IT Pro Live Q&A: Audra Simons, director of Forcepoint Innovation Labs

One of our expert IT Pro Live speakers gives us a look inside her daily work and the future of tech

Our first ever virtual conference, IT Pro Live, runs from June 22-26, and is packed with insightful panel sessions and keynote speakers from across the tech industry. To give attendees a preview into what they can expect from the show, we spoke to Audra Simons, director of Forcepoint Innovation Labs, about her background, her business, and what she’s looking forward to from the event.

What does Forcepoint innovation Labs do?

Forcepoint is the global cybersecurity leader for user and data protection. Forcepoint’s behavior-based solutions adapt to risk in real-time and are delivered through a converged security platform that protects network users and cloud access, prevents confidential data from leaving the corporate network, and eliminates breaches caused by insiders. 

What’s your area of expertise?

My areas of expertise are innovation and strategic technical partnerships. I take ideas and turn them into reality, including creating the future of cybersecurity through prototypes and technical 3rd party partnerships. I am an accredited master of the FORTH innovation method, meaning I take a structured approach to innovation, which combines design thinking, creativity and business reality.

Can you describe the focus of your role in three words?

Humancentric cybersecurity innovation.

What does an average day in your working life look like?

An average work day for me starts around 0730 BST and finishes around 1900 BST.  My days are long as my team are spread across Israel, Europe and North America. We spend a lot of our time working on various collaboration platforms and using virtual labs. Our focus is on prototypes and proof-of-concepts, which stretch across our full range of risk adaptive cybersecurity solutions, as well as working with universities to bring academia into our research. We do not work in isolation - every step of the way we work hand in hand with our product management and engineering teams and our customers to ensure the outcomes are based in reality and not only deliver the strategic direction of the business, but are solving real customer problems.

Why are you looking forward to IT Pro Live?

I am looking forward to IT Pro Live to share my knowledge and learn from other experts on how, in these unprecedented times, they are approaching remote working, cloud, cyber security, innovation, and transformation. Extreme times lead to extreme innovations!

Why should people attend the conference?

Attend to learn.  Understand the challenges of the new ways of working and how to approach and protect your user and your data.

What can attendees expect from your session?

To get an understanding of why security gets such a bad reputation, how businesses can evolve to have a more security-aware proactive culture where their people are the first line of defense.

What sessions are you most looking forward to?

I am most looking forward to the very topical subject of "fighting digital propaganda", "balancing the theory of innovation with business reality" and "moving from project execution to value delivery" as these three subjects are both important to a global society and to us as an organisation.

Is there anything you’re particularly hoping to learn from the show?

Anything new - approaches, viewpoints, tools, or directions. I hope to come across subject matter and opinions that challenge me, make me think, and provide me with new perspectives and inspiration.

How has the COVID-19 outbreak impacted your work now and moving forward?

We are living the new normal.  We’re a global organisation of 3000 people 100% working from home. It has proven on a worldwide basis, for information workers, it can be done - and done successfully. I question moving forward if the old ways of bricks and mortar offices are going to move into history and be replaced by the virtual office. I imagine the impact on cities and transport when office workers no longer need to live near or commute to their offices; where offices are our homes and the further blurring of the lines between work and personal lives.

What gets you excited about IT?

Everything!  But especially the move towards individualized cybersecurity with a focus on human behavior.  Using methods and techniques to provide context to behavior, good and bad, to take action to keep users and data safe.  It is not about the technology but the value and the outcomes.

What do you think has been the most significant innovation to affect your industry in the last five years?

GDPR.  It has put the onus on privacy when, as a society, we have effectively given it away for online convenience, and it has been used with little or no controls by organisations and also lost through breaches. Privacy by design is the mantra of every prototype or proof of concept we do.

What do you see as the next big innovation in your field?

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will continue to reshape how we look at human behaviours to enable individually tailored cybersecurity.  AI/ML will also become a part of cyber attack and defence.

What are some of your IT goals through 2020 and into 2021?

Protecting our customer's and our own remote workforce and data, while respecting privacy and enabling productivity.

If you could offer a college student with IT aspirations one piece of advice, what would it be?

Experiment in many areas of IT before deciding on your direction. Prototype your career and do not be afraid to fail or choose to take a different technology path.  Take risks and be bold.

Catch Audra's IT Pro Live panel discussion, 'Why does everyone hate security, on Wednesday 24 June at 3.30 PM BST (10.30 AM EDT). Register for your free ticket now.

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