ZyLab + ArkCase + eDiscovery: A Privacy Management Solution to Solve CCPA/GDPR Challenges

ZyLab + ArkCase + eDiscovery: A Privacy Management Solution to Solve CCPA/GDPR Challenges

ZyLab ArkCase eDiscovery A Privacy Management Solution to Solve CCPA/GDPR Challenges

With the emergence of data privacy laws in the USA and European Union, companies are facing an uphill battle. The Data Subject Access Request’s legal framework poses strict rules on processing and responding to requests. Failing to respond to a DSAR can mean serious financial penalties.

Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU, and its US equivalent, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), non-compliance fines can be as high as 20 million Euros or 4% of annual global organization revenue. Under CCPA, noncompliance is not directly sanctioned, but it keeps the door open for violations and lawsuits.

Despite such large fines, according to Egress, only 30% of business respondents are in regulatory compliance, and only another 27% plan to do it in 2020. A recent ZyLAB survey points out that for 45.4% of those implementing the DSAR solution, the biggest challenge is to remain compliant in the future.

In this text, we will cover the DSAR compliance topic and propose several off-the-shelf technologies that can provide a reliable, scalable and most importantly, cost-effective DSAR solution.

The greatest DSAR compliance challenge 

The biggest DSAR compliance challenge

We live in a time of corporate data explosion. Digitally connected, we are creating a digital trail wherever we go, whatever we do. Our civilization’s digital footprint doubles every 18 months.

With the introduction of DSAR, from an undisputed source of wealth and business value, data is now a regulation problem that requires fundamental changes in organizational behavior.

GDPR and CCPA create a whole set of new obligations that organizations can’t ignore.

  1. Citizens can use“Right of Access” (GDPR) or “Right to Know” (CCPA) to request if an organization possesses some personal data about them.
  2. Citizens can use the “Right to be forgotten” (GDPR) or “Right to Delete” (CCPA) to demand deletion of all their personal data that the organization possesses. Data controllers are obligated to do it “without undue delay, which means in a one-month time frame.
  3. Organizations should follow specific data management regulations such as:
    Strict cybersecurity requirements (mandatory data encryption, data security measures, report of breaches, etc.).
    Data processing rules.
    Redact or pseudonymize all sensitive information when there is no regulatory need to collect, possess, manage, or use it.
  4. They must ask the user for prior consent before the user’s personal information is collected and stored.
  5. All data breaches must be reported, and all subjects whose data has been breached must be informed. Organizations have 72 hours from discovery to notify authorities and must keep all records about it. Also, data subjects must be notified “without undue delay” when breaches have affected their unencrypted personal data. The CCPA adopts the individual cause of action or class action versus organizations that fail to adopt reasonable security practices to prevent data breaches.
  6. All third-party integrations must be in regulatory compliance, and the organization should be able to demonstrate that.

As we see, regulatory compliance is not an option. It is an obligation.

From the perspective of DSAR, organizations need to have a scalable system to get these requests, process them quickly and respond on time. However, with a growing data footprint stored in disconnected data sources like emails, chat systems and physical correspondence, searching for each requestor’s data is a daunting challenge. Luckily, there are advanced search solutions that can handle this kind of workload.

ZyLAB’s eDiscovery: The silver bullet on the data train?

 

ZYLAB’S-EDISCOVERY

In its core, eDiscovery is the collection, processing, and indexing of disparate content so that it can be thoroughly reviewed and redacted. Heavily used in the legal sector, eDiscovery enables organizations to scour large sources of data for Personally Identifiable Information (PII)—lightning fast.

When an organization receives a DSAR, the challenge lies in tracking all data sources for specific details, usually personally identifiable information and other data about the requestor and the data holder. These requests can be simple to process, but as organizations grow, so does the complexity of these requests.

In two examples, organizations have reported staggering costs of processing complex SAR requests. The first is from Nursing and Midwifery Council in the UK. A single, heavily-redacted DSAR costed about $315,000 in processing costs and legal fees. In another case, Oxford University faced a $150,000 cost in order to respond to a single SAR request due to the University needing to process over half a million emails in order to respond to the requestor, Dr. Cécile Deer.

Without a software solution that can process digital data and find personally identifiable information of the requestor (all while masking other individuals’ PII), responding to SAR requests can be extremely expensive for organizations.

Therefore, an eDiscovery solution like ZyLAB ONE is good as a silver bullet for DSAR challenges. The process of finding any document in various locations, fast and on scale is essential for a reliable DSAR solution.

Without using eDiscovery, any DSAR solution would struggle with the search functionality, which is essential for timely DSAR processing.

eDiscovery is responsible for:

  • Locating and processing all relevant data across all repositories, e-mails, etc.
  • Redacting all personally identifiable information related to other individuals mentioned in the same content.
  • Collecting information directly from the relevant organization’s sources with true data integrity.
  • De-duplicating the information. With any DSAR search, the portion of duplicate documents can be up to 80%. Deduplication eliminates a huge portion of work, therefore speeding up the DSAR response time.
  • Automatically unpacking containers of files and making every component searchable.
  • Enriching non-searchable data such as scans, images, media files or unsearchable PDFs, so that all information can be searched and used.
  • Analyzing, classifying and organizing information for a quick and comprehensive review.
  • Using auto-redaction to anonymize or pseudonymize personal and confidential information. This is crucial for data transfer outside of the EU. While anonymization is a more robust solution, after redaction the data subject is no longer identifiable. With pseudonymization, data can no longer be attributed to a data subject. Additional information used to identify is kept separate and subject to technical and organizational security measures. Only when the identifiers are reunited with the core data will it be safeguarded like any other personal data. Otherwise, a non-attribution must be provided.
  • Automatically converting all electronic file formats to one standard format before redactions.
  • Detailed tracking and reporting provide a complete audit trail to prove requested personal data erasure.

These are the key features to solve the GDPR/CCPA bottleneck for finding any document across all locations in the organization. It’s important to note that not all eDiscovery solutions have all these features incorporated.

ZyLAB ONE’s AI-powered eDiscovery combines advanced search, text-mining, auto-classification, natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning. Using these procedures, ZyLAB ONE can cull information from archives to ascertain what information can be destroyed without harming the business, historical or legal need for that data.

ZyLAB ONE eDiscovery can scale out and manage search over large clusters of machines. Both indexing and searching can be distributed over as many machines as desired, and indexes can be centralized or distributed for better performance or robustness needs.

This results in almost unlimited scalability of the search engine. Depending on the hardware, ZyLAB can index multiple terabytes of data in a matter of just a few hours. At the same time, it maintains the ability to search faster than any other product for large queries containing positional operators, Boolean, quorum search, wildcards, and fuzzy matching (also at the beginning of words), complex regular expressions, parsing and tokenization flexibility.

Support functions like index checksums, monitoring index status tools, the environment status tool, and the current running status help in the control and maintenance.

Having a powerful eDiscovery component alone, however, isn’t enough for a solid DSAR solution. Organizations need to marry this search feature with a system that can capture DSAR requests, use workflows and automation to process these requests at-scale.

DSAR Management with the ArkCase Case Management Platform

 

ArkCase DSAR Solution

One of the hallmarks of DSAR requests management, other than being data-intensive, is that it has a relatively fixed workflow:

  • It all starts with a public portal where people can fill out a DSAR request.
  • Next, there is a mandatory identity verification to confirm that the requester is the data subject. Then, the request is queued for processing.
  • The processing has a fixed workflow of finding the data, deduplication, redaction, review, and delivery.
  • The data subject can respond with a deletion request that the company can respond with proof of deletion beyond recovery.
  • Lastly, the entire process from submission to closure should be auditable, meaning that at every stage of the workflow, log entries are recorded and stored securely.

Software solutions that are preconfigured with workflows and forms are also heavily used in medical and legal practices. These case management solutions enable organizations to automate repetitive tasks, streamline workflows, leverage collaboration and use the cloud for global yet secure access.

One of our favorite case management platforms is ArkCase. It is a modern, open-source case management platform that accelerates case processing time. Thanks to its flexibility, ArkCase offers many off-the-shelf solutions such as data privacy management, FOIA requests management, complaint management, correspondence management, legal case management, etc.

ArkCase is a robust platform that comes with a personalized dashboard, document management capabilities, collaboration, rules engine, configurable and pre-configured workflows, advanced search, reporting, calendaring, task management, multimedia search and is fully auditable. It is an open-source solution that is field-tested, cost-effective, and future proof.

  • Content/Records Management System
  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
  • Analytics
  • Correspondence Management
  • Modern eDiscovery

With these integrations, the ArkCase DSAR Solution claims a processing time savings of 60%.  Without the DSAR Solution, the cost of manually processing privacy requests is $1,400 per request.

With flexible licensing and pricing, ArkCase DSAR can be an excellent way to achieve full CCPA and GDPR compliance without breaking the budget.

Wrap-Up: The Combined Benefits Of ZyLAB ONE And ArkCase 

Benefits-Of-ZyLAB-And-ArkCase

As a result of legal frameworks such as GDPR and CCPA, companies are facing an ever-growing amount of data disclosure requests governed by DSAR. Companies that gather and store a large volumes of user data will find it difficult to respond to these requests on time, even if all their data is digitally stored.

Finding all personally identifiable information related to the requestor, while redacting all other PII from other individuals mentioned in the requested documents, is a daunting task that cannot be solved with increasing the workforce alone. Therefore, organizations turn to scalable technologies like ZyLAB ONE and ArkCase. ZyLAB ONE provides a reliable and fast eDiscovery search, while ArkCase enables people to work optimally, one case at a time.

ZyLAB ONE eDiscovery has the most scalable and flexible architecture on the market. ZyLAB ONE easily handles large data volumes. The total system capacity can be scaled up by assigning as many virtual machines as needed to increase the computing capacity. As a SaaS-based eDiscovery solution, it is suitable for thin-client and remote work use, but it can also be implemented on-premise or hybrid.

ZyLAB ONE eDiscovery provides seamless integration for an efficient process without interruption. A flexible architecture “follows the wave of data” through the eDiscovery system during a project. Thanks to this flexible architecture, ZyLAB ONE provides a future-proof solution for processing large amounts of data, ensuring reliable eDiscovery functionality.

ArkCase is a FedRAMP Moderate open-source platform with a proven track record. As a cloud DSAR solution, it is suitable for thin-client use and remote work use, but it can also be implemented on-premise or hybrid. Federated Search is implemented as an information retrieval technology that allows the simultaneous search of multiple searchable resources.

Combined, the two provide a scalable DSAR solution that provides an organized, central location where all data is standardized and where all your Production Readiness Review (PRR) processes begin and end. A platform that gives control over data access, document review, redaction and the ability to request status at any point in time. All actions are documented and traceable preventing any possible litigation.

If you’re interested in finding out more details about how Armedia can help as a Solutions Integrator and solve your Data Privacy Management needs, contact us for a no-obligation consultation.

 

Implementing Zero Trust Architecture With Armedia

Implementing Zero Trust Architecture With Armedia

Overview

Traditional network security protocols involve strategies to keep malicious actors out of the network but allow almost unrestricted access to users and devices inside. These traditional architectures leverage legacy technologies such as firewalls, virtual private networks (VPNs) and network access control (NAC) to build multiple security layers on the perimeters. So basically they trust users that are inside their infrastructure and verify those who are outside. If an attacker is able to gain access and enter the internal network then he can have access to the entire infrastructure.

Implementing zero trust architecture with Armedia

Let’s take a look at some attack progressions to see why it is not enough

  1. Phishing emails attack on employees.
  2. Compromised privileged machine
  3. Keylogger installed on corporate machines
  4. Developer password is compromised
  5. The production environment is compromised using privileged machine
  6. Database credentials compromised
  7. Exfiltration via compromised cloud hosting service and so on

These are the threats that come from within the network. How do you plan to prevent such scenarios?

The answer is Zero Trust Architecture.

What is a Zero Trust Architecture?

zero trust architecture

“Zero trust” is a term that was coined by John Kindervag in 2010. He proposed that companies should move away from perimeter-centric network security approaches to a model that involves continuous trust verification mechanisms across every user, device, layer, and application.

(source: https://www.csoonline.com/article/3247848/what-is-zero-trust-a-model-for-more-effective-security.html)

ZTA takes the “Never trust, Always verify” approach to implement strict identity verification for users and devices when they access resources either from inside the network perimeter or outside.

Once a user or device is inside the network, Zero Trust Architecture implements protocols for limited access to prevent malicious activities if the entity happens to be an attacker. Thus, if a security breach happens, it can not propagate to the whole infrastructure, as it happens in traditional network security architectures.

ZTA makes an assumption that the network is in a compromised state and every user and device must go through strict identity verification to prove that they are not malicious actors. This model treats all actors as an external actor and continuously challenges them to verify trust. Once verified, only required access is given.

How to implement a Zero Trust Architecture

zero trust architecture ZTA

Zero Trust Architecture is neither a technology, nor it is attached to any specific technology. It is a holistic strategy and approach to implementing network security based on several fundamental assertions { source: NIST 800-207 Draft}

  1. All computing services and data sources are considered as resources.
  2. No implied trust based on network locality.
  3. The network is always considered to be compromised.
  4. The network is under constant internal and external threats.
  5. Authenticate and authorize every user, device, and network flow.
  6. Strict trust verification before accessing each individual resource.
  7. Connection-based restricted access to each individual resource.
  8. Resource access is determined by Identity, behavioral attributes, and dynamic policies.
  9. The organization makes sure that all systems are well-secured.
  10. Monitor systems to make sure that they are well-secured.

What do all these principles mean? Well, this means that there should be no trust between any individual resource and the entity trying to access it. Hence the name Zero Trust Architecture. Implementing it requires leveraging multiple technologies to challenge and prove User trust, Device trust, Session trust, Application trust, and Data trust.

  1. Least-privileged access- Zero trust model requires defining privilege limits for users, devices, network flow, and applications, etc. Each user and device should have minimum privileges and access rights required for them to perform their jobs on a need-to-know basis.

A comprehensive audit should be done to get a clear picture of privileges for every entity in the network who needs access. This is a key security control in Zero Trust Architecture so the access-list must always be up-to-date.

  1. Network security policies: All standard network security policies must be in place in addition to Zero trust policies. They should also be tested regularly for effectiveness and vulnerabilities.
  2. Log and Inspect Traffic – All the activities and traffic mush be logged, monitored, and inspected continuously. Automation should be adopted to perform these operations faster and efficiently.
  3. Risk management and Threat Detection – Security analytics system must be in place to monitor suspicious activities based on monitoring, policies, behavior, and Risk-adaptive controls. Proactive threat detection and resolution should be the norm.

A Zero Trust Architecture implementation for network security must address the following

  1. Micro-segmentation – Divide network/data center into smaller individual parts that can be secured with different access credentials and policies. This should be done additionally with traditional security protocols such as VPNs, NAC, Firewalls, etc. This increases the security multi-folds by preventing bad actors from going on a malicious spree throughout the network even if they compromised one part.
  2. Verify Users and Devices – Users and devices both must undergo a strict authentication and authorization process based on the Eliminated Trust Validation approach. Any user or device can not be trusted and granted access to any resource if they are not on the access-list. Both must comply with security protocols and devices should have up-to-date software, malware and virus protection, updated patches, and encryption, etc.
  3. Multi-factor authentication – MFA is definitely more secure than just a password, for example, Biometrics and OTP are MFA methods. Devices supporting the MFA are increasing day by day. Almost all smartphones support it.

Multi-factor authentication is an effective way of performing Eliminated trust validation by adding an extra layer of security.

The Armedia way

We, at Armedia, specializes in implementing Zero Trust Architecture for network security. We have been constantly evolving our Zero trust security model with the best technologies and policies. In addition to the core components in an enterprise implementing a ZTA, several data sources provide input and policy rules used by the policy engine when making access decisions. These include local data sources as well as external (i.e., nonenterprise-controlled or -created) data sources.

 

Armedia Zero Trust Architecture

These include:

  1. Continuous diagnostics and mitigation (CDM) system: This gathers information about the enterprise asset’s current state and applies updates to configuration and software components. An enterprise CDM system provides the policy engine with the information about the asset making an access request, such as whether it is running the appropriate patched operating system (OS) and applications or whether the asset has any known vulnerabilities.
  • Armedia does not have a centralized policy engine and policy administrator for all resources; this is in part due to the significant effort to centralize all policy making and execution
  • We use Zabbix monitoring and altering, along with Grafana dashboards for visuals
  • We use OSSEC/Wazuh on Linux for intrusion detection; we abandoned the use of aide on Linux since to resource usage
  • We use Windows Endpoint Security on Windows Servers
  • We use ManageEngine Desktop Central to manage and patch Windows Servers
  • We use Red Hat Satellite to manage and patch Linux Servers
  • Systems and servers are patched and restarted on a scheduled basis
  1. Industry compliance system: This ensures that the enterprise remains compliant with any regulatory regime that it may fall under (e.g., FISMA, healthcare or financial industry information security requirements). This includes all the policy rules that an enterprise develops to ensure compliance.
  • Armedia uses Tenable Nessus with scanning profiles based on DISA SRG’s and STIG’s
  • Armedia uses Active Directory Group Policy Objects (GPOs) to ensure and reassert compliance within Windows Servers by managing key configuration files, security settings, application settings based on data stored in Configuration Management
  • Armedia uses Puppet within Red Hat Satellite to ensure and reassert compliance within Linux Servers by managing key configuration files, security settings, application settings based on data stored in Configuration Management
  1. Threat intelligence feed(s): This provides information from internal or external sources that help the policy engine make access decisions. These could be multiple services that take data from internal and/or multiple external sources and provide information about newly discovered attacks or vulnerabilities. This also includes blacklists, newly identified malware, and reported attacks to other assets that the policy engine will want to deny access to from enterprise assets.
  • Armedia uses GeoIP data on its perimeter firewalls, VPN, web application, and secure file transfer resources to blacklist regions, countries, and sites that are known threats, along with sites that perform scans or launch attacks
  1. Data access policies: These are the attributes, rules, and policies about access to enterprise resources. This set of rules could be encoded in or dynamically generated by the policy engine. These policies are the starting point for authorizing access to a resource as they provide the basic access privileges for accounts and applications in the enterprise. These policies should be based on the defined mission roles and needs of the organization.
  • Armedia does not have a centralized policy engine and policy administrator for all resources; this is in part due to the significant effort to centralize all policy making and execution
  • Data access policies are defined within the perimeter firewall for permitted inbound and outbound access; policies specifying access are assigned based on Directory group memberships
  • Data access policies are set based on Directory group assignments that align to client, customer, corporate resources for development, test, preproduction, and production environments
  • Data access policies are set within Infrastructure at the network and storage layers
  1. Enterprise public key infrastructure (PKI): This system is responsible for generating and logging certificates issued by the enterprise to resources, subjects, and applications. This also includes the global certificate authority ecosystem and the Federal PKI,4 which may or may not be integrated with the enterprise PKI. This could also be a PKI that is not built upon X.509 certificates.
  • Directory, Server, Infrastructure, and Network resources trust well-established Third Party Root Certification Authorities

– Federal PKI Root Certication Authorities resources not included can be added upon request and subsequent approval

  • Use Active Directory Certificate Services to manage and issue server, application, and user certificates for all resources in the environment

-Leverage integration with Active Directory for enrollment of Windows Servers, users, and applications

-Leverage automation within Linux Servers for server and application certificate management

  1. Data access policies: These are the attributes, rules, and policies about access to enterprise resources. This set of rules could be encoded in or dynamically generated by the policy engine. These policies are the starting point for authorizing access to a resource as they provide the basic access privileges for accounts and applications in the enterprise. These policies should be based on the defined mission roles and needs of the organization.
  • Armedia does not have a centralized policy engine and policy administrator for all resources; this is in part due to the significant effort to centralize all policy making and execution
  • Data access policies are defined within the perimeter firewall for permitted inbound and outbound access; policies specifying access are assigned based on Directory group memberships
  • Data access policies are set based on Directory group assignments that align to client, customer, corporate resources for development, test, preproduction, and production environments
  • Data access policies are set within Infrastructure at the network and storage layers
  1. ID management system: This is responsible for creating, storing, and managing enterprise user accounts and identity records (e.g., lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP) server). This system contains the necessary user information (e.g., name, email address, certificates) and other enterprise characteristics such as role, access attributes, and assigned assets. This system often utilizes other systems (such as a PKI) for artifacts associated with user accounts. This system may be part of a larger federated community and may include nonenterprise employees or links to nonenterprise assets for collaboration.
  • Use Active Directory for user authentication along with group, container, organizational unit (OU), and organization management

– Desktops, servers (Windows and Linux) are managed using AD – only exceptions are servers placed in a designated DMZ

  • Use Active Directory for user authorization based on group assignments; groups are defined for application-specific and system access based on the principle of least privilege
  • Use Active Directory Federation Services for federated authentication

– Permit access only for named and authorized users

  • Use Active Directory Certificate Services to manage and issue server, application, and user certificates for all resources in the environment

– Leverage integration with Active Directory for enrollment of Windows Servers, users, and applications

– Leverage automation within Linux servers for server and application certificate management

  1. Network and system activity logs: This is the enterprise system that aggregates asset logs, network traffic, resource access actions, and other events that provide real-time (or near-real-time) feedback on the security posture of enterprise information systems.
  • Logs are collected into an Elastic Stack deployment, have correlation applied, and are then surfaced through Kibana dashboards
  1. Security information and event management (SIEM) system: This collects security-centric information for later analysis. This data is then used to refine policies and warn of possible attacks against enterprise assets.
  • Armedia leverages Splunk and Elastic Stack for deriving and surfacing SIEM information

Establishing User Trust

When someone makes a request to access the network with any protocol, for example – VPN software, HTTPS, or TLS, We take the following actions based on the use-case

  1. Requests from unauthorized sources (a user or device), such as incorrect VPN, are rejected based on the policies.
  2. Once the request source is authenticated, a session is established and requests with correct session ID are granted role-based access.
  3. We use multiple protocols and technologies, such as secure LDAP, Kerberos, SAML, TLS over JDBC, ActiveMQ JMS, SSH, and web-based applications, etc

Confirming State of the Device

  1. VPN access by a client to a server – Necessary information is collected from client software to determine if the client device meets a security baseline to grant access. If the baseline is not met, the VPN server will reject the user without even presenting an authentication challenge.
  2. Browser with an SSO aware application- Necessary information is collected from the client’s browser for security baseline check and filtering out curl/wget requests. LDAP, SAML, and Kerberos, etc. are used to grant application access based on the use-case.
  3.  Developers with SSH connection – We leverage Kerberos for easy access and generic security service application program Interface (GSSAPI). Multi-factor authentication, encryption, and access-list protocols are also used to provide access depending on the use-case.

Advantages and benefits of Zero Trust Architecture

Our way of implementing the Zero Trust Architecture for network security, business processes, services, and systems has much-needed capabilities to enable the following advantages and benefits – {Source: 19 and 20 NIST 800-207 draft}

  1. Prevention of data and security breaches.
  2. Minimize lateral movement using the principle of micro-segmentation
  3. Security measures and protection can be easily expanded across multiple layers regardless of the underlying infrastructure.
  4. Get insights and analytics for users, workloads, devices, and components across the network and environments to enforce the required policy.
  5. Logging, monitoring, reporting continuously to detect the threats and timely response.
  6. Minimizing exposure and increasing security compliances.
  7. Minimized security gaps by covering a wide variety of attack points.
  8. Increased business agility to securely adopt cloud solutions.
  9. It requires less management and skill set than traditional security architectures.
  10. Save time, money, and efforts.

On a final note, In today’s digital landscape, organizations need to evolve their security protocols to fight off any malicious actor, inside the network or outside the network. Shifting to Zero Trust Architecture will enable you to protect your valuable network and data assets. The zero trust model enhances the security of an organization and provides it with substantial business advantages and benefits

Enterprise & SaaS: Solving the Productivity Problem During COVID-19

Enterprise & SaaS: Solving the Productivity Problem During COVID-19

Enterprise and SaaS

The COVID-19 pandemic forced enterprises into a full work-from-home mode practically overnight. There was no time to test, evaluate and decide. We were thrown into this “new normal” where anything that can be done remotely is being done remotely.

“We’re being forced into the world’s largest work-from-home experiment and, so far, it hasn’t been easy for a lot of organizations to implement,” says Saikat Chatterjee, Senior Director at Gartner.

This “new normal” is testing every enterprise’s agility to its core. Two questions are key for every enterprise:

  • Can we continue working?
  • How do we ensure continuity of operations during the pandemic?

The stakes are high as enterprises struggle to adapt and minimize any losses in money, reputation, clients, employees, etc.

With a significant growth of interest for remote work, enterprises are scrambling to find ways to adapt their existing legacy systems to enable their workforce to work from home. The chatter around work from home is so high that it’s incomparable to any previous time, as the chart below shows. This study points out that “work from home” was a subject of 423 transcribed conversation in public companies:

I looked up his position title on LinkedIn and it just says “Senior Director” so we don’t need to include the advisory bit  [JS1] [JS1]

work from home

Technology plays the leading role in this digital transformation drama. And, according to Gartner’s research, a high 54% of HR leaders indicate poor technology and infrastructure as the main problem for efficient work from home implementation.

The challenges of legacy technology in a work from home setting

The first challenge that users of legacy systems face is their inability to provide work from home capabilities at an enterprise-wide scale. Simon Migliano, the head of research at Top10VPN.com once commented about enterprises’ abilities to provide VPN access to their entire workforce: We know of at least one company whose VPN capacity is 8,000 users…Now, they have over five times as many employees trying to connect, with predictably frustrating results.”

According to an estimation of Rob Smith, another Gartner analyst, around one-third of enterprises were without proper equipment and knowledge to work from home. Another one-third had no plan at all and had never planned ahead to create any kind of a telecommuting strategy…

Many of these enterprises who didn’t proactively update their systems and corporate culture for the growing work from home trend found themselves in a challenging situation. Their IT departments needed to quickly adapt existing, usually outdated, on-premise software solutions that were never built to provide telecommuting capabilities.

These on-premise enterprise content management solutions were built with the preconception that there will be people close by to monitor and manage infrastructure, processes, documents, etc. Such proprietary systems needed the physical presence of people, so they could work efficiently, reliably, and securely.

Security is another challenge for enterprises using outdated systems. This is especially the case in regulated industries where workers go through security routines to get to their desks. Now, with the work from home culture, all those physical security measures account for nothing as enterprises are forced to grant remote access to sensitive data and processes without a tried and tested security setup.

For all these problems, the “government, legal, insurance, banking and healthcare are all great examples,” says Sumir Karayi, CEO and founder of 1E. “Many companies and organizations in these industries are working on legacy systems and are using software that is not patched. Not only does this mean remote work is a security concern, but it makes working a negative, unproductive experience for the employee.

That leads us to another challenge: workforce productivity. The loss of productivity in enterprises that were not prepared for remote work is due to a lack of modern technology and a lack of employee training. An outdated enterprise infrastructure coupled with an untrained workforce for a work from home setting means enterprises found themselves in unknown territory with no battle plan.

Employees in unprepared enterprises are now juggling work and life challenges without any prior training. We’ll be reviewing these workforce challenges in the next blog post. For the time being, we’ll keep our focus on the technology side of the problem.

Proprietary and on-premise solutions should be replaced with modern Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions.

Why is SaaS the solution for enterprise management?

Why is SaaS the solution for enterprise management

Secure data access from anywhere for the entire workforce is one of the key reasons why enterprises should consider cloud solutions. Picking the right SaaS solution coupled with proper training can lead to productivity growth and employee satisfaction. Consequently, this will result with improved customer satisfaction. Enterprises that have planned and prepared for a work from home culture can, in fact, see solid growth during this COVID-19 period.

In general, SaaS companies and providers are offering a variety of enterprise solutions, such as:

  • enterprise content management (ECM),
  • business process management (BPM),
  • customer relationship management (CRM),
  • document management,
  • case management,
  • payroll and billing processing,
  • human resource management

Today, according to 451 Research, the cloud is the new mainstream, with approximately 90% of organizations surveyed using some type of cloud service. In 2019, around 60% of all workloads were running on some form of a hosted cloud service. This represents a huge rise from 45% just a year ago. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the leading cloud vendor with a 32% market share with an annual growth of 41%.

According to the IDG survey, 89% of companies use some kind of SaaS services. In another study, Cisco was cited as stating that by 2021, approximately 75% of all cloud workloads and compute instances will be SaaS. The leading reason for SaaS adoption across enterprises are:

  • ability to work outside of the office (42%).
  • ease of disaster recovery (38%),
  • flexibility (37%),
  • offloading IT support (36%)

The leading reason for SaaS adoption across enterprises

The rate of SaaS adoption by enterprises has only accelerated because of the pandemic. At what rate, we’re yet to see. We should see a faster adoption pace as more enterprises move off of proprietary solutions to SaaS solutions simply because the old systems don’t provide the flexibility required by the new normal enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

SaaS benefits beyond productivity

SaaS is quickly becoming a reliable choice for private enterprises and government organizations. Enterprise executives are considering SaaS during this pandemic more than ever as they seek to adjust their organizations to a work from home culture and ensure staff efficiency.

It’s not only efficiency, though. According to the Rackspace study, from 1,300 surveyed companies, 88% of the enterprises with cloud services have experienced cost savings. Additionally, 56% reported an increase in profits.

Let’s look at a few other obvious benefits enterprises and agencies can gain from using SaaS solutions over the more traditional on-premise approach:

  • Reduction of the hardware cost

When using SaaS, there will be no need to maintain the existing server infrastructure on-premise. Cutting out the cost of hardware purchases and maintenance is especially important for fast-growing enterprises. New hardware can be bulky, expensive and demand special treatment and HVAC improvements. SaaS-based cloud solutions overcomes these issues. Furthermore, the cost of repairing and replacing hardware components is now passed on to the vendors to worry about.

  • Reduction of electricity and real estate expenses

The reduction of on-premise hardware will directly and positively affect the organization’s electricity and real estate expenses. Enterprises that adopt a SaaS solution for their ECM needs will free up real estate in their buildings, cut electricity costs to power that IT equipment and reduce their HVAC bills as there would be no need to climatize large rooms full of heat-producing equipment.

  • IT Support staff savings

With offloading the needed hardware concerns to the SaaS supplier, enterprises and agencies will no longer need a considerable workforce that maintains those systems. Routine maintenance, patching, hardware and software upgrades are all part of the SaaS offer, and this can be a considerable amount that companies save every month.

  • Reduce the time and cost for implementation and training

The deployment of a new cloud-based solution is considerably faster than any other conventional system implementation. While an on-premise solution would take months of work to set up the infrastructure, install the software and do internal training, a SaaS solution is set up in a few hours. Of course there will be exceptions to thissince some enterprises may need customization to an existing SaaS solution. But, all customization would be handled by a much larger IT team who can deploy a solution much faster. Most SaaS providers already have ready-made libraries of support materials like manuals or how-to videos, which makes training a self-service task for employees.

  •  Flexible cost of ownership

Software as a service-SaaS benefits

The typical SaaS pricing model is pay-as-you-go. Sometimes, there will be an initial setup fee if customizations are needed. After the setup, organizations will be looking at a relatively small fee each month, depending on the size of their workforce and features/resources they use. This pricing model is flexible, and it offers different ways for organizations to reduce overhead:

  1. First, the enterprise does not face a steep annual license With SaaS, there is no such thing as a software license. You rent the service and pay a small fee per user, per month.
  2. Second, this pay-as-you-go software can be canceled at any time. For example, if a pandemic happened. Or monthly fees can be reduced accordingly if and when the enterprise decides to reduce the workforce. The flip side, of course, is also the ease of scaling up the workforce. The only expense here would be the few minutes needed to create a new user profile for the employee, and they’d be ready to start using the software and the vendor-produced training materials.
  3. Third, enterprise SaaS solutions usually come with a utilization fee. For example, this means that enterprises won’t face fixed fees for data storage or computing power if they don’t use these services that much… This helps enterprises avoid fixed expenses of additional hardware that they would only use in peak periods. Cloud infrastructure providers, like AWS, are enabling SaaS providers to get the maximum value from server farms, and this benefit is clearly transferable to the end user, which in this case is the enterprise or organization using a SaaS solution.

This is clearly a very short list of extra benefits besides employee productivity and employee satisfaction improvements. As stated in the statistics above, enterprises and organizations are aware of the benefits of cloud-based solutions. This is why more and more of them are replacing proprietary and on-premise solutions with SaaS solutions. The pandemic only expedited this migration to the cloud as the work from home mode is now the only viable way for some organizations to continue operations.

The final step: SaaS-based Technology implementation

It used to be the case that the most prepared organizations in terms of software and hardware were the most resistant to cloud-based solutions. Their upfront investment made the cloud idea a bit redundant. But, times have changed. As Rick Holland, CISO and vice president of strategy at Digital Shadows, stated for Threatpost: “One of the unintended consequences of COVID-19 will likely be increased zero trust adoption that further embraces cloud services, eliminates VPNs, and enables employees to work from anywhere.”

Continuity of Operations must be provided. Enterprises will offload everything on the cloud: software, data storage, operations, processing power, users management, etc. Before the pandemic, Gartner estimates 50% of government organizations across the US were using cloud solutions. This number will rise even faster during a pandemic as SaaS solutions are already built with remote work in mind.

The crucial step of implementation of SaaS-based solutions is finding a reliable technology partner. This partner would ideally be a company that already has the know-how and routines in place to perform critical data migration and workflow creation processes using reliable technology… A company, which is recognized for its expertise, reliability, and ability to work under pressure.

Armedia LLC is a CMMI Level 3 company that provides a niche focus in Enterprise Content Management (ECM) technical and advisory services. We are a proven provider in delivering modern, flexible, robust, and scalable solutions to federal/state/local government, as well as commercial enterprises. With 18 years of deep ECM experience, our skilled team with industry certifications has helped deploy hundreds of ECM solutions. In just the past year, Armedia has actively supported over 20 initiatives in the government and commercial market.

For more info, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic, and we’d appreciate you sharing this blog post on your social media.

25 Work from Home Tips for  Enjoyable & Safe Collaboration

25 Work from Home Tips for Enjoyable & Safe Collaboration

Enjoyable and safe collaboration

The COVID19 pandemic forced most enterprises to send their employees to work from home. While they were busy implementing new solutions, procedures, and guidelines, employees working from home faced their own set of challenges they weren’t prepared for.

In one recent research article, over 75% of people said that the COVID-19 outbreak has had a negative impact on their habits and routines. Anyone working from home, which nowadays is pretty much every single one of us, are in an unknown territory, forced to adapt to new lifestyles and new routines with a zero-transition period. In this blog, we will go over some tips for successful and productive work from home strategies.

We’ve organized the tips in 5 major categories for easier navigation. You may be tempted to jump to one of these categories and skip the rest. Try to avoid the temptation. Reading the obvious could be all you need to kick a bad habit out and replace it with a good one. Let’s get started.

Basic work from home tips

This first batch of tips is aimed at equipping us to avoid the pitfalls of slouching on the couch in our PJs for hours just because we’re not commuting to work. These are the most obvious things that so many of us fail to do, and we end up locked in a “Sunday mode.”

  1. Leave the bed, get off the couch. Find a comfortable and dedicated spot to work. This one spot could earn the “at work” nickname for the time being. Sitting at the desk will mean you’re at work, and when you get up, you’re not at work anymore.
  2. Get out of your PJs, have an early breakfast, and sit up straight. Maybe it sounds obvious, but it helps your mind to start a logical, productive routine and keep going throughout the day. Establishing routines is essential to stay focused and mentally healthy while working from home.
  3. Make daily plans and stick to them. Living in isolation from others may throw your mind into a Sunday mode. To avoid this trap that will kill your productivity, set a more detailed plan, and stick to that schedule as much as you can. When you work from home, the daily schedule should be more detailed and structured. Time to work, time for a break, time to play with kids, feed the dog or do some shopping. And don’t forget to schedule some outdoor time. Live organized while you work from home.
  4. Take advantage of your space and stay active and positive. Get up from the working desk. Leave the computer. Stretch and walk around. These little things may go a long way for your mood. Also, try some cooking. Healthy, regular home-cooked meals will nourish your body and your soul. Use the current situation of working from home for doing everything you couldn’t normally do in the enterprise office. And also, drink water regularly throughout the day.
  5. If you need any help, ask. Enterprise employees are used to having plenty of colleagues at an arm’s reach away, which meant that help was just a whisper away.  Now that we’re all working from our home office, we need to remember that these colleagues, although miles apart, are still just a few mouse-clicks away. Collaboration tools are there for a reason. You’re not alone. When in need of help, reach out to others.

Having the basics covered, let’s now continue to improvement tips.

Tips for the “at work” time while at home

Tips for the “at work” time while at home

Once you set the basic personal rules of conduct, let’s move on to the tips to help you make the most out of your work hours while working from home.

  1. Dress up & show up on time. Some may find this overkill but putting on “office attire” changes how we perceive ourselves. Dressing up for the nook you call your “work desk” does help. Being on that desk, on time, every day can have significant productivity and mood benefits. Try it out for some time. Keep track of how far you get, how much you get done and how well you feel at the end of the day.
  2. Kids rules. With schools in lockdown, chances are the kids are also at home in their Sunday mode. You should have a dedicated room, and a schedule for them too. Help them understand the situation as much as they can, and you may be surprised as to how well they adjust and stick to the new rules. Knowing your kids, you will need to work out the story and the words you use to communicate effectively, so you can all keep your sanity during the lockdown.
  3. Find a chat buddy. It could be a co-worker or just someone like you, it doesn’t matter. Social interaction can alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation. “We’re used to social interaction,” says Dr. Thuy-vy Nguyen from Durham University in his study of solitude. “It facilitates cooperation and closeness.” The employee that works from home should fill the socializing gap. It could be the colleague you can hit up when you feel the need to communicate with someone. It could be a friend that works for another organization but is going through the same experience of isolation.
  4. Whenever possible, do video communication. Doing a phone call is not the same as doing a video call. Seeing other people’s faces changes the way we communicate. It brings us closer. Do whatever you can to simulate in-person communication. “There will be a sense of isolation of course, and it depends on how well your team communicates, or how much they’re willing to amp up communication using other tools besides face-to-face conversations,” says remote worker Matt Haughey, creator of the long-running community weblog MetaFilter and writer for Slack.
  5.  The end of the workday. It is good to send a message to the rest of the team or department near the end of your workday. You can use email or chat, or any other apps you are using as a team. Something simple like “goodnight” or “thank you for a good working day” or last call for questions before you sign-off. It is an alternative to something that we all do in the office – saying goodbye when we leave. This is an excellent way to establish soft boundaries between work and family time, and it helps others to respect your time. This also helps colleagues feel connected and improve the atmosphere in the team.
  6. Stay available. You are using different kinds of communication platforms. Keep the notifications on. People may work under a different timeline, or they are simply in different time zones. Being available for your remote colleagues can help bridge the geographic and time gap, and help your organization be more agile in addressing issues and solving problems.

Sticking to these simple guidelines may make a tremendous difference in how you feel about working from home. Most of the time, for people who stick to these routines, working from home may even feel liberating and improve personal productivity.

Tips for team leaders

Tips for team leaders

Team leaders will usually have more work in organizing and managing team activities and team performance. This means that the team leaders among us will need to step up and take charge more often, using more technology and hone our soft skills even more. Here are a handful of tips to help you do better management in a work from home setting.

  1. Communicate with your team members. Work hours, goals, targets, problems… Be clear about what you are expecting from them. Then do what is needed to empower them to do their job on time and to do it well.
  2. Try to make work from home as fun as possible. Don’t turn all discussions strictly in the work-related direction. Share links or informal information on similar topics like in the physical office. Encourage everyone to take breaks. Lead by example.
  3. Run well-timed and organized meetings. Teem meetings are just as important when the team is working remotely. The challenge with online meetings is that some of your team may be in a different time zone, or their work from home setting imposes a different daily timeline. Make sure you pick a time that is good for the team.
    Physical distance from one another creates a perfect atmosphere for people to drift away while others are talking about something. You will need a well-prepared meeting agenda that everybody knows ahead of time. The common goals will serve as a gathering platform for the team, so the meeting will feel much more focused. It will also allow people to feel some sense of ownership of the meeting as they will usually have at least something to add or discuss one or more points on the agenda.
  4. Know which tools are working and which aren’t. Ask, observe and test. Be open to changing and improving. Ask management as soon as possible and be a leader in technological improvements.
  5. Be sure your words are not misread or misinterpreted. Most of the communication we do in face-to-face conversations are communicated or clarified through nonverbal communication. The problem with online meetings is that we don’t have the nonverbal cues at our disposal. It’s much more difficult to capture facial expression nuances, posture changes, tonality variations, etc. This means that our words may convey a different meaning from our original idea. Make sure you give people the room and time to reflect on what they understand from what others are communicating. When doing a non-camera meeting, feel free to use commonly understood emojis like smiley faces. This will help your team conduct better meetings, and you will have fewer misunderstandings.

Things will not get better unless managers don’t get better at managing remote teams. While you already have plenty of transferrable skills, be mindful that physical distance does make communication a bit more challenging. However, remote teams can outperform an in-office setting when things run smoothly and as transparently as possible.

Be aware of the cybersecurity challenges.

When we work in an office building, there is usually a security company providing physical security to the building, and there is probably a team of experts ensuring digital security. In a work from home mode, cybersecurity is a vastly more burning problem that should constantly be top-of-mind for the entire team.

  1. Update your SOPs with cybersecurity in mind. Now is the moment to read the companies policies and practices and update them with higher cybersecurity requirements. As millions of people are working from home, they unwillingly pose serious cybersecurity challenges. Employees who never gave cybersecurity a second thought are easy targets. They can easily click on a malicious email or install suspicious software, which can serve as a spy app for stealing sensitive information. If your organization relies on people using their own computers at home to do office work, you will need to inform and remind people of the dangers of cybersecurity and the need for diligence.
  2. Train staff to secure their personal and mobile devices. While employees work from home, they are inevitably using their home internet setup to run business operations. In many cases, companies will rely on people using their personal computers to work from home. Things get even more complicated as employees may put company data on private devices either unintentionally, or out of convenience.
    Your SOPs will need a training clause where someone on your team will take charge of keeping cybersecurity best practices as a top priority and regularly bring this up with the team. Having a home firewall, regularly updated antivirus and antimalware apps and not storing office passwords in a notepad document, are all things to help strengthen the security profile of your organization.
  3. Use secure connections. While working from home, remote workers can use unsecure connections for communication. From the office, it is harder to make that mistake as there is usually a dedicated team on-site handling the intranet communication procedures and what gets out of the building and onto the internet. Security leaders should proactively reach out to individual team members and help them do the necessary setup for encrypted connections like VPNs. As support technicians know, you never assume the other knows what you know. Therefore cybersecurity personnel should prepare guidelines for digital safety and regularly remind people of these best practices. These practices are especially important in organizations that allow remote access to on-site repositories and legacy document management solutions.
  4. Use strong passwords and authentication. While employees work from home, IT departments and system administrators have additional challenges. In the new situation, it is harder to monitor remote workers and be sure they are using strong passwords and authentication. Biometric security can be more challenging to set up in a work from home environment, and while fingerprint scanners are affordable, adoption of the idea may be a bit harder than in an office setting.
    At the same time, it is more complicated to perform password management actions. It’s even more challenging to ensure that every remote computer is running the latest OS patches and security updates. Security professionals understand that the weakest link in the security chain dictates the security of the entire organization. Making sure that every single employee brings their A-game in managing their personal computer security is extremely important for the security of the entire company. Employees should be aware of this responsibility. Only with their diligent password management, the organization can run a secure work from home digital environment.

Cybersecurity is usually tucked away in the IT Department, and the rest of us rarely bother about it in our daily activities. When working from home, the first line of defense is proper SOPs, excellent communication, and regular reminders of the security best practices.

Use technology as a help and as a tool

  1. Use collaboration tools as much as possible. There are many useful applications you can use while working from home. Zoom, WebEx, Hangouts, Slack, Trello, MS Teams…the list is long. The market was already full of them when the migration of the remote workers begun. Do not hesitate to speak to your IT department for guidelines on which ones to use and how to install them.
  2. If possible, separate the use of private and enterprise devices. Now, while employees work from home, they combine the private end professional life in one place. Sometimes even at the same time. The one thing they should separate is devices. Enterprise devices have special security software and protocols installed for the security of costumers and enterprise data and documents. Also, they are less vulnerable to phishing and other types of cyberattacks. The discipline of using only private devices for private usage is essential for cybersecurity while working from home.
  3. Use SaaS solutions as much as possible. As we describe in one of our previous blog posts, secure data access from anywhere for the entire workforce is one of the key reasons why enterprises should consider cloud solutions. Picking the right SaaS solution, coupled with proper training, can lead to productivity growth and employee satisfaction. Keep an open line with your colleagues and ask them to share any information about a potential SaaS solution that can replace an office-bound system you currently use. Being proactive is significant in stressful COVID-19 pandemic times.
  4. Use music and white noise to improve productivity. When employees work from an office, the sound and visual standards are more robust and stricter. Use the freedom of being at home and use the audio as a productivity booster. Listen to the music that matches the energy of the project. Music has the power to help focus and stimulate intellectual capabilities.
    There are studies online that can help your team figure out what kind of music would be most suitable for different people and different departments. At the very least, getting your team to hop over to YouTube for some white-noise playlists could help them put a mental barrier between their workplace and the inevitable noises and distractions in a regular home environment with kids, spouse, pets etc.
  5. Do not hesitate to use various apps to improve the non-working time.  In pandemic time, employees are at home when they are “at work” and when work hours are over. Whether it’s a work activity, watching a movie, exercising or socializing, the home is basecamp for everything. There are workout programs for people who can’t visit the gym. See if your company can dedicate some resources to allow this digital gym membership to your team. There are exercise programs for young people, young moms, middle-aged people and there are workout programs for seniors, too. These online programs aren’t prohibitively expensive, but they can go a long way in building up a positive spirit in your organization.
    There are also entertainment options you could extend to your team. Netflix is one. YouTube Premium is another. Audible is also a great option for information hoarders among us. Do what you can to make the work from home experience as effective as possible by helping your team to find leisure activities past work hours.

When we think of technology and work, we regularly think of collaboration tools. However, these two terms intermingle in more complex ways. How we manage our computers and phones in terms of security, how we create a working atmosphere while the entire family is at home, what we do to have fun at home under lockdown and more. All these topics are a part of the technology and work conversation that companies should have in order to guide their workforce during this challenging period.

Let’s wrap up

The COVID pandemic came suddenly and strained the abilities of enterprises and employees alike. We all try to adapt and adopt solutions for emerging problems. Working from home is now our new normal, and many organizations never even considered the option. Now, it’s not just the latest trend. It’s a mode of work that we need to adopt if we want to ensure continuity of service.

To do this, to make sure we have continuity of service, each organization needs to be creative and flexible with the use of technology. In this blog, we shared a set of proactive ways to manage those challenges successfully. From simple daily leisure activities to significant technological improvements.

The silver lining in all this is that we already have tech tools on the market to make the new normal a bit more acceptable and a bit less stressful. We can use technology that enables work from home. There is a thriving market of collaborative tools enabling dispersed teams in different time zones to collaborate effectively and securely on a company-wide scale. There are also products that help people create mental barriers between the inevitable noises that come in a home setting. And, there are entertainment options that enterprises can offer to their employees to make this work from home period productive and fun.

Armedia LLC is a CMMI Level 3 company that provides a niche focus in Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Case Management (CM) technical and advisory services. For over 18 years, we offer technology solutions to companies and government organizations that are facing document management, case management, and workflow management challenges. In just the past year, Armedia has actively supported over 30 initiatives in the government and commercial market.

For more info, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic, and we’d appreciate you sharing this blog post on your social media.

Coronavirus’s Effect On Enterprises And People: It’s More Than Just Social Distancing

Coronavirus’s Effect On Enterprises And People: It’s More Than Just Social Distancing

A pandemic is not on our minds when we talk about globalization. Serious disease and possible death are some of our worst fears as humans. And let’s be honest, we don’t really know how to handle this COVID-19 problem. No one alive has had any first-hand experience in dealing with pandemics.

The world has seen decimating pandemics before, but the COVID-19 pandemic is unique. For the first time in pandemic history, the effects are so immanent, life-changing, and powerful that the pandemic has touched every single living being on this planet even those that aren’t infected. For many people, the social and economic disruptions are even more scary than the fear of the virus itself.

Our social distancing and “stay at home” response to the COVID-19 pandemic triggered the work from home initiative that now seems like it’s here to stay. That’s why in this and the next few blog posts, we will be analyzing these changes in more detail.

The Inconvenient “Work From Home Experiment” Outcomes

Coronavirus’s effect on enterprises and people: It’s more than just social distancing

Without any warning, as Saikat Chatterjee, Senior Director, Advisory at Gartner says: “We’re being forced into the world’s largest work-from-home experiment and, so far, it hasn’t been easy for a lot of organizations to implement.”

The first group of enterprises stopped working completely in new COVID-19 coronavirus conditions. Some were closed down by the authorities. Some, could not implement the proper measures to prevent the spread of the disease between employees and customers while continuing to work. For others, nobody was interested in their services, such as the tourism industry.

The second group of enterprises started working from home. They did reforms on the fly and hoped for a positive outcome under the circumstances. This forced change came abruptly without any real preparation. This wasn’t a planned “next step forward” in enterprise development. It was just the opposite: an emergency response that enterprises had to do.

The third group of enterprises suspended their activities for a period of time and tried to evaluate whether they were capable of working from home and preserving the high level of security. Banks, insurance agencies, government organizations and more are trying to find the balance between servicing people’s needs for their services and the availability of technological tools.

We will be focusing on the second and third group for this blog post series.

Why Do Companies Like The Work From Home Movement?

The work from home trend wasn’t created because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we can see from this Gallup survey. in 2012, 39% of workers were remote in some way, even if it meant working from home just a few hours a month. In 2016, that number increased to 43% of enterprises who were experimenting in this direction because of the possible benefits that included:

  • Employing workers regardless of geographical boundaries
  • Eliminating transportation time and expenses
  • Reducing the costs of offices
  • Creating flexible working hours

That was the expectation. In reality, it was a mix of benefits and challenges. If we can separate and distinguish them, we will have a clear overview of the technological challenges.

So let’s start with Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University and his two year study about the effects of working from home in Ctrip, the most prominent Chinese Travel company. 1000 employees were randomly selected to work from home for 9 months. “The results we saw at Ctrip blew me away,” Bloom says.

Productivity increased by 13%. Employee retention rate grew by 50%. Initially, 500 of them were against remote work. At the end, only 30 were opposed to working from home. Those who worked from home reported increased work satisfaction, especially from those with stabilized social lives like parents, married workers, older workers, etc. Furthermore, in those 9 months, the enterprise saved about $1,900 per employee.

Bloom believes that one-third of the reason for the productivity increase was the quieter home environment for receiving calls. The other two thirds he associated with the working hours. Employees took shorter breaks, started earlier, finished later, and had no need to commute.

His view on the best-case scenario was when workers came into the office about one to three days of the week to stay connected to the enterprise and increase their creativity.

On the other side, the tech society still remembers one year earlier the previous Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s famous ban on remote work of any kind. Granted, call center jobs are easy to shift from an office environment to a home environment, but not all work is as easily done at home.

How Does Work From Home Affect People?

How does work from home affect people

There are some unique aspects of the interaction between humans that don’t translate well through technology. “Screens are distancing,” says Thalia Wheatley, a professor of psychological and brain science at Dartmouth. “In face-to-face communication, you are sharing a moment in time and space with someone. That is incredibly compelling for our ancient brains.” And this is something that technology today is not capable of imitating and replacing.

Why is in-person communication superior? Scientists haven’t found the answer yet, but there are some strong indications.

First, the more eye contact people make while they communicate, the more they will be synchronized one to another. We cannot replicate that experience using video calls while we are working from home.

Second, the level of trust rises when people share a communal meal together. Not dining with the team doesn’t strengthen the team. This is even worse for workers who live alone because they will probably dine alone. “The brain becomes unstable with solitary confinement,” says Wheatley. Solitary confinement and social isolation in prisons increased the risk of premature death by 26%. Another study shows that social isolation reduces the size of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Furthermore, the effect of loneliness is estimated to reduce life expectancy by a staggering 15 years. This is equal to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  “It’s not just that everybody loves social interaction and parties and whatnot,” Wheatley says. “I think it’s critically important to our mental and physical health.”

This was the reason that led to another study. People have to accomplish a stressful task. The support they could receive can be either in-person or over a text message. As Susan Holtzman, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, says, “it wasn’t that texting was bad, it’s just that it was consistently not as good as in-person support.”

So how can we solve these challenges? Once more to quote Wheatley, “the thing has to get solved on the tech side. The tech needs to kind of disappear, so that you believe that you are in the room.” The level of user-friendliness needed for tech to disappear is easier said than done. Simplicity is not simple to achieve. Any UX designer will nod to this statement and be able to explain at length why this is such a challenge that we are only slowly solving.

Technology To The Rescue(?)

Technology to the rescue

The problems are emerging from both sides: the enterprise side and the workers that work from home. Most of the legacy software solutions were built around the idea that the office will always be accessible, and someone will always be there to provide physical access to securely stored documents. These systems usually reside on an enterprise intranet and providing wide accessibility to hundreds or even thousands of remote workers is technically not possible.

Luckily, the Software as a Service industry has been growing for the past decade. In many aspects, these cloud solutions are providing the needed features and benefits and were built with scale in mind. From productivity tools like Office 365 or ZOHO to collaboration and conferencing tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, to industry-specific ones such as ArkCase FOIA and DSAR Solutions, enterprises are spoiled for choice.

The critical step in this transformative time for each enterprise will be to find a reliable technology implementation partner. Without one, companies and government agencies can quickly find themselves in trouble.

Armedia LLC is a CMMI Level 3 company that provides a niche focus in Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Case Management technical and advisory services. With 18 years of deep ECM experience, our skilled team with industry certifications has helped deploy hundreds of ECM solutions.

Anil Parthasarathy, the USPTO CMS Technical Lead once said: “I cannot say enough about [Armedia’s] unwavering support, never-say-die attitude, and work ethic in helping CMS get better. [They] have been a rock in this project.”

For more info, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic, and we’d appreciate you sharing this blog post on your social media profiles.