The Future of Cybersecurity is User Experience

Cyber-attacks were so prevalent last year that 2020 has been referred to as the year of the “cyber pandemic.” COVID-19 has exposed vulnerabilities in major platforms around the world, from Zoom to MGM to the World Health Organization (WHO), which by April had already reported a five-fold increase in cyber-attacks since the start of the pandemic. News broke again in December that hackers accessed systems at the National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains the US nuclear weapons stockpile. Cybercrime damages from these types of attacks are expected to reach US $6 trillion this year.

As companies worked to establish secure connections for the newly remote workforce, the demand for security products skyrocketed. This presents an opportunity for security software companies, but in order to capitalize on this new demand, they must focus on user experience (UX) to create effective products users will want to and will continue to use.

Leading the technology portfolio for a global software development company, I frequently observe that the people building security products are typically thinking more about what the product can do than about who will be using it. In 2021, neither consumers nor business users will settle for mediocre UX. They want and expect the same easy to use experience from any software product as they expect from their iPhones. This rings especially true with younger generation users.

The best products won’t be the ones with the most features or the best performance statistics; they will be the ones that can be used intuitively. If a product isn’t user-friendly, customers won’t buy it. If they do buy it, and it’s not readily used, they won’t renew it. In the cybersecurity industry, as in most technology sectors, competition is fierce. How do these companies with upwards of 30+ competitors in each segment effectively differentiate themselves?

We’re beginning to see digital products transform to where the user experience is the product. Innovative companies that understand this are rapidly stealing business from legacy companies. VMware Carbon Black, for example, advertises its “easy-to-use console” that works “across any app, any cloud, and any device.” Expel was founded on the idea that security service providers had been enduring “the customer service equivalent of taxi drivers” -- namely, too many confusing security products delivering too many alerts, and not enough human talent to help prioritize the alerts.

Here are three things to consider when prioritizing UX:

1. Leadership must be on board. UX isn’t just an add-on, and it isn’t a given either; it should be part of the very culture of the company. In order for that to happen, UX can’t be a bottom-up focus. It has to start with company leadership. When leaders prioritize UX, the rest of the company will follow.

2. UX should be a company-wide endeavor. Adoption is a software company’s greatest challenge, and the reality is, it’s easier to sell a product that’s easy to use. While we are seeing some companies embrace cross-departmental collaboration and support of UX, there is a long way to go. Marketing teams, for example, have a particularly keen knowledge of what consumers want; they shouldn’t be afterthoughts in the development process. Developers shouldn’t be tasked with making decisions about user needs and wants; this decreases efficiency and impedes progress. Ideally, UX should be its own department or minimally, a part of the product team that can coordinate with other departments.

3. Seek out and utilize customer feedback. Don’t assume that if you build it, they will come. Great digital products are never “done,” yet are constantly improving upon themselves. Product and UX teams should be maniacally focused on and leveraging customer feedback to inform their next iteration.

A truly great product depends on the marriage of functionality with ease of use. This hasn’t typically been the mindset in cybersecurity. With the global cybersecurity market expected to grow by 10% YOY, reaching $326 billion by 2027, the competition will only become fiercer. UX will be the difference here between those who achieve success and those who are left behind.

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