The road ahead and UNIFY Solutions’ own remote workforce enablement story
Shane Day is UNIFY Solutions’ Chief Technology Officer, and one of UNIFY’s longest-standing employees. Shane joined UNIFY back in 2005 as Product Group Manager, taking on the role of CTO in 2012.
We ask Shane to tell us more about his role as CTO, what he’s looking at today – both for UNIFY’s customers and for UNIFY itself – and a little bit about what he’s focusing on for UNIFY and its customers in the future.
As part of this conversation, as organisations around the globe adapt to an ever-changing pandemic situation and quickly enable their remote workforces, we ask Shane to reflect on UNIFY’s own remote workforce enablement journey.
Tell us about your role. What does it entail, and what gets you out of bed in the morning?
As CTO, my role is to help UNIFY, and its customers look to the future and understand and visualise the technology-enabled outcomes they can achieve, with this vision tied closely to their organisational needs and drivers.
I come from a software engineering background, which has always been about talking to people to understand the outcomes they need and show how software can enable these outcomes.
My role today is an extension of this – it’s all about looking forward to new developments, new ideas and the new directions that the market is likely to take over the coming years, ensuring that UNIFY is prepared in the right ways and investing in the right areas for the increasing demand for cloud services and solutions. Hand in hand with this comes a focus on continuing to enable our customers, ensuring we partner with them to support and evolve their security, access and identity management journeys well into the future.
In terms of what gets me out of bed in the morning, I love talking to my UNIFY customers, partners and colleagues overseas – especially in the United States - about what’s going on in their markets and marrying this with my local knowledge of the Australian and New Zealand markets. This helps me to understand where we – and our customers – need to best focus our efforts, today and in the future.
We’re in a fast-changing industry where news comes in thick and fast every day, constantly informing the things we need to think about and focus on. It’s a pretty exciting challenge!
Tell us about some of the things you’re focused on in your role today – and for the future – for UNIFY and its customers.
Currently, I’m looking at Decentralised/Distributed Identity as a means to protect the privacy of users while increasing the security of transactions with online service providers – a topic that deserves its own series (we’ll be back here soon to talk more about this)! Just quickly, though, we are involved in the foundation looking at the standards for this, and there is a large emphasis on interoperability, standards, and I’m pleased to see Microsoft are a large driver for this.
I’m also currently focusing on making sure that we’re getting DevOps engineering involved in as much of our technical project delivery as possible, which helps us automate infrastructure and solution deployment. We already use this approach for product development and increasingly in our service delivery. A particular success we have had in this space is our internal cloud-first framework, but as always there is work still to be done.
DevOps is currently a big topic (again, one that deserves further conversation!), and – like many buzzwords – it’s often misunderstood. Part of my role is to run an ongoing education campaign to help people – our own and our customers – understand the benefits and how DevOps can make life easier and better for them.
In terms of my current (and future) focus more broadly, we’re always looking at the work we do for our customers and what we can do to constantly improve using the public cloud and leveraging Microsoft technologies. Azure is an amazing offering, I think what’s possible is really limited by our imagination and businesses today are only just starting to realise.
One of UNIFY’s chief purposes in life is to help organisations securely enable remote workforces at scale. In light of the situation in which organisations find themselves today, faced with a need to quickly enable secure remote workforces and ensure business continuity underpinned by technology, tell us about how UNIFY has enabled its own remote workforce and the journey UNIFY has been on. What lessons have you learned along the way?
Looking back on where we’ve come from to get to where we are today… When the company started back in 2004, we used to have problems with people outside of HQ accessing our email services. We weren’t a large company then and didn’t have great internet infrastructure. We then implemented a solution from Microsoft, then called BPOS (now Microsoft 365). This gave equal access to our staff no matter which office they were in and far greater reliability of service.
At this time, the cloud was the newest thing on the block, but no one really had any plans for it. I knew then that it was something that made sense, for us and for our customers, as organisations increasingly struggled to maintain their own hardware and network infrastructure. Alongside that, existing identity solutions weren’t well geared towards internet communications at that point in time.
I thought it was important that we were actually doing for ourselves the things that we were going to need to do for our customers to embrace cloud-based solutions and identity management securely. Like so many organisations over the years, we were also struggling with having enough hardware to build our software efficiently, so I set us on a multi-staged path to get everything we had in the cloud.
I also had disaster recovery stuff in my plans – we’d gone through a couple of bad floods in Brisbane in the last 10 years, and also a few earthquakes in Wellington, so I thought it was possible we might need to work from somewhere other than our offices in a hurry. As we all know only too well, this has, unfortunately, proved to be the case.
As part of this journey, we went through a process of identifying work that we needed to do, and on which systems. We did still have some servers in our office, and we temporarily had a private cloud instance in a data centre in Sydney, but in January this year we had everything in either public cloud infrastructure or software-as-a-service.
Now, all UNIFY staff, no matter where they are, have access to our systems using one account. As we use Azure Active Directory, we can log in without a password just by registering an application on a smartphone and using biometrics. This works no matter where you are. Security is enhanced, and if something looks unusual or suspicious, then a more secure challenge is required to gain access to a system.
Office 365 gives us such a great ability to collaborate on production of documents, whether it’s proposals, technical documentation or strategy papers – we can get the contribution of the right person whenever it’s needed with physical location being no barrier to participation. Azure and Azure DevOps gives us the same capabilities with technical output. It doesn’t matter where a person is, we can be certain that they are who they say they are from Azure Active Directory, and we can emulate a large scale system for development, and just at a press of a button turn that work into a production environment. The number of services available to us as Microsoft partners is absolutely mindboggling compared to just 5 years ago.
In terms of the greatest lessons we’ve learned along the way in enabling this journey for UNIFY, from my perspective these have been that as an organisation you need to be constantly willing to change – and to change systems – to achieve what you need to achieve. For example, some line-of-business applications may be hosted, but they still don’t understand modern authentication. We have made this part of our selection criteria.
Change management is always critical. It requires ongoing focus and constant collaboration with the team to bring them on the journey, helping them understand our corporate systems, how we are protecting them and why it’s so important that we invest in making these efforts. [Back in the day, we started out being fairly non-restrictive but along the way our ongoing information security programme has seen us, collectively as a team, better understanding our potential risks.
If you’d like to know more about how we can help enable and protect your remote workforce at scale, fill out the form below. You can learn more about our COVID-19 Business Continuity Plan here