With few, if any, employees actually in your offices at the moment, the question of what kind of office connectivity you need is unlikely to be top of mind right now.
But when they eventually return, what’s happening now during the Covid-19 crisis may have a profound effect upon the discussion taking place immediately after it.
In these current conditions, anyone who can work from home must work from home and networks have had to adapt quickly, with some coping better than others. The situation is temporary of course, but it’s easy to see that the return to ‘normality’ may not be a return to exactly what we had before. The recent ‘lockdown’-driven shift to more remote working and cloud usage may have been sudden and drastic, but it isn’t really a change of direction; most companies have been on a trajectory towards more remote working for many years, and if a crisis has prompted us to suddenly move further and faster along a journey we had already started, it’s unlikely we’re going to want to go all the way back to the start when the crisis subsides.
All being considered there’s probably never been a better time to start to try to change your organisation’s way of thinking about technology, and to consider what’s the right approach and future plan for your network. For example, considering new WAN edge technologies (often referred to as “SD-WAN”) to enhance application performance. Without looking at the broader business benefits of new technologies, and the future demands of your network, you could end up stuck in a rut, asking the wrong questions and living with the same kind of compromises you’ve always had to deal with. So, what are these business benefits that new technologies can deliver?
Availability is one thing. Traditional wide area networks often forced organisations to over-provision bandwidth and didn’t always make the best use of the full range of connectivity options available. As SD-WAN uses the Internet, it tends to be more ubiquitous which enables it to seamlessly use whatever connectivity is available, and balance traffic intelligently across multiple connectivity types. Research commissioned by Capita in 2019 indicated that 78% of organisations have experienced at least one loss of critical connectivity in the last 24 months, and most organisations seemed to feel that the average cost of such outages - estimated at just over £666k per incident - was higher now than it had been five years ago due to the greater level of reliance on connectivity to do business. So, keeping critical applications running in an outage scenario could be vital to preserving corporate efficiency and competitiveness.
The expectations of the office network are changing. In most cases it’s no longer necessary to actually be in the office to access the applications and data you need, so motivations are different – however whilst there is less importance attached to logical connectivity to specific resources, support for your home workers will need careful consideration. With the potential for less staff to be physically in the office, the time is right to reassess the areas where you need bandwidth and capacity, and how you support employees working at home who may have poor broadband connectivity.
Hand in hand with this, security is also a key concern. The same research found that 70% of respondents see network security as critical to their everyday operations and success. The rollout of a broader range of security features to the WAN edge, or seamless integration with cloud-based security services allows for secure local Internet breakout and a consistent security policy across all sites. Enabling this kind of flexibility without introducing greater levels of risk or vulnerability may deliver significant business benefits.
So, now is the time to take stock of your future office connectivity needs. It’s vital to focus on the potential business benefits that a more flexible and reliable network will give you, rather than just the pure cost per se. You must look at the bigger picture, but if the demands of recent times have helped to clarify for a broader audience exactly what that bigger picture looks like, and to plant the right seeds in the minds of senior executives regarding what they should expect from the network, then you might just find that the path to a more efficient organisation in the post Covid-19 future has just got a little bit clearer.
* Survey carried out in June and July 2019 on behalf of Capita by Vanson Bourne, interviewing IT and Line of Business professionals at UK businesses in various sectors, each with over 50 sites.