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Workplace Thought Leadership

A Brief History of Digital Workplace Technology

By Nai Kanell
Director of Marketing
SpaceIQ

There’s no succinct point in time when digital technology became an integrated part of the workplace. Some argue it’s when the first Lyons Electronic Office (LEO) I computer booted up in 1951. Others consider it to be 1971, when Ray Tomlinson sent the first-ever email. Regardless of when the digital workplace revolution began, it’s led us to where we are today. The modern office is rife with digital workplace technology.

To understand how we got here—and where we’re going—we need to look back. How did the Apple I evolve into the modern laptops we use for telecommuting? What pushed the Internet from a simple relay network into a behemoth of cloud storage and applications? Most importantly, where is all this digital technology going to take us next?

Here’s a look at a brief history of workplace technology. Though we could arguably go back to the 1950s and 60s, we’re starting in the 70s, with the introduction of the personal computer. Truly, this is the best place to understand the workplace of the future, from its humble beginnings.

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1970s and 80s: Computers enter the workplace

What is workplace technology without the personal computer? The laptops and workstations we enjoy today had much more modest roots—early Apple computers and IBM personal workstations.

The Apple I hit the market in 1976 to minimal fanfare. Amazing? Sure. Practical? Not a chance. It was the first of its breed, but a necessary commercial failure to pave the way for the Apple II just a year later. Laughable by today’s standards, it boasted a 6502-processor running at 1 MHz, with an 8-bit microprocessor chip and 48 kilobytes of RAM. But, in 1977, this was a truly viable computer—part of the “1977 Trinity” alongside the Commodore PET 2001 and the TRS-80, both of which had similar specs.

In 1982, International Business Machines (IBM) upped the ante, taking business computers from 8-bit to 16-bit. The first IBM PC nearly quintupled the speed of the Apple II, and boasted an 8088-processor running at 4.77 MHz. Apple responded with the Apple III and thus began the personal computer arms race. It was the start of computing in the workplace and the earliest inroad to digitizing work.

1990s: The Internet connects us all

By the 1990s, business computers had made their mark and every major enterprise had them. The next step in digitizing the workplace came in the form of creating the digital landscape. Thus, the Internet was born.

While the concept of the Internet was actually dreamt up and tested as far back as the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, the World Wide Web as we know it didn’t hit businesses until the 1990s. Computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee created the concept of digital “destinations,” what we know today as websites. Businesses could finally host and share information, and even communicate digitally via email.

Internet adoption took off in a flash—perhaps too fast, judging by the Dot-Com Bubble of the late 1990s. It was a time when the ingenuity of business met the infinite possibilities of the Internet. The 1990s paved the way for everything from email to ecommerce, giving us a whole new way to interact with digital technology in the workplace.

2000s: The introduction of the cloud and big data

In the mid-to-late 2000s, workplace technology trends pivoted quickly to the cloud. Businesses realized that the more data they were able to collect, the more it informed their actions. As if overnight, major businesses started to digitize their data. Away went the file cabinets and dossiers, in favor of file archives and spreadsheets.

This is also the time when the physical workplace began to see change. With everything digitized and available in the cloud, employees didn’t need to always work on-site. The world began to shrink, in a sense. Jim could work on his project at the office, save it to the cloud, then pick up work at home, across town, across the country, or anywhere in the world!

Accessibility from anywhere fueled tangible tech. Smartphones and tablets became commonplace and extremely useful business tools, which led to another technological arms race. Today, competition is still astounding among smartphone and tablet makers, as well as cloud solutions providers.

2010s: Rise of the Internet of Things (IoT)

Coming off a decade of technologies designed to help employees work outside the traditional workplace, this most recent decade was equally as cathartic for those who prefer to work in an office. Workplace technology solutions of the 2010s came in the form of IoT devices. Beyond connecting laptops, tablets, and smartphones to the cloud, we’ve now connected anything and everything!

The workplace IoT exploded in recent years, giving way to better workplace data collection, automation, and an improved relationship between employees and their environment. Entire workplaces benefit from webs of sensors and beacons designed to simplify work, add convenience, and improve workplace governance.

From occupancy and motion sensors, to hardware and software integrations that enable complex workflows, the modern workplace is equal parts digital and physical.

2020s: The workplace of future

It all brings us to today: the year 2020. We’re on the cusp of concepts like quantum computing and edge computing, and we work in environments that blend the realities of digital tech and the physical world. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are exciting possibilities, as well—applications we’re likely to see in the coming decade.

Whatever digital technologies we experience in the next 10 years, they’re ultimately the culmination of the last 50 years. From the introduction of personal business computers to the rise of the IoT, the way we work has evolved significantly. It’s still changing today.

Keep Reading: How Remote Working Tech Transformed the Way we Work.

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Categories
Workplace Thought Leadership

Strategies to Safeguard Workplace Data

By Noam Livnat
Chief Product & Innovation Officer
SpaceIQ

Who would have thought, only a few years ago, that workplace managers would have to worry about battling cyberattacks and corporate sabotage. Data is now integral to every facet of your business, which means there’s more of it to protect, in more places, than ever before. It’s imperative to protect your systems and data against malicious hackers, information theft, and even accidental leaks. To mitigate this risk, business leaders must implement best practices for data security and evaluate third-party vendors for privacy compliance.

How Vulnerable is Your Workplace Data?

While the financial and healthcare sectors are often primary targets for hackers, the information that can be gained from corporate and customer data is astonishing. Businesses of any size and industry are tempting targets because they collect and analyze vast quantities of data that can be used for monetary gain.

Because data touches virtually every corner of your operations, addressing data security goes well beyond email. Even your IoT-enabled building equipment, such as smart thermostats, IP security cameras, and automation software, is at risk. Legacy systems, as well as the latest generation of apps, require layers of data protection. Otherwise, these digital tools can be turned into an attack vector that hackers exploit for system access.

Once inside, cybercriminals can mine your data for trade secrets, commit identity theft, or leak information to competitors. Sensitive information that is susceptible to attacks includes:

  • Workforce: Head count, payroll, and staffing forecasts are prime targets. Even access to an employee directory can be tempting to headhunters looking to poach your talent or for even less scrupulous actors trying to “spear phish” or use social engineering against your employees.
  • Financial: Operational costs, leases, growth projections, loans, transactions, customer lists, sales numbers, and vendor contracts are vulnerable data sets. Imagine what a competitor could do after peeking at how much your customers pay you or your pricing models.
  • Privacy: Records containing birthdates, compensation, Social Security numbers, home addresses, cell phone numbers, and dependent info are always at risk as they can be used to conduct identity theft or financial fraud. And don’t forget bank account numbers used for direct deposit.
  • Location: Because workplace violence takes many forms, data generated from badging, WiFi, conference room or desk reservations, seating charts, and other sensor data should be protected.

The good news is that your IT security managers have vast resources at their disposal to safeguard data. For example, data loss prevention (DLP) tools can flag a potential breach from an insider threat, cyberattack, or negligent exposure. A virtual private network (VPN) can protect your remote or traveling employees internet usage from prying eyes.

Such measures should stem from a comprehensive data security governance framework (DSGF) that assesses risk and ensures proposed controls will satisfy business objectives. DSGF is listed by Gartner®, a research and advisory firm, as one of the top security and risk management trends for 2019.

Take extra precaution to ensure your DSGF extends to all cloud-based software and third-party applications. With the proliferation of software as a service (SaaS), businesses are externally sharing a wider range of sensitive data. It’s critical to hold vendors accountable for data security.

Privacy Compliance and External Vendors

Before engaging vendors, you should ask new and existing third-party software providers one question: “How will you handle and protect our data?” You wouldn’t hire a building management company without asking about their service policies—extend this same due diligence to any digital vendors. Here are best practices to protect your workplace data and vet data processors for security governance:

  • Limit Access: Don’t give an external vendor carte blanche access to your data. Take a minimalistic approach and only provide access to what is necessary for them to deliver expected outcomes. For example, SpaceIQ needs a person’s name, email, title, and department, but we don’t need to know Social Security numbers or birthdates for them to use our platform. While this information is housed in the same HR system, we need access to just a small portion of an employee’s profile. Work with your vendors to pull only the data that is fundamentally integral to executing their processes.
  • Request SOC or GDPR: Industry audits, reports, and certificates are a great way to evaluate the safety and security of a vendor. Voluntary third-party verification programs such as SOC 2, Privacy Shield, or ISO 27001, help evaluate the trustworthiness of a company. While these are optional, GDPR and California’s Consumer’s Privacy Act are laws that may apply to you and your vendors. If a software provider carries any of the aforementioned certifications, ask to review their documentation and note any expiration dates.
  • Include a DPA: A data processing agreement (DPA) is a legal obligation that specifies what a vendor is allowed to do with your data. More importantly, it can also stipulate what they are not allowed to do. A DPA ensures that the data processor guarantees it will protect your records and what its contractual responsibilities are in the event of a breach.

Whenever you share data outside your organization, it’s necessary to balance convenience with security. The key to finding equilibrium is to ask: “How do I minimize the risk of allowing a vendor to access my data without sacrificing the rewards and benefits their services offer?” Controlling not only who has permission to use your data but how much they can access is the first step.