5 enterprise tech execs discuss remote work, new cybersecurity threats, and why Asia was first to multi-cloud

  • Business Insider selected the top 10 people transforming enterprise tech in the North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific regions.
  • Okta chief product officer Diya Jolly, Cloudflare COOMichelle Zatlyn, Appier COOWinnie Lee, Quantexa CEO Vishal Marria, and Red Points CEO Laura Urquizu gathered together for a virtual roundtable.
  • The execs discussed trends in remote work, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and more.
  • Because of their work, Business Insider named these executives to our annual list of the 10 leaders transforming Enterprise Tech.
  • Visit Business Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories .

As the coronavirus crisis forced companies around the world to shift to remote work, it has brought unparalleled changes — and challenges — to enterprise technology.

Business Insider selected the top ten people from North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific that have been transforming the industry this year, and brought five of those honorees together for a round table to discuss the state of enterprise tech.

From North America, we had Diya Jolly, chief product officer of the identity security company Okta, and Michelle Zatlyn, cofounder and COO of the internet security company Cloudflare. From the Asia Pacific region, we had Winnie Lee, COO and cofounder of Appier, a Taiwan-based company that provides AI-based products to the marketing industry. From Europe, we had Vishal Marria, CEO of anti-fraud AI firm Quantexa, and Laura Urquizu, CEO of AI-enabled fraud detection startup Red Points.

Together, these execs chatted about how their companies are changing not only the way they work, but also how they sell their products to their customers, large and small. They also shared observations on how the pandemic has led to a greater willingness from their customers to apply AI to solving their business problems as well as a rise in cybersecurity and fraud attacks.

All that and more below, in the transcript from Business Insider’s first Enterprise Tech Transformers roundtable.

Transcript has been edited for clarity and length:

Business Insider: What’s one thing that your company has learned during the pandemic — either internally, from a customer, or your peers — that stands out as having altered the way you’ll do business in the future?

Urquizu: In our case, we were very used to reaching our prospects and future clients remotely, by email and phones and doing demos. We used to think that this kind of behaviour was good for small companies or medium companies, but not good for enterprise. Well, with this pandemic, this has changed: Now to reach enterprise customers, you don’t have to go to events. We learned that we can also do business with enterprises — the biggest businesses in the world — remotely with technology demos, calls, and emails like we do with smaller companies. And that is a change that we are happy to have as a company.

Jolly: For us at Okta, we had been considering having more flexible and remote work and we had been talking about how to pilot it to make sure productivity didn’t fall. But then the pandemic proved to us that this is very, very doable and accelerated it in so many ways. All of us are fully remote now, and we’re never going to go back to, ‘You must be in the office — everybody has a seat in the office.’ We’re always going to be dynamic. We’re always going to say work from wherever you want, however you want. It has fundamentally changed how we work.

Marria: I would echo a lot from Diya: This pandemic has really challenged the status quo. I think it’s been helpful that the whole world is going through this, not just one country, or one region, because everybody is expectation-setting. Typically, if you’re looking to acquire a new customer and that customer is looking to purchase a seven-figure licence, they would expect the vendor to meet in person. But because that hasn’t been the case, it’s really helped the transformation around remote pitching, remote team collaboration, because everyone has been going through that. If you said to me in January of this year, ‘You will be tripling your business, all remotely,’ we would say you’re having a laugh. But we have tripled and it has been remote.

When this awful virus is behind us, I feel there’s going to be a bit of a hybrid: I don’t think it’s going to be like how it is now, where we can run a whole sales process remotely, but it’s definitely not going to be how it was before.

My final point around remote working: I’ve been working in a professional career for about 17 years, and I have literally gone to the office every single day — I probably worked from home two days. And it’s been very strange because I always used to say that, you know, superheroes go to work, they put their outfit on, they suddenly change from what they were to what they need to be at work. And staying home was a real difference in mindset for me. But, now, I can definitely see myself working from home in the new world. I don’t think I’ll do it every day, but I won’t be going into work five days a week either.

Lee: Along that line, I will say that at Appier, we also have learned that people can actually collaborate quite effectively remotely as long as we have effective communication. Without all this new technology, I don’t know how our company would survive this pandemic: We are so lucky that we have all these tools available so we can still collaborate without trouble. Going forward, I too believe there will be some kind of hybrid model as Vishal just mentioned. We will continue to be flexible and adaptive to changes and always try to find the best way to drive innovation.

On another front, from our customers’ point of view, we have seen firsthand that a lot of organisations nowadays are really fast-forwarding their digital transformation now. They’re more eager and wanting to work with us to effectively apply data and AI to help their own business in the longer term. They’re looking for the most resilient products or services, so, in our company, we have been working hard to make sure that the product and service that we provide can best help our customers and their end users. Due to the pandemic, everyone has changed the way they work, the way they shop, and also the way they socialise so I think helping our customers — especially consumer facing companies — reach out to their users is especially important.

Marria: I would almost also add in another AI, which is augmented intelligence instead of pure artificial intelligence. More and more our clients are bringing the best of human intelligence and machine intelligence together as part of the bigger digital transformation, which has been accelerated because of the pandemic. Companies need to be able to provide more of an automated or a real-time response than ever before so that communication can be more frictionless. This drive from our clients around automated intelligence, this is something that — in my view — we’re going to see as we go through the heart of the pandemic, as well as when we come out of the virus as well.

Quantexa CEO Vishal MarriaQuantexaQuantexa CEO Vishal Marria

Business Insider: Jumping off what you were saying about AI and big data, another question I had for those working in the cybersecurity or AI field is, what crises or existential challenges do your industries face right now?

Zatlyn: So if you zoom out, internet traffic is up 50% since the beginning of the year, because all of a sudden everyone’s at home, and so people are connecting and doing work online from new places. And what you’re seeing along with that is a large increase in the number of cyberattacks, which is sad, but it’s true: They’re using the fact that employees are working at home, not on their corporate networks, as a weak link to go and attack.

Forrester did this survey of small- and medium-sized businesses as well as large organisations, and 60 to 76% said ‘My security solutions are antiquated,’ 58% saw a data breach, 55% saw an increase in phishing attacks. Most companies are using hardware boxes to solve these problems and that doesn’t work in a new globally distributed workforce model. They have got to go to software that runs as a service in the cloud.

The good news is there are great solutions today, way better solutions today than five years ago. CloudFlare is one of them, Okta is one of them, there’s many, many wonderful next-generation security solutions that are helping solve these problems: Helping to make sure the person connecting is really the person they say, using machine learning and AI at scale to crowdsource threat data… And so a little bit of good news is, although attacks are up, traffic is up, and there are new attack types, the solutions are a lot better and a lot more affordable today if you’re a business having to defend yourself.

Business Insider: With these new cyberattack trends, how does that have an impact on cybersecurity in the long term?

Zatlyn: I have a point of view that cybersecurity is going to be a thing of the past in the next decade because I think technology is going to solve those problems. We’re not there yet — today, it’s a real serious threat for businesses — but I do think we’re going to get to a point where it’s almost like the water treatment filtration systems: If you’re connected to the Internet, you’re going to connect through a cybersecurity network that is going to cleanse the traffic and make sure whatever’s passing through is clean. That’s the opportunity for technologists like us to help solve.

The castle-moat scenario for businesses — like, ‘Here’s our castle, we’re going to protect it with a moat around it’ — is not going to work in a distributed workforce model where your users are everywhere. You can’t protect the castle. What’s going to happen is, every time someone’s trying to come over with the drawbridge, you’re gonna say, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re allowed, welcome! No, I don’t like you, you’re not coming in.’ It’s a much more user-first model, understanding what each user has access to and who they are. Is the user legitimate or not? Do they have access to this or not?

As soon as you start to do that, you change the architecture of an organisation, and a lot of these problems become so much easier to solve. There’s a huge transition from on-premise hardware, VPNs, hardware security boxes for things like DDoS mitigation and load balancing, all these things: It’s all moving to cloud-based services. And as soon as it does that, it scales much easier, becomes a much easier model for a business to protect. We’re in the middle of that transformation.

Urquizu: To complement what Michelle is saying, we are also seeing new issues. In the US, we’ve seen a 58% increase in counterfeit detections between March and June, and the same amount in the case of impersonations on social networks, and copyright infringement. As we are on the internet more, there are new issues that now cybersecurity companies like us are trying to solve, but we will need new ideas and new technologies.

Jolly: I think the same: We’ve seen an increase in the number of security attacks. More specifically, I think we’ve seen people attacking at the point where the vulnerability is the greatest, which means they’re doing phishing attacks where they’re trying to get people’s passwords and things like that.

Business Insider: With the move to work from home — with the way companies have evolved so rapidly over the last year — what specific adaptations do you think will last and which do you think will only be temporary?

Jolly: We all know companies have to support employees working from home, to make it secure. As the pandemic progressed a couple of months in, we actually saw a very similar shift in how companies are working with their customers, not just in the enterprise space, but also the consumer space. Everything is moving online: People are getting used to online shopping, online telemedicine, online school. These trends are happening and it’s not just the big companies: My favourite example is my dry cleaners actually built an app that lets you say, ‘Hey, come pick up my dry cleaning at my house at this time,’ which is super innovative. So I think we’ve seen that that digital transformation is coming for consumers as well: It’s not just how people are working through this change, it’s how they’re living and interacting with companies about what they need. Like I said, grocery shopping, telemedicine, the gamut of it has completely changed: I think a lot of these are conveniences that will stay.

Zatlyn: We’ve seen something similar: Said another way, there was a crisis and some businesses really pivoted their business models to thrive. There’s the yoga teacher who moved everything online and there’s a food company that sold a lot through restaurants and the restaurant business dried up, so they went to create a direct-to-consumer brand that was never in their business plan at the end of last year. Again, the technology helps enable all this. It’s been really interesting to see the businesses that can pivot and adapt and come up with really interesting things that are digital first, that have been great for their customers.

Michelle Zatlyn, co founder & COO, Cloudflare 1 (1)CloudflareMichelle Zatlyn if the cofounder and COO of Cloudflare.

I struggle with this question predicting the future, because I don’t know. We’ll see whether hybrid work stays or not — I mean, we’ve tried this many times. I think that in the long term it could turn out that the people who come into the office that see their bosses all the time get promoted more and the new people entering the workforce want to have socialisation. I hope flexible work and work from anywhere — that opportunity — stays, but I’m not sure. The jury is out for five years. You hear some people say ‘I can’t wait to go back to the office and have everyone back!’ and they’re jumping at it. I hope we all learn, as businesses, that the ones that are going to thrive — do the best in the world and build the best products and drive the best returns for their shareholders — are the best places to work, and so that will become the flywheel that drives this.

And then on the digital first, I hope these services all work and are all here to stay, too. I think it would be sad if the world goes back to how it was: We should evolve. We should take all the good things and keep them, and get rid of the bad things.

Lee: I would like to echo what Michelle just mentioned: I totally agree. But I will say that I think it’s unlikely that we will go back to exactly how it was before. I do hope we evolve in the right direction, so people are not left with only one choice, so you have an option on whether or not you want to return to the office or you want to work from home. I think different people prefer very different styles, so I hope going forward we will be able to provide options, depending on people’s needs, preferences, and whatever will allow them to perform the best at their role.

Something that I do expect that’s going to stay is the travel consideration: I think we’ll probably all be a bit more thoughtful about travel.

Business Insider: Before we wrap up, have you noticed any differences in technology adoption or trends in your geographic region versus other areas that you think could eventually spread?

Zatlyn: There is something we’ve seen different by geographic regions around the world: In Asia, many of the best companies have a multi-cloud strategy, and that’s because they service different markets in Asia. Asia is a huge market and the main cloud providers — AWS, Azure Google Cloud, AliCloud — all have different strengths in the region, and so businesses mix and match. They would have two or three cloud providers, depending on which markets they’re servicing, by necessity. A lot of US and European corporations have had one cloud provider historically. But what we’re seeing now is they’re like, ‘wait, that’s too much dependency, too much vendor lock in, too much vendor power, we want to diversify our cloud storage and compute vendors.’ And so it’s almost like what Asia had done from necessity. All of a sudden, these businesses here are doing a lot more digital-first work, and they’re trying to think, how do we spin up these new workloads and applications. They want to make sure that they are doing it in a thoughtful way that sets them up for success long-term, and that often means picking more than one storage provider on the back-end, and so they’re going to more of a model that Asia has been using for a long time. That’s a trend that I’ve seen.

Urquizu: Since we are bringing technology to a space where there was no technology before — there was a lot of manual services and a lot of consulting — our clients are early adopters, and I can that before the pandemic and after the pandemic, the US is doing much better than Europe on adopting new technologies like ours (we are not in Asia, so I can’t give an opinion on Asia). The US has always been more dynamic and more eager to adopt new technologies and we don’t see a change in that.

Marria: The adoption of our capability to support digital transformation has been pretty even geographically, but some of the buying patterns have been different: A lot more of our clients are looking to go straight into a multi-cloud strategy: Asking us, can you partner with Azure or GCP or AWS? Our clients are looking for that ecosystem play upfront. So they are asking us, ‘Who have you deployed in the past?’ Both from a cloud, and data capability, as well as other software products around workflow management, visualisation, and so on. So we’re seeing a lot more of that ecosystem purchase, but also, ‘How do you work within the existing ecosystem that we have?’ Which was very different, say even six or nine months ago, when they were looking at a point-solution. I think our buyers are looking at much more of a holistic view on how these things seamlessly integrate into an ecosystem, which is a very different buying pattern than what we used to see. It’s actually really pushing us to think more widely around accounts, and not just to always solve one point-problem, it’s much more holistic.

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