There are few phrases more buzzword-y than “the digital transformation”, but its broad scope means that the term has never meant a static, single thing. Digital technology is always changing, so the organizations that use it are changing as well. Going through a transformation from analog business flows to digital ones is something that started happening decades ago and we haven’t yet found the limit of this idea’s benefits, so it makes sense that there are multiple phases of digitization that have occurred over the decades.
Technology constantly gets smaller, faster, and more powerful, spilling like water into new industries and applicable ideas over time. These include infrastructure assets and machines, operations and business processes such as online payments, eCommerce, and supply chain management, and most of all organizations’ workforces by creating new roles and platforms they use to do their jobs. Much of digitization has been less about technology and more about self-reference, by cleaning up the digitization process itself and simplifying the array of vital tools and processes that pile up.
This is the theme of what is perhaps the most notable trend in the last year: and it comes from an unexpected sector.
In addition to incorporating the cloud into a business strategy or growing your data intelligence department, there’s a background of digitization that makes these processes easier and safer – because the risks inherent in going digital are many. The security sector exists to recognize how this new world is threatened and from where, and is important for ensuring that organizations’ digitization efforts don’t needlessly expose their data or put customers at harm’s way.
Since the 1970s, cybersecurity has been there to respond with pragmatic solutions, when a growing array of technology gets ahead of itself. From the early ARPANET “creeper” which led to the first antivirus program, and through years like 1989 which were devastated by both the first DDoS and malware attacks, it has nearly always taken some digital travesty to shed light on the security industry’s importance.
Moving storage and services into the cloud is the latest and greatest example. These days, the cloud is a cornerstone of digitization, with migration tools abound and services like AWS and Salesforce, which come with an arsenal of useful onboarding functions, single-click business processes, storage solutions, and more.
With mobile devices and applications getting more capable, however, it has meant that data moves farther than ever and exchanges more hands. That has given a larger opportunity for hackers to steal this data, and so the security sector has had to identify where the gaps appear and how to close them to enterprising bad actors. This is hardly a surprise to those who are familiar with the idea of cybersecurity, but even IT professionals “in the know” aren’t aware of how far along this simple idea has taken digitization in 2020.
Unfortunately, the limits of cloud computing have been tested recently as remote work gets infinitely more popular. In terms of both security and speed, we’ve seen online platforms overclocked and put to the test in greater numbers, and not always with stellar results for IT. The use of many business-critical services together may work, but a greater number of endpoints and carelessly strung together solutions puts even the most diligent IT teams in a bind.
Many organizations realize this, and to lighten the burden they’ve enforced the use of basic security tools like a VPN. While a VPN will raise the lowest hanging fruit for a lazy hacker, they’re not perfect, and don’t make the digital transformation much easier. They just add another tool for IT to be responsible for configuring and managing, on top of storage, CRM, ERP, and other platforms. The required hardware for a VPN puts a price tag on security in terms of labor and more, and they don’t perform well under the conditions that networks are currently in. IT teams are then learning more about ideas such as Zero Trust security, which lets them segment their networks into custom-sized pieces, and implement unique access policies on top of the capabilities of a traditional VPN.
This has solved some problems but not others. Zero Trust is indeed much better for security and easily scalable, but it’s still another tool stacked on top of the network. The old problem – that knowledge workers only spend 39% of their days actually working, thanks to platform overload – isn’t solved. Teams implementing Zero Trust are indeed considered cutting edge, but the last year has brought a relevant idea into the spotlight: SASE. Billed by research firm Gartner – the acronym’s creator – as a unified network security platform, SASE merges many of the network access and security tools that IT relies on.
With CASB, FWaaS, Wi-Fi security, IPSec tunneling and encryption, multi-factor authentication and SWG all easily consumed in one place, SASE turns ideas that used to be full-fledged and separately consumed platforms into features of a single platform. This is reminiscent of what Microsoft Office 365 did in 2011 – combining multiple pieces of software into a single, cloud-based “as a Service” solution. Now that it’s happening in security, as companies go through implementation in greater numbers the turbulence of the last decade, rife with consecutive record-breaking data breaches, may finally be recognized as a speed bump instead of the status quo.