by Sandy Hamilton, VP of EMC Consulting

Snow blindness: UK must adopt more flexible working

Jan 16, 2011
CareersData CenterIT Leadership

Last month’s snow storms caused a great deal of disruption to UK businesses, with some leading businesses blaming it for big dips in their profits. However, many weather experts are confidently predicting we are going to see more of it, so it is up to us to start thinking seriously about how we work around it.

I am not talking about snow chains and gritting salt here. In fact, that sort of mentality is missing the point entirely. It’s not so much about finding solutions that can help us continue exactly as before, it’s about finding creative and more efficient ways to do things differently.

Friends of mine who live in Canada think it is bizarre and hilarious that in the UK we expect to be able to carry on as normal despite being knee deep in the white stuff. We go on and on about how other countries are better prepared but they actually cope better because they prepare better and because they understand what it is doable and what is downright suicidal.

I am not suggesting that we all give up and sit at home nursing Horlicks but why, in this prolific age of technology, should an average office worker feel duty bound to attempt a five or ten hour round trip in treacherous conditions just to make it to the office?

Anyone who was wondering what the benefits of a Cloud-based infrastructure were should be in no doubt now. The benefit of being able to access what you want from wherever you are, over  whatever device is most convenient has been amply demonstrated by this December’s chaos. With a decent broadband connection an employee working remotely should be able to get access to everything they use in the office.

Collaborative tools enable remote working — from virtual meetings, to online document management tools and social media-based platforms for one-to-one or one-to-many communication across a secure virtual environment.

I can appreciate that this kind of virtual working environment can bring the most security conscious among us out in hives. But security doesn’t have to be an obtrusive barrier.

For parts of the infrastructure that must stay behind the firewall a half-decent VPN should suffice.

We all know what technology could deliver if the business would let us get on and implement it. The difficult bit is persuading the business that it is worth the investment. Cloud computing is still perceived as a risk to many.

One unenlightened friend of mine said Cloud computing was the equivalent of leaving the door open. The fact is security concerns are largely an issue of ignorance and when you consider how many companies — both large and small — lost money because staff weren’t able to work due to the inclement weather, you would have to say that now is probably a good time to take your case for a move to the Cloud to the business.

Some commentators have stated that the Cloud is intrinsically more secure than traditional data silos. Cloud service providers operate at incredible scale enabling them to establish centres of excellence around securing their infrastructure that few other single organisations can hope to match.

Because their entire brand and business also stands publicly on the trust and reputation they build, these massive service providers have an incredible incentive to invest very heavily in leading the field of security, high availability, and scalability. Cloud Computing is very much based on economies of scale that translate into the excellent cost to serve and the expertise in their respective field.

Weather aside there is no question that agility and flexibility are critical for even the most traditional of organisations. The ability to adapt to different circumstances — whether physical or otherwise — will only become more important moving forward. Balancing the need for change with the fear of implementing that change is no mean feat, but for many businesses being left behind the consequences could be fatal.

Our climate isn’t the only thing that is changing. As Generation Y enters the workplace it brings with it an expectation that it can work in the same way that it plays – anytime, anywhere and on any device.

As the ideas of this new generation of mobile-cognisant employees are translated into new enterprises which are born with this sort of architecture in their DNA, it will eventually become the standard. For today’s businesses the change needs to start now or they risk being left behind, or rather, hopelessly buried under a snowdrift of antiquated information systems and stalled business.