Digital transformation explained

June 4, 2021  |  Mark Stone

This article was written by an independent guest author.

No matter what sector your organization does business in, you’ve probably heard the term digital transformation. In every industry, digital transformation is going to be critical to remain competitive and resilient.

But what does digital transformation mean? And how does cybersecurity fit in? Today’s organizations are facing  an increasingly complex environment of securing everything attached to the network; applications, data, and endpoints.

What is digital transformation?

At its most basic definition, digital transformation (or DX) is the process of improving your business by leveraging the latest technologies and solutions.

Digital transformation harnesses third platform technologies - think cloud and data analytics, and acceleration technologies - think IoT and mobile apps to transform business operations.

The primary goals of digital transformation are to increase agility for customer responsiveness, flexibility to accommodate new ways of working, and scalability to help your business do more.

What’s driving digital transformation?

The main drivers of digital transformation are:

  • Skyrocketing data transmission speeds
  • Increased storage capacities
  • Expansion of mobile functionality

All these signs point to a rapid decrease of on-premises computing and storage.

With the cloud, the amount of time and resources spent on hardware maintenance and upkeep is drastically reduced because you no longer need to own, maintain, and upgrade these resources in your own data center.

Rebuffing the maintenance mindset, the preference for most IT departments is to spend more on innovation vs. the traditional “keep  the lights on” tasks. However, because “turning the lights off” isn’t feasible, the bulk of IT budgets continue to be allocated to maintenance. A 2020 Deloitte Inisights report underscores the reality: the average IT department allocates over half its budget on maintenance but only 19 percent on innovation.

And according to a 2021 State of IT Spiceworks Ziff Davis study, updating outdated IT infrastructure is the number one factor driving IT budget increases — cited by 56% of organizations planning on growing IT spend.

Also driving cloud adoption is the need to address disaster recovery (DR). While DR has not been typically cost-effective for small to mid-sized businesses, many cloud vendors and providers offer DR solutions like DRaaS (Disaster Recovery as a Service) that address those challenges.

But perhaps the greatest driver of cloud adoption today is COVID-19. The pandemic’s disruption to the business landscape forced organizations to consider advanced technologies. The work from home or remote work model is here to stay, and the demand for software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications that allow teams to collaborate from anywhere is steadily increasing.

The main spheres of digital transformation

While one can argue that the components of digital transformation are numerous, we are highlighting five important spheres.

As network access moves beyond the office perimeter to meet the demands of a remote workforce, robust security measures are required to maintain the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of corporate and customer data. Today, cloud security is moving closer towards the Zero Trust model of verifying everything and everyone and trusting nobody or no thing.

As mentioned above, cloud brings a level of efficiency and economies of scale that local hardware and networks have difficulty matching.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is defined as a device not typically known as a computing device, which uses the internet to send and receive data. IoT has broad applications across the enterprise in almost every industry, and provides numerous benefits — including increased operational efficiencies, improved customer experiences, better business decisions, and keeping workers safe.

Analytics and AI
Big data and artificial intelligence are complex, and an integral part of any digital transformation. With access to more data, better business decisions are possible. And with the ability for data rich algorithms to make more human-like decisions, an organization can gain unprecedented amounts of automation and improved organizational efficiency.

Customers, employees, and third-parties are connecting to our networks from a wide variety of endpoints. Functionally, the lines between what a desktop or laptop can do and what mobile devices are capable of is blurred. Plus, as companies adopt a remote or hybrid workforce, facilitating mobile connectivity is crucial.

How cybersecurity fits in

One of the most significant challenges for any organization undergoing a digital transformation is finding the right balance between innovation and security. If cybersecurity is not built into digital transformation architecture from the beginning, the organization is at risk through unremediated vulnerabilities that give adversaries an easy way to compromise your network—going on a digital shopping spree of customer data, intellectual property, and sensitive company information.

As the threat landscape continues to intensify, an organization’s key stakeholders need to understand the security risks inherent with digital transformation. The hard truth is this: it’s not a matter of if your company will be breached, but when. According to a 2020 Ponemon Digital Transformation and Cyber Risk report, 82% of respondents in IT security and C-level executives experienced at least one data breach as a result of digital transformation. 

As if cybersecurity in digital transformation wasn’t already complex enough, the increased reliance on third-parties exacerbates the risk. Despite the importance of third-parties for a successful digital transformation, 58% of Ponemon respondents lack a third-party cyber risk management program such as network segmentation, as part of a Zero Trust framework, to give access to only the required portions of the network. Remember, when operational data and confidential information are exchanged with third-parties, that data and information are vulnerable to misuse and exploitation. Third-party risk management should be an essential ingredient in your secure digital transformation recipe.  

No matter where you are in your digital transformation journey, you need to make sure that your security team (and relevant stakeholders) know about the most effective cybersecurity solutions available. One model that is provind use in DX journeys is Secure Access Service Edge (SASE). SASE is an architecture model or framework that combines software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) with comprehensive security functions to support digital transformation efforts and an evolving workforce.

You can learn more about both Zero Trust  SASE here.

It bears repeating that no matter how much you invest in digital  transformation technologies, they cannot be successful if they do not protect your business, customers, or other vital assets.

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