How the pandemic has accelerated the future of work
2020 was a year like no other with organizations around the world having to transition to remote working at an unprecedented pace. While working from home has become more common in recent years, up until now it was considered a perk that businesses could offer potential employees to sweeten the deal. Last year though saw employees scrambling to set up home offices as they learned to use video conferencing software, VPN services, remote desktop software and other tools needed to communicate with their teams while trying to stay secure online.
Organizations themselves also had to come to terms with all of these changes and learn how to manage their now remote workforces. To learn more about some of the lessons learned during the pandemic by Lenovo, TechRadar Pro spoke with the company’s VP and CMO of its Intelligent Devices Group, Emily Ketchen.
Can you tell us a bit about what it was like taking on a new role at Lenovo during the pandemic?
I am currently Vice President and CMO of our Intelligent Devices Group in which I define marketing strategies and campaigns to grow the brand and story around how we empower our partners and customers through technology. Lenovo has an enviable breadth of technology in the portfolio, but we donât âsellâ hardware, we listen, understand and act as an advisor to businesses and together we create solutions that are best for their business and will help them thrive and grow. The pandemic has presented unimaginable challenges for many of our customers and now itâs more critical than ever to develop helpful solutions based on customer insights that deliver tangible benefits.
The pandemic has accelerated hybrid working models, but the transformation to cloud-based collaboration software was already underway. Again, listening to our customers, we created a dedicated personal communications device called ThinkSmart View. Purpose-built for Microsoft Teams meetings, the 8-inch Teams display optimizes workflow by separating meeting and calendar activity from the primary workstation enabling more efficient multi-tasking. Additionally, we understand the financial and logistical strains that SMBs are under, especially during difficult economic shifts.
Ensuring that employees have the right technology to do their job is one thing, but funding, deploying and managing those assets can be a major headache. Thatâs why Iâm a big believer of the âEverything-as-a-Serviceâ trend. By using a subscription model SMBs can take the hassle and capital expense out of the equation, meaning for a monthly fee, users can have the tech and IT support they need. Deployment can be to their remote location and support can be provided taking the burden off of IT departments, allowing them to focus on the next wave of technology investments that will drive growth and competitive advantage.
What lessons have you learned over the past year and what were the most challenging aspects of working remotely?
The past year we have seen firsthand how rapid digital transformation can be. Anything that was able to transfer to a fully online service did. Schools, work and businesses quickly adapted to providing services 100 percent online.
The past year has taught us many things and one undeniable lesson to take away is that technology will continue to evolve at a rapid pace to allow for flexibility at scale. This rapid shift posed a challenge for many companies including Lenovo. We had to quickly shift to remote teams all across the world and still find ways to collaborate and keep our employees safe and productive.
To adjust for the increased IT purchasing in 2021, businesses will shift their investments to account for transportability over mobility; with many employees no longer truly mobile, we may see a shift to more compact desktops that are easy to ship and transport. Businesses will adopt Internet of Things (IoT) solutions that help monitor safety and wellbeing in the workplace, including touchless entryways integrated into badges or smartphones, temperature sensors and AI-assisted adaptations to peopleâs movements in the workplace. âAs-a-serviceâ and âsubscription-basedâ models will become more mainstream as businesses look for increased access to a wider array of tools at an affordable price.
Weâve learned that top focus areas need to be in robotics with a focus on telepresence, automation, cloud, and security. The pandemic shed a light on the increased cyber-risks presented by a distributed workforce and how several enterprises will need to continue providing employees with safe and secure technology as well as security education training.
How have marketing campaigns and strategies adapted in the past year?
Our strategy is primarily about building relationships, not being focused on the transaction. Being a valued partner in that relationship will help customers seize growth opportunities and in turn, invest in new prospects. However, any business that properly understands customer insights and listens to what their customers are saying will already have a competitive edge. At Lenovo, we offer guidance on integrating emerging technologies and where they can be most beneficial. In a more hybrid working environment, being able to offer immersive training solutions will not only keep staff current with the latest innovations but makes a company more attractive to prospective talent.
The past 12 months have clearly shown that technology plays a significant part in people engagement and general well-being. Happy employees will make happy customers, so as long as business owners understand people are their most valuable assets and at the center of growth and opportunity, they can then make sure those people have the right tools to do their jobs most effectively and success will follow.
How has Lenovo altered its PCs and laptops to better suit the needs of a remote workforce?
Whether youâre an up-and-coming small business or a large enterprise, our services portfolio offers solutions that keep your operations leaner, costs lower, and employees more productive. Employees are a companyâs biggest asset and SMBs will want to keep them enabled with the right technology tools to help them stay on track.
Lenovo Device as a Service (DaaS) helps customers manage their entire device lifecycle so their employees can stay focused on what matters most. To provide the most benefit for SMBs in the current landscape, SaaS and DaaS solutions can allow them to outsource hardware, software and support management tasks to DaaS providers. It can also offer the capability to invest in new, emerging tech (IoT, AR/VR) that could make their business more agile, efficient and open to more opportunities. SMBs should feel secure switching to this customizable subscription-based model because it aligns with their needs, provides IT budget optimization, and strives to maximize company and employee efficiency.
As we move forward, customers can also expect new form factors such as dual-screen configurations, on-screen keyboard inputs and voice-to-text tools that are less reliant on a physical keyboard. For example, the ThinkBook Plus features an innovative e-Ink cover display that helps users be more productive when multitasking by improving focus, collaboration and creativity.
Was it difficult to adapt in-person conferences to virtual events and does Lenovo plan to continue holding them in the future?
As a global technology brand, operating in 180 markets around the world for 35 years, Lenovo is well equipped and prepared for digital and virtual transformation. We are uniquely positioned to adapt our event strategy to serve a remote audience and will continue to follow health and safety guidelines in terms of all business matters.
Looking ahead, we still see growth opportunities as the world continues to move to working and learning from home. We see these opportunities not only in terms of devices, but data center and infrastructure technology. Lenovo innovates with purpose to solve the real human problems and challenges of today and in the future so we will lead with that as we plan for any future events.
Do you believe that our shared experiences during the pandemic will have a significant effect on the future of work?
In this last year, employees worldwide have embraced working from anywhere as the âofficeâ became wherever their technology is. Work is no longer confined to one specific location, with many employees choosing never to return to a traditional office environment, even post-COVID. Workers are in a groove and overall, feel itâs a net positive compared to their previous situation in the traditional office setting. Most employees will likely never return to the office 5x a week again.
According to Lenovoâs latest research, almost all (90 percent) of respondents want the option of an office or meeting space to connect with colleagues when needed, with 60 percent of employees preferring to WFH at least half of the time. The future of the office will be a hybrid âbusiness centerâ model, equipped with collaboration technologies that allow employees to seamlessly transition from WFH to WFA. Lenovoâs latest research shows 56% of employees worldwide feel more productive when WFH, in comparison to findings from earlier in the pandemic when 63 percent of employees expressed higher levels of productivity while working from home.
In the initial stages of the pandemic, companies were enthusiastically turning to video calls for business meetings, virtual happy hours and other gatherings. And while this is still a necessary form of communication, employees are experiencing digital fatigue. Longer working hours and missing personal connections with colleagues is having a profound impact. Furthermore, finding the right work/life equilibrium is a true balancing act.
Research from Great Place to Work showed employee productivity decreased in Summer 2020, indicating that employee burnout and loss of work/life balance were key factors. Business leaders need to turn inwards, analyze their organization to identify remote teams that are thriving, work with them to understand their strategies, and scale their models. Similarly, they must focus on communicating with employees to understand what they need to reach peak performance. They must also encourage flexible work schedules as employees continue to navigate the challenges of working from home, including breaks throughout the day. Business leaders should also equip their employees with the right technology tools for their preferred work style. While some employees might have a dedicated office space where they are most efficient with multiple screens, some prefer portable technology for a nomadic work lifestyle. Small enterprises will need to future-proof their business with the right security solutions and protect against higher cybersecurity risks such as, unauthorized access and data leakage, using personal devices for business and increased phishing.
We've also rounded up all the gear you'll need to work from home successfully
FBI sounds the alarm over virulent new ransomware strain
A virulent new ransomware strain has infected at least 60 different organizations in the last two months, the FBI has warned.
In a Flash report, published late last week, the intelligence agency said that BlackCat, a known ransomware-as-a-service actor, compromised these organizations using a strain written in RUST.
This is somewhat unusual given that most ransomware is written in C or C++. However, the FBI believes these particular threat actors opted for RUST as it’s considered to be a “more secure programming language that offers improved performance and reliable concurrent processing.”
BlackCat, also known as ALHPV, usually demands payment in Bitcoin and Monero in exchange for the decryption key, and although the demands are usually “in the millions”, has often accepted payments below the initial demand, the FBI says.
BlackCat also has strong ties to Darkside (aka Blackmatter), the FBI further explains, suggesting that the group has “extensive networks and experience” in operating malware and ransomware attacks.
The attack usually starts with an already compromised account, which gives the attackers initial access to the target endpoint. The group then compromises Active Directory user and administrator accounts, and uses Windows Task Scheduler to configure malicious Group Policy Objects (GPOs), to deploy the ransomware.
Initial deployment uses PowerShell scripts, in conjunction with Cobalt Strike, and disables security features within the victim’s network.
The attackers are then said to download as much data as possible, before locking up the systems. And they even look to pull data from any cloud hosting providers they could find.
Finally, with the help of Windows scripting, the group seeks to deploy ransomware onto additional hosts.
The FBI has also created a comprehensive list of recommended mitigations, which include reviewing domain controllers, servers, workstations, and active directories for new or unrecognized user accounts; regularly backing up data, reviewing Task Scheduler for unrecognized scheduled tasks, and requiring admin credentials for any software installation processes.
10 years of Siri: the history of Apple's voice assistant
Has it really been 10 years of Siri? Somehow, yes. The Apple voice assistant was originally integrated into the iPhone 4S way back in October 2011, and we're now here to wish Siri a very happy 10th birthday.
Sparking a trend for smart voice assistants across the board, Siri certainly changed how we all interact with technology these days, with the rise of Alexa no doubt helped substantially by the presence of Siri before it.
It’s possible that some of you won't remember the early beginnings of Siri – which is why we've taken a walk down memory lane and looked at the history behind how Siri came to be.
We've also looked at just what it was like to use back in those early days, and considered what the next 10 years could mean for the (mostly) helpful voice assistant. Read on while we guide you through this winding road of ever-changing voice communication, from Siri's debut to its capabilities with the iPhone 13 and iOS 15.
The History of Siri
Siri was very different back in 2011. It actually started out as an app for iOS in February 2010. The Siri app was a spin-off from the SRI International Artificial Intelligence Center, and an offshoot of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's funded CALO project – an artificial intelligence project that attempted to integrate numerous AI technologies into a cognitive assistant, created by Dag Kittlaus, Tom Gruber, and Adam Cheyer.
It was named after a co-worker of Kittlaus in Norway, meaning "beautiful woman who leads you to victory" in Norwegian. Other sources have also referred to the fact that in Swahili, it means "secret".
Originally, the developers wanted to release Siri for Android and BlackBerry devices, with an acquisition by Apple in April 2010 soon changing that. Notably, it was an acquisition made by Steve Jobs, who died on October 5, 2011, the day after the iPhone 4S was announced. A pivotal turning point in Apple's history, the iPhone 4S was introduced on October 4 2011 with a beta version of Siri included.
Who voices Siri?
Siri has had a few distinctive voices over the years. In its early days up until iOS 7 in September 2013, it used the voice of Susan Bennett – a voiceover artist and former backing singer for Roy Orbison and Burt Bacharach. She provided her voice back in 2005 unaware that she'd form such a fundamental part of technological history. Apple has never confirmed the information but Bennett herself has referred to being Siri with the claim also proven by an American audio forensics expert.
The original British male voice was provided by Jon Briggs, a former technology journalist, who – like Bennett – was unaware that his recordings would be used in such a way one day.
Following the early days of Siri, voices have since changed with iOS 11 using new voices that encompassed different personalities and expressions to make the assistant sound more human and natural with its responses. Since 2021’s iOS 14.5 update, too, Siri also no longer offers a default voice – you have to pick one!
What was Siri like 10 years ago?
Back in 2011, Siri was nowhere near as refined as it is now. While the voice assistant felt like a true game changer at the time, it was also a bit broken and clunky in hindsight. Our iPhone 4S review called it “easy to just dismiss it as another company trying to get on board with the voice recognition gimmick we've seen companies trying to make work for years.”
It wasn't the first voice recognition software on a smartphone with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S2 offering similar capabilities. However, it was pretty quick and accurate – to a point. Wait a couple of seconds and Siri is ready to go, albeit in a form that looks far less stylish than now. It would understand many phrases such as when you wanted to send a message, know what the weather would be like, or set an alarm.
The downside was that you needed to be quite clinical with how you phrased things. As with a lot of early smart assistants, Siri didn't understand the complexities of human language so you needed to be pretty accurate with your requests back in 2011.
There were regional issues too, with users in the UK not having the full range of services at launch, such as the ability to ask where the nearest petrol station was.
Despite that, Siri was still easily the best voice recognition software on the market at the time, with the potential clear for the future – even if it’s been somewhat eclipsed by other, newer rivals.
What criticisms have there been of Siri?
It's been a sometimes bumpy path for Siri. At its simplest, Apple got into trouble because users with distinctive accents including Scottish, Bostonian and Southern American English struggled to get Siri to understand them.
Evolution rather than revolution has been key for Siri ever since. The foundations were there from the iPhone 4S onwards and regular iOS updates have worked towards making Siri more effective.
Crucially, Siri is now far better at understanding and interpreting what's said by a user. It still takes a moment to recognise a casual "hey Siri"but it can now do a lot more.
That includes splitting a bill or calculating a tip, controlling HomeKit products, identifying songs, solving equations, helping with Apple Maps navigation and directions, as well as even sending money via Apple Pay. Most new Apple features integrate well with Siri too.
Since iOS 11, Siri has been able to handle follow-up questions as well as support language translation and more third-party actions too.
Siri is also now an active assistant for macOS as well as watchOS, besides its original home on iPhones and iPads. It can make proactive suggestions, such as if you're running late for a scheduled meeting. Once Siri spots your tardiness, it can suggest calling the person to let them know. It's also capable of suggesting HomeKit scenes to activate at certain times of day, as well as come up with search suggestions.
Since iOS 15, speech processing and personalisation are now done on the device which makes it faster at processing commands than when it was done via the cloud. It also makes it far more secure, with most audio requests kept entirely on the device in question. Able to learn contacts most interacted with as well as new words typed, it's smarter with every update.
What devices are now compatible with Siri?
Since Siri was added to the iPhone 4S, it's been available for pretty much every Apple device you can think of.
That includes all iPhones since the iPhone 4S, all iPads since June 2012, the iPod Touch, Apple TV, the stand-alone Siri Remote, as well as Macs and AirPods since September 2016. There's also Siri support within HomePods since February 2018 too, plus CarPlay users can speak to their car to complete many tasks.
What's next for Siri?
So, what could be next for Siri? While it's much more accurate than it ever used to be, obviously, we're all hoping for even more pinpoint accuracy and the ability to understand whatever we say.
However, we think more is to come from Siri than just that. A patent earlier this year suggested that Apple is researching how to detect environmental noise levels and user voice patterns so that Siri can respond with an appropriate yell or whisper as and when needed. Right now, it can't recognise when volume should be adjusted, unlike Alexa, and it's a bit awkward in certain scenarios.
We're also expecting to see the ability to access and deal with multiple applications and services at once, making Siri more of an all-in-one digital assistant that it's always tried to be.
More personalisation features much like Alexa's voice profiles system seems likely too, especially for devices that the whole household uses.
A more futuristic view could be the ability to detect emotion in one's voice. Noticing stress could be the ideal time for Siri to suggest some mindfulness exercises, or speaking through tears could even lead to the suggestion of calling emergency services, or simply a trusted friend – the next step on from an Apple Watch being able to predict your own panic attacks.
Whatever happens next, it's clear Siri is going nowhere and the next 10 years should be quite promising for how voice assistants can help us out in making life easier.