• Akhilesh Tuteja, Leadership |

COVID-19 changed all our lives, and for many businesses, transformed their business model. Employees working from home, premises closed, supply chains disrupted and shifts to digital channels are just a few examples. While nearly half of the global business leaders surveyed as part of KPMG’s Global CEO Pulse Survey expected a return to normal over the coming year, one in five said that their businesses had changed forever.

With a growing emphasis on speed to market, many organizations have accelerated their roll-out of technology, but more than that, they have become acutely dependent on that technology and the infrastructure which supports our new world.

In the early days of the pandemic, my friend, who manages the technology strategy for one of the Fortune 500 companies, shared with me that they had spent over 2 years implementing and driving Skype adoption. On the other hand, they could globally implement MS Teams in a record time of 3 weeks. Their usage statistics are equally interesting. During the past 5-year period, 58 percent of the company’s users never used Skype and almost 90 percent of users never made a video call. I don’t need to emphasize that with new ways of working, MS Teams has reached a near 100 percent adoption across the company within only 2 weeks of launch.

Thanks to pervasive technology, our lives are now interspersed with video conferences with colleagues, online team collaboration sessions and increased interactions through digital channels. This is likely to have a permanent impact — 61 percent of the executives surveyed said that they would continue to build on their use of these tools well beyond the global pandemic.

Expectedly, organized crime has shown agility and creativity in exploiting the fear, uncertainty and doubt that COVID has brought into our lives. We have seen business email compromise and ransomware attacks scale up as attackers exploit our remote working environments. On the other hand, nations have also been targeting weaknesses in technologies for cyber espionage.

So it comes as no surprise to me that cyber security risk tops CEOs’ concerns in KPMG's Global CEO Pulse Survey — with the largest number of CEOs rating it as their greatest risk to organizational growth over the next 3 years.

While cyber security has remained a key risk area for several years, its relevance in the business world has never been more significant. But perhaps the more striking outcome of extreme digitalization is the realization and acceptance of cyber as a real business issue.

For many years, several executives have been carrying the impression that their corporations were more secure and better prepared to deal with a cyber incident than they really were. Looking at the survey results, I believe we are moving away from the illusion of security created by working in well-supervised buildings with security staff, access passes and CCTV. Instead, we are moving to a very different world of home computers, personal mobile phones and frequently unstable internet connections.

In this new world, cyber security becomes more personal. Not just for staff but also for senior executives whose world has changed and who are also perhaps more conscious than ever of the fragility of their digital infrastructure, both from work and personal perspectives.

The majority of senior executives (52 percent in the KPMG survey) say their companies expect to invest more in data security measures — topping the list of investment areas, closely followed by customer-centric technologies (such as chatbots), digital communications and artificial intelligence.

This isn’t just about investment; although it is welcomed and necessary, it is about the approach that organizations take to cyber security. I increasingly see cyber security being embedded into core business with greater executive engagement and accountability, linked to growing regulatory interest in cyber resilience and reinforced by recent high-profile incidents.

As organizations become digital businesses, many clients have realized that their long-term advantage resides in data and its exploitation, rather than in physical goods (as once believed). Many organizations are now creating chief data officer roles and strengthening privacy and information security governance.

The most successful organizations not only treat cyber security as key to their future success but also look to engender client and customer trust in their cyber resilience, in their protection of sensitive data, and in the transparency of their approach.

For me, that trust is becoming a defining theme for 2021, and effective cyber security implementation can play a vital and fundamental role in further building that trust in a digital world!