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95% of North American CIOs report remote work issues during lockdown

Employee password lockouts and inability to access on-premise applications were among the top challenges faced by CIOs in keeping remote workers up and running during lockdown

With one or two exceptions, the general consensus has been that employees in the major economies forced to work from home since March due to Covid-19 have coped well, but research from Hitachi ID Systems and Pulse has found that CIOs have had to battle hard to maintain acceptable experiences for remote workers.

Indeed, the survey in May 2020 of 100 North American C-suite executives at enterprise, mid-sized, and small companies looking at the biggest roadblocks IT teams have encountered while working from home found that as many as 95% of all CIO respondents reported that their IT organisations have been bogged down by inefficiencies since the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated a shift to a remote workforce.

Employee password lockouts were reported to be the top challenge, with 71% of respondents stating it has negatively impacted productivity. The survey found that as employees try to connect from home, IT admins were experiencing more requests for sign-in assistance and that this influx has impacted their productivity. The second most common challenge, with 55% of responses, was employee inability to access on-premise applications to complete their work.

Some 43% of respondents experienced issues with multi-factor authentication while issues with an insecure, undersized virtual private network (VPN) was noted by 29%. The vast increase in mobile workers and a commensurate rise in the attempts by such dispersed workers in gaining secure access to networks through VPNs had been predicted as a likely problem for firms given that traditional VPN technologies were not constructed for deployment at such scale.

Research from NordVPN at the end of March 2020 showed that in almost the space of a weeks since 11 March 2020 there was a 165% spike in the use of business virtual private networks and an almost 600% rise in overall sales.

Over three-quarters of respondents (77%) claimed they will or have already reduced their IT budgets, but many are in agreement about where that limited budget will go. Some 74% were said to be prioritising initiatives that improve operational efficiency and 40% are maintaining their spend on identity and access management (IAM).

Faced with the issues, CIOs were found to be taking action quickly. Of the CIOs who reported both employee password lockouts and access challenges, 82% reduced IT budgets (or plan to) during the crisis – 5% higher than the total survey average and 79% said that they were investing in tools that boost operational efficiency.

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The survey noted that after lockdown organisations might stick with on-premise solutions even after experiencing issues with them during the pandemic lockdown. While more than half of respondents had issues with employees accessing on-premise applications, 52% also said that on-premise solutions were more agile during the crisis than SaaS or cloud-based solutions.

In a hugely telling finding, CIOs observed that had they been given the opportunity to prepare their IT teams for the rapid shift to a work-from-home population, they would have paid more attention to collaboration tools and security.

Two-thirds would have added collaboration tools and 59% would have added security training to enable a smoother transition. However, this seeming disinterest in collaboration was actually a general trend in the industry.

At the start of the year before the onset of Covid-19, most networking professionals looked likely to invest in monitoring, converged architectures and WAN technologies, while unified communications was in decline and collaboration tools were of minimal interest.

Just over a third (36%) said if they’d had more time to plan for a work-from-home migration, they would have invested in SaaS-based IAM. “Covid-19 led to an unprecedented remote work transformation with challenges in productivity and security at scale that had never been anticipated,” said Kevin Nix, chief executive officer at Hitachi ID Systems.

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