The challenges of working from home and the subsequent return to work will cause organizations to reevaluate how they look at networks for enterprise workloads and hybrid workplaces. The range of at-home networks and devices now engaged in critical business operations has grown by an order of magnitude and there might be little change as more employees opt to work a hybrid schedule as offices reopen. With more diverse and dispersed operations, IT decision-making processes—and IT teams, themselves— will need to evolve to meet new technical challenges, new ways to secure and gain insight into the network, and fundamentally new ways of working.
With this in mind, here are four actions organizations must take to support the future of work:
Up to this point, businesses have been learning as they go when it comes to optimizing the ability of their teams to work remotely. No one expected the massive disruption that COVID-19 caused, so there was never any detailed plan regarding how to optimize existing IT infrastructure for work-from-home environments. With no definitive end to the pandemic or the WFH experiment, many organizations opted for a patching approach—making small fixes as the need for them became obvious. This may have been acceptable at first, but as continual data breaches and security mishaps have taught us, a patching approach won’t cut it as a viable, long-term IT strategy.
Instead, organizations need to take a deeper look at their core operating models and invest in structural changes that will prepare them for the future of work. We’re at a point where the scales are finally tipping, and decision makers recognize that the ROI for making these changes are far greater than continuing to make small fixes in the hopes that the old ways of working will return. This is an important moment in the story that began in March 2020 and we’ll look back at it as a time when the ‘winners’ laid the groundwork necessary to emerge from the pandemic as truly evolved, resilient enterprises.
As the workforces become more mobile and applications have expanded to SaaS and cloud, enterprise networks have grown increasingly complex. Digital businesses need secure, reliable networks to support their distributed employees wherever they work while minimizing risk to the business. Organizations need to manage a mix of legacy infrastructure and application models in conjunction with modern applications distributed across on-premises data centers as well as in multiple public clouds.
Add to this the increased dependency on unpredictable last-mile networks for remote workers and the challenge becomes even more painfully obvious: detecting and responding to the increase in cyberattacks and the broader attack surface due to the growing number of remote endpoints is growing increasingly more difficult.
As result, most organizations rely on 3-6 tools to monitor their network, but the multiple, disjointed data streams often add their own analysis complexity to the issue instead of providing advanced insight and quicker mitigation. And, looking to cloud for the latest in protection only helps so much, as the point solutions provided by cloud vendors are insufficient. They only provide insight into cloud elements of their network, not hybrid or multi-cloud networks.
As hybrid work environments meet the challenge of supporting a changing workforce, visibility into the performance of the network will be critical. A unified network performance monitoring solution could allow organizations to detect and resolve performance issues and security threats much faster under these new contrainsts.
What does this look like in practice? One fundamental change organizations will make is to offer WFH-conducive alternatives to in-office enterprise networks. While the concept of BYOD has been around for some time, its definition has changed with COVID-19. Working from home has created scenarios where individuals using two different devices may be regularly tapping into the same home network to access proprietary or otherwise sensitive information from two different organizations. Employees are also often using the same device and network for both personal and work-related tasks.
With changing employee expectations and many organizations now realizing that they can stay productive while working remotely, a shift to hybrid, mobile-first environments in many industries is inevitable. We’ll see scenarios where employees go into the office once or twice a week, causing enterprises to want to rent, rather than own, much of their IT infrastructure. This will create a new demand for multi-tenant SD-WAN environments. Two primary capacities of SD-WAN—connecting branches with the data centers and onboarding to the internet—will need to be more deeply explored from the context of hybrid work environments. Whether SD-WAN deployments will slow remains to be seen. What is clear is that the relationships between IT teams, SD-WAN vendors, and other solution providers will need to evolve to meet the new needs of a hybrid workforce.
Looking back to look ahead
There have been many challenges to hit the enterprise this year. While organizations have adapted quickly and admirably, many are still taking a thorough look at their performance. Rather than a sign of what’s to come, the past year is an indication of what’s already here, and here to stay. Decision makers will need to reflect quickly, develop clear strategies around BYOD, SD-WAN, and network performance management, and then make investments to support their workforce as it continues to evolve.