Capgemini and Europol are collaborating on activities such as the development of cyber simulation exercises, capacity building, and prevention and awareness campaigns. They are also partnered on a No More Ransomware project by National High Tech Crime Unit of the Netherlands’ Police, Kaspersky and McAfee to help victims fight against ransomware threats.

The Industry continues to gear up for the Future

Technology providers, including Cybersecurity vendors, continue to evolve their offerings and several innovations were reported in May. Futuristic initiatives such as these show that technology vendors are aware of the acute need to build AI-based cyber solutions to stay ahead of cybercriminals.

Samsung introduced a new secure element (SE) Cybersecurity chip to protect mobile devices against security threats. The chip received an Evaluation Assurance Level (EAL) 6+ certification from CC EAL – a technology security evaluation agency which certifies IT products security on a scale of EAL0 to EAL7. Further applications of the chip could include securing e-passports, crypto hardware wallets and mobile devices based on standalone hardware-level security. Samsung also introduced a new smartphone in which Samsung is using a chipset from SK Telecom with quantum-crypto technology. This involves Quantum Random Number Generator (QRNG) to enhance the security of applications and services instead of using normal random number generators. The technology uses LED and CMOS sensor to capture quantum randomness and produce unpredictable strings and patterns which are difficult to hack. This is in line with what we are seeing in the findings of an Ecosystm business pulse study to gauge how organisations are prioritising their IT investments to adapt to the New Normal. 36% of organisations in the Asia Pacific region invested significantly in Mobile Security is a response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The same study reveals that nearly 40% of organisations in the region have also increased investments in Threat Analysis & Intelligence. At the Southern Methodist University in Texas, engineers at Darwin Deason Institute for Cybersecurity have created a software to detect and prevent ransomware threats before they can occur. Their detection method known as sensor-based ransomware detection can even spot new ransomware attacks and terminates the encryption process without relying on the signature of past infections. The university has filed a patent for this technique with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

Microsoft and Intel are working on a project called STAMINA (static malware-as-image network analysis). The project involves a new deep learning approach that converts malware into grayscale images to scan the text and structural patterns specific to malware. This works by converting a file’s binary form into a stream of raw pixel data (1D) which is later converted into a photo (2D) to feed into image analysis algorithms based on a pre-trained deep neural network to scan and classify images as clean or infected.

 


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Ecosystm Snapshot: Apple betting big on Intel modem business

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5/5 (4) Apple and Intel have signed an agreement where Apple will acquire Intel’s smartphone modem business for a deal valued at $1 billion. Apple will gain Intel’s Intellectual Property, equipment, leases, and approximately 2200 Intel employees will join Apple.

The deal is Apple’s second-largest ever after its $3.2bn purchase of Beats Electronics in 2014. The deal is expected to close at the end of the year and Intel will continue to develop modems for non-smartphone applications such as industrial equipment, autonomous vehicles and personal computers.

 

What Apple has really acquired from Intel?

Beyond getting 2,200 employees from Intel’s modem group along with the accompanying 17,000 patents, Apple now has the intellectual property to develop a modem that can be integrated with Apple (system-on-a-chip) or SOC.

Commenting on Apple’s acquisition of Intel modem business, Ecosystm Executive Analyst, Vernon Turner said  “given its performance-driven and highly vertically integrated product line, Apple had its own ambitions to build its own modem. However, despite being capable of building chips, Apple lacked the knowledge to build a modem. To solve that issue, it would always have had to license patents from a 3rd party, unless they buy the company that has the patents instead.”

 

Aligning with the fifth generation

The acquisition of Intel modem business displays Apple’s ambition to ramp up on 5G technology. The foothold in the 5G modem business is also expected to reduce Apple’s reliance on Qualcomm, its modem supplier. Speaking of the competition, Apple’s global rivals in the handset business – Samsung Electronics and Huawei – already produce their own modem chips.

“Apple has a lot of catching up to Samsung and Huawei in the 5G modem market, and while it has now gained technology from Intel, there is still a significant gap and it will be a haul for Apple to suddenly catch up and overtake them,” said Turner. “Apple’s modem supplier, Qualcomm isn’t likely to be worried by this news either – it too has a lead of several years. The bottom line is that Apple didn’t have a lot of options to turn too if it wanted to be in control of as much of the phone IP stack as possible. It purchased a modem supplier that was perhaps the weakest in the market and had already thrown in the towel on their mobile modem business.”

Apple will take some time to absorb the Intel team into its business and likewise with the modem roadmap. The deal is a step in Apple’s journey to make all of its own smartphone chips and having a more self-sufficient supply chain.

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Nvidia and Intel Race For The Future Of Machine Learning

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4/5 (4) Two things happened recently that 99% of the ICT world would normally miss. After all microprocessor and chip interconnect technology is quite the geek area where we generally don’t venture into. So why would I want to bring this to your attention?

We are excited about the innovation that analytics, machine learning (ML) and all things real time processing will bring to our lives and the way we run our business. The data center, be it on an enterprise premise or truly on a cloud service provider’s infrastructure is being pressured to provide compute, memory, input/output (I/O) and storage requirements to take advantage of the hardware engineers would call ‘accelerators’. In its most simple form, an accelerator microprocessor does the specialty work for ML and analytics algorithms while the main microprocessor is trying to hold everything else together to ensure that all of the silicon parts are in sync. If we have a ML accelerator that is too fast with its answers, it will sit and wait for everyone else as its outcomes squeezed down a narrow, slow pipe or interconnect – in other words, the servers that are in the data center are not optimized for these workloads. The connection between the accelerators and the main components becomes the slowest and weakest link…. So now back to the news of the day.

A new high speed CPU-to-device interconnect standard, the Common Express Link (CXL) 1.0 was announced by Intel and a consortium of leading technology companies (Huawei and Cisco in the network infrastructure space, HPE and Dell EMC in the server hardware market, and Alibaba, Facebook, Google and Microsoft for the cloud services provider markets). CXL joins a crowded field of other standards already in the server link market including CAPI, NVLINK, GEN-Z and CCIX. CXL is being positioned to improve the performance of the links between FPGA and GPUs, the most common accelerators to be involved in ML-like workloads.

Of course there were some names that were absent from the launch – Arm, AMD, Nvidia, IBM, Amazon and Baidu. Each of them are members of the other standards bodies and probably are playing the waiting game.

Now let’s pause for a moment and look at the other announcement that happened at the same time. Nvidia and Mellanox announced that the two companies had reached a definitive agreement under which Nvidia will acquire Mellanox for $6.9 billion.  Nvidia puts the acquisition reasons as “The data and compute intensity of modern workloads in AI, scientific computing and data analytics is growing exponentially and has put enormous performance demands on hyperscale and enterprise datacenters. While computing demand is surging, CPU performance advances are slowing as Moore’s law has ended. This has led to the adoption of accelerated computing with Nvidia GPUs and Mellanox’s intelligent networking solutions.”

So to me it seems that despite Intel working on CXL for four years, it looks like they might have been outbid by Nvidia for Mellanox. Mellanox has been around for 20 years and was the major supplier of Infiniband, a high speed interconnect that is common in high performance workloads and very well accepted by the HPC industry. (Note: Intel was also one of the founders of the Infiniband Trade Association, IBTA, before they opted to refocus on the PCI bus). With the growing need for fast links between the accelerators and the microprocessors, it would seem like Mellanox persistence had paid off and now has the market coming to it. One can’t help but think that as soon as Intel knew that Nvidia was getting Mellanox, it pushed forward with the CXL announcement – rumors that have had no response from any of the parties.

Advice for Tech Suppliers:

The two announcements are great for any vendor who is entering the AI, intense computing world using graphics and floating point arithmetic functions. We know that more digital-oriented solutions are asking for analytics based outcomes so there will be a growing demand for broader commoditized server platforms to support them. Tech suppliers should avoid backing or picking one of either the CXL or Infiniband at the moment until we see how the CXL standard evolves and how nVidia integrates Mellanox.

Advice for Tech Users:

These two announcements reflect innovation that is generally so far away from the end user, that it can go unnoticed. However, think about how USB (Universal Serial Bus) has changed the way we connect devices to our laptops, servers and other mobile devices. The same will true for this connection as more and more data is both read and outcomes generated by the ‘accelerators’ for the way we drive our cars, digitize our factories, run our hospitals, and search the Internet. Innovation in this space just got a shot in the arm from these two announcements.

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