Firms here spend more on IT due to Covid-19 than in other countries

Singapore was found to have one of the highest levels of adoption of workplace collaboration tools. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Companies here have spent more on IT compared with the global average as more employees work from home due to Covid-19. But firms here have also placed greater emphasis on cyber-security measures and the use of remote collaboration tools, a new study has found.

A study by cyber-security firm Acronis found that out of 200 Singapore company representatives polled, more than 85 per cent saw increased IT costs due to disruptions arising from the coronavirus pandemic, compared with an average of 72 per cent globally.

Just 8 per cent of local firms said their IT costs were unchanged, compared with the global average of 20 per cent, said Acronis in the study released last Wednesday, which polled 3,400 respondents from 17 countries.

The bigger bill that Singapore firms are footing is likely due to higher standards that companies and employees have for remote communication, Acronis chief information security officer Kevin Reed told The Straits Times.

"In other countries, employees are satisfied with built-in laptop cameras, whereas in Singapore, residents prefer an HD camera, one from a trusted brand," he said, adding that the costs of IT hardware, like dedicated webcams, have soared since the pandemic started due to supply constraints.

Besides new devices, Mr Reed noted that firms here could also be spending more on infrastructure upgrades like VPN gateways, which allow employees to access company networks remotely, and bolster the less secure home Wi-Fi networks of employees.

But as they spend more on IT, firms here are also more likely to prioritise cyber-security safeguards compared with their overseas counterparts, with 40 per cent of Singapore companies polled indicating that they made sure to scan for potential vulnerabilities and to patch loopholes in their systems. Worldwide, this was only at 26 per cent.

This means companies here would be better protected against bad actors attempting to launch phishing attacks on employees to steal their data or hack into their systems.

The study also found that employees here were more eager to use workplace collaboration tools now that they have been working from home. More than 80 per cent have started using such tools, which include videoconferencing platforms Zoom and Webex, compared with 69 per cent worldwide.

Singapore has one of the highest levels of adoption of such tools, the study found, which Mr Reed attributed to the Republic's high Internet penetration rate.

Mr Bryan Tan, a lawyer at Pinsent Masons MPillay specialising in technology law and data protection, said increased IT spending by companies here could stem from under-investment in remote-working capabilities prior to the pandemic. This, he noted, is unlike the case in larger countries, where such practices have been common for some time and are an alternative to long commutes. "So we have had to play catch up," he added.

Agreeing, Harry Elias Partnership head of cyber security, privacy and data protection K. K. Lim said the higher IT spending by firms here could reflect how there was a lack of options pre-pandemic for working from home, a situation which has changed.

A study published by ST in May found that nine in 10 employees in Singapore want to continue working from home in some capacity.

"This pandemic has shown that not only is working from home possible, but employees prefer that. Generally, you work harder and put in more hours than working from the office - that is the common reaction from employees," said Mr Lim.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2020, with the headline Firms here spend more on IT due to Covid-19 than in other countries. Subscribe