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Business leaders feel employees are more or equally productive while working remotely

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Recently published data by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) claims that the UK is in a productivity crisis, lagging behind many other G7 nations in workforce output.

But the majority (85%) of business leaders do not feel that remote and hybrid working is a cause for this, according to new research of more than 500 business leaders from Okta.

More than half (61%) state that their employees are more productive while working remotely, a quarter (24%) say that they are equally so, and only a minority (15%) feel that productivity has decreased. However, business leaders in Germany (94%) and France (91%) report higher levels of productivity, in tandem with the ONS findings that these regions surpass the UK. This suggests that businesses could gain more productivity advantages from hybrid working.

Perceptions of productivity levels while working remotely have largely advanced in the UK. In an Okta study from 2020, more than a quarter (27%) felt that there was a distinct perception that employees were doing little work while at home, but most (64%) felt that this improved during the course of the pandemic.

Over a third (37%) of business leaders now see better productivity as one of the main business drivers in adopting a hybrid model. However, a quarter (26%) feel that this is still a challenge, and a third (32%) say that this is a top priority to improve.

Hybrid on the rise, along with proximity bias

Over the past few years, there has been an increasing desire for employees to adopt hybrid working, rising from April 2020 (35%) to March 2021 (43%), with three-quarters (72%) now using this model in 2023. Okta’s 2020 research found that over half (55%) were in the office everyday prior to the first national lockdown, and in March 2021, almost a third (31%) believed that their employer would require them to return full-time. However, the new study finds that this is now the case for just a quarter (25%).

The rise of hybrid work has simultaneously led to a growth in proximity bias, which is a tendency to give preferential treatment to those working onsite compared to those working remotely. This is regarded as an increasing challenge for a fifth (19%) of UK businesses. Two-fifths (42%) of leaders are actively investing in ways to prevent this, while a similar number (41%) would consider investments in this space.

Additional priorities for businesses in 2023 include improving employee experience (33%), maintaining a positive workplace culture (30%), and getting collaboration right (27%). To do this, leaders plan to increase investment into video conferencing tools (78%), productivity and collaboration tools (70%) and employee engagement tools (68%) over the next three years.

Ian Lowe, head of industry solutions EMEA at Okta, said: “Many employees predicted that they would be required to return to pre-pandemic ways of working, but this hasn’t been the case.

“Business leaders and governments alike have in fact listened to employee demands and the general public sentiment, recognising the benefits of hybrid work, from improved productivity and better wellbeing, to reduced operational costs. As a result, most businesses have now adopted a hybrid model, while various legislation has been implemented in the UK and globally to introduce more rights and protections for remote workers.

“But, in line with this, issues like proximity bias are rising. Going forward, leaders must ensure that they are creating environments which empower employees to work wherever is best for them, without any fear of being left behind, by adopting solutions that allow them to adapt quickly, create equal opportunities and boost resiliency.”

Security a greater challenge, despite increased investments

In addition to workplace issues, the research finds that technology and security challenges are increasing in the hybrid era. Although four in five (79%) have increased investments in security and privacy tools over the past three years, almost half (46%) in the UK now see cybersecurity as their biggest challenge with hybrid work, a larger amount than any other country surveyed. The majority (86%) of leaders expect their investments to increase further over the next three years, with cybersecurity standing as the top investment priority.

In a similar study conducted by Okta in March 2021, only a minority (10%) felt their security was not strong enough, indicating that cyber challenges are increasing in tandem with the rise of hybrid work. But despite this, passwords still stand as the most popular authentication factor, used by over half (54%) as their primary measure, an increase from two-fifths (40%) in 2021. Biometrics have also risen in adoption, with almost a third (30%) now using this as an authentication factor, more than doubling since 2021 (14%).

When it comes to technology more broadly, a quarter (25%) of UK business leaders admit to struggling with equipping hybrid employees with the right tech. This figure has remained the same since March 2021, when the same number (25%) felt that the required tech was only available at the workplace. Almost a third (30%) of leaders now see implementing the right technology as their top priority.

“Increased remote and hybrid work has magnified the need for additional tools, and now that businesses are settling into the hybrid era, these missing elements are more prominent than ever,” adds Lowe.

“It’s encouraging that stringent security measures like biometrics are seeing higher adoption, as businesses look to combat the growing threats from attackers hoping to capitalise on dispersed workforces. But many are still turning to factors like passwords as their primary protective measure, and with security challenges increasing, this isn’t enough.

“As investment conversations take place for 2023, this provides the opportunity for leaders to take stock of their tools and assess how to better equip themselves through identity-centred measures, which could include a move to passwordless authentication or the adoption of biometric solutions. Taking a strategic approach to identity will help organisations truly embrace hybrid and meet the needs of today’s workforces, so they can operate efficiently, safely and securely.”

Tags: Okta, pandemic, remote working

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TECHNOLOGY

Next-gen chips, Amazon Q, and speedy S3

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AWS re:Invent, which has been taking place from November 27 and runs to December 1, has had its usual plethora of announcements: a total of 21 at time of print.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the huge potential impact of generative AI – ChatGPT officially turns one year old today – a lot of focus has been on the AI side for AWS’ announcements, including a major partnership inked with NVIDIA across infrastructure, software, and services.

Yet there has been plenty more announced at the Las Vegas jamboree besides. Here, CloudTech rounds up the best of the rest:

Next-generation chips

This was the other major AI-focused announcement at re:Invent: the launch of two new chips, AWS Graviton4 and AWS Trainium2, for training and running AI and machine learning (ML) models, among other customer workloads. Graviton4 shapes up against its predecessor with 30% better compute performance, 50% more cores and 75% more memory bandwidth, while Trainium2 delivers up to four times faster training than before and will be able to be deployed in EC2 UltraClusters of up to 100,000 chips.

The EC2 UltraClusters are designed to ‘deliver the highest performance, most energy efficient AI model training infrastructure in the cloud’, as AWS puts it. With it, customers will be able to train large language models in ‘a fraction of the time’, as well as double energy efficiency.

As ever, AWS offers customers who are already utilising these tools. Databricks, Epic and SAP are among the companies cited as using the new AWS-designed chips.

Zero-ETL integrations

AWS announced new Amazon Aurora PostgreSQL, Amazon DynamoDB, and Amazon Relational Database Services (Amazon RDS) for MySQL integrations with Amazon Redshift, AWS’ cloud data warehouse. The zero-ETL integrations – eliminating the need to build ETL (extract, transform, load) data pipelines – make it easier to connect and analyse transactional data across various relational and non-relational databases in Amazon Redshift.

A simple example of how zero-ETL functions can be seen is in a hypothetical company which stores transactional data – time of transaction, items bought, where the transaction occurred – in a relational database, but use another analytics tool to analyse data in a non-relational database. To connect it all up, companies would previously have to construct ETL data pipelines which are a time and money sink.

The latest integrations “build on AWS’s zero-ETL foundation… so customers can quickly and easily connect all of their data, no matter where it lives,” the company said.

Amazon S3 Express One Zone

AWS announced the general availability of Amazon S3 Express One Zone, a new storage class purpose-built for customers’ most frequently-accessed data. Data access speed is up to 10 times faster and request costs up to 50% lower than standard S3. Companies can also opt to collocate their Amazon S3 Express One Zone data in the same availability zone as their compute resources.  

Companies and partners who are using Amazon S3 Express One Zone include ChaosSearch, Cloudera, and Pinterest.

Amazon Q

A new product, and an interesting pivot, again with generative AI at its core. Amazon Q was announced as a ‘new type of generative AI-powered assistant’ which can be tailored to a customer’s business. “Customers can get fast, relevant answers to pressing questions, generate content, and take actions – all informed by a customer’s information repositories, code, and enterprise systems,” AWS added. The service also can assist companies building on AWS, as well as companies using AWS applications for business intelligence, contact centres, and supply chain management.

Customers cited as early adopters include Accenture, BMW and Wunderkind.

Want to learn more about cybersecurity and the cloud from industry leaders? Check out Cyber Security & Cloud Expo taking place in Amsterdam, California, and London. Explore other upcoming enterprise technology events and webinars powered by TechForge here.

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TECHNOLOGY

HCLTech and Cisco create collaborative hybrid workplaces

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Digital comms specialist Cisco and global tech firm HCLTech have teamed up to launch Meeting-Rooms-as-a-Service (MRaaS).

Available on a subscription model, this solution modernises legacy meeting rooms and enables users to join meetings from any meeting solution provider using Webex devices.

The MRaaS solution helps enterprises simplify the design, implementation and maintenance of integrated meeting rooms, enabling seamless collaboration for their globally distributed hybrid workforces.

Rakshit Ghura, senior VP and Global head of digital workplace services, HCLTech, said: “MRaaS combines our consulting and managed services expertise with Cisco’s proficiency in Webex devices to change the way employees conceptualise, organise and interact in a collaborative environment for a modern hybrid work model.

“The common vision of our partnership is to elevate the collaboration experience at work and drive productivity through modern meeting rooms.”

Alexandra Zagury, VP of partner managed and as-a-Service Sales at Cisco, said: “Our partnership with HCLTech helps our clients transform their offices through cost-effective managed services that support the ongoing evolution of workspaces.

“As we reimagine the modern office, we are making it easier to support collaboration and productivity among workers, whether they are in the office or elsewhere.”

Cisco’s Webex collaboration devices harness the power of artificial intelligence to offer intuitive, seamless collaboration experiences, enabling meeting rooms with smart features such as meeting zones, intelligent people framing, optimised attendee audio and background noise removal, among others.

Want to learn more about cybersecurity and the cloud from industry leaders? Check out Cyber Security & Cloud Expo taking place in Amsterdam, California, and London. Explore other upcoming enterprise technology events and webinars powered by TechForge here.

Tags: Cisco, collaboration, HCLTech, Hybrid, meetings

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TECHNOLOGY

Canonical releases low-touch private cloud MicroCloud

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Canonical has announced the general availability of MicroCloud, a low-touch, open source cloud solution. MicroCloud is part of Canonical’s growing cloud infrastructure portfolio.

It is purpose-built for scalable clusters and edge deployments for all types of enterprises. It is designed with simplicity, security and automation in mind, minimising the time and effort to both deploy and maintain it. Conveniently, enterprise support for MicroCloud is offered as part of Canonical’s Ubuntu Pro subscription, with several support tiers available, and priced per node.

MicroClouds are optimised for repeatable and reliable remote deployments. A single command initiates the orchestration and clustering of various components with minimal involvement by the user, resulting in a fully functional cloud within minutes. This simplified deployment process significantly reduces the barrier to entry, putting a production-grade cloud at everyone’s fingertips.

Juan Manuel Ventura, head of architectures & technologies at Spindox, said: “Cloud computing is not only about technology, it’s the beating heart of any modern industrial transformation, driving agility and innovation. Our mission is to provide our customers with the most effective ways to innovate and bring value; having a complexity-free cloud infrastructure is one important piece of that puzzle. With MicroCloud, the focus shifts away from struggling with cloud operations to solving real business challenges” says

In addition to seamless deployment, MicroCloud prioritises security and ease of maintenance. All MicroCloud components are built with strict confinement for increased security, with over-the-air transactional updates that preserve data and roll back on errors automatically. Upgrades to newer versions are handled automatically and without downtime, with the mechanisms to hold or schedule them as needed.

With this approach, MicroCloud caters to both on-premise clouds but also edge deployments at remote locations, allowing organisations to use the same infrastructure primitives and services wherever they are needed. It is suitable for business-in-branch office locations or industrial use inside a factory, as well as distributed locations where the focus is on replicability and unattended operations.

Cedric Gegout, VP of product at Canonical, said: “As data becomes more distributed, the infrastructure has to follow. Cloud computing is now distributed, spanning across data centres, far and near edge computing appliances. MicroCloud is our answer to that.

“By packaging known infrastructure primitives in a portable and unattended way, we are delivering a simpler, more prescriptive cloud experience that makes zero-ops a reality for many Industries.“

MicroCloud’s lightweight architecture makes it usable on both commodity and high-end hardware, with several ways to further reduce its footprint depending on your workload needs. In addition to the standard Ubuntu Server or Desktop, MicroClouds can be run on Ubuntu Core – a lightweight OS optimised for the edge. With Ubuntu Core, MicroClouds are a perfect solution for far-edge locations with limited computing capabilities. Users can choose to run their workloads using Kubernetes or via system containers. System containers based on LXD behave similarly to traditional VMs but consume fewer resources while providing bare-metal performance.

Coupled with Canonical’s Ubuntu Pro + Support subscription, MicroCloud users can benefit from an enterprise-grade open source cloud solution that is fully supported and with better economics. An Ubuntu Pro subscription offers security maintenance for the broadest collection of open-source software available from a single vendor today. It covers over 30k packages with a consistent security maintenance commitment, and additional features such as kernel livepatch, systems management at scale, certified compliance and hardening profiles enabling easy adoption for enterprises. With per-node pricing and no hidden fees, customers can rest assured that their environment is secure and supported without the expensive price tag typically associated with cloud solutions.

Want to learn more about cybersecurity and the cloud from industry leaders? Check out Cyber Security & Cloud Expo taking place in Amsterdam, California, and London. Explore other upcoming enterprise technology events and webinars powered by TechForge here.

Tags: automation, Canonical, MicroCloud, private cloud

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