A return to work doesn’t mean the pressure is off networks – quite the opposite, in fact
During the COVID-19 pandemic, IT professionals rose to the occasion and overcame many major challenges. However, as we start to emerge from the pandemic the return to the office of a hybrid workforce is bringing a new set of complexities that ICT teams need to prepare for.
Drawing on first-hand experience and interviews with our customers, we identify the main fears of business leaders as they try to project the IT requirements in the new workforce model. We will also consider what businesses should be doing to prepare their networks for the future of work.
The future is flexible: Reinventing business operations
Speaking with customers, a vast majority don’t expect a 100% return to the office, hybrid working is here to stay. The priority for network operators now is to ensure that they can manage the changes in traffic. The ability to prioritize traffic across networks will be integral to ensure bandwidth is used optimally. A software-defined approach to networking (SD-WAN) and co-managed portal functionality will be crucial as businesses shift to hybrid working. Embracing these technologies will deliver more agility, resilience and reliability while providing the means to prioritize traffic to key applications, such as video, and securely break out to the internet to access SaaS and other business applications in the cloud.
Earlier this year we hosted a virtual meeting session with key IT decision makers across 13 companies to find out their connectivity plans post-COVID. While each had slightly differing tactics, the overall strategies are the same with a basic requirement to invest in connectivity to ensure a seamless transition into a productive hybrid-working future.
Speaking with an IT leader at a Big Four accountancy firm, he mentioned that they are not looking at cutting back on office connectivity as they transition from the heights of the pandemic. Their aim is to offer a good hybrid experience. Similarly, a customer from a British power utility company mentioned their goal is to make meetings feel more personal than they currently do and to make network changes such as increasing VPN capability.
A senior IT decision maker at a consultancy firm mentioned security is a huge issue now, with the adoption of SaaS based apps, both authorized and unauthorized. This is where the
emerging concept of Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) comes into play. SASE involves taking more agile corporate networking platforms like SD-WAN and integrating additional security functionality that expands beyond next-generation firewalls to include more comprehensive cloud-based security tools more directly linked to individual user access credentials. This approach endeavors to integrate all aspects of networking and security, to minimize security gaps and maximize performance while improving network visibility and efficiency.
The Key Takeaways
It’s clear from our conversations with IT leaders that companies are well on their way in their planning for the hybrid workforce. Several notable requirements will drive networking strategies:
1) Digital collaboration
Video conferencing has kept employees connected during the pandemic and the need for collaboration tools is set to remain, as companies reduce travel expenditures and employees change behavior. The hybrid workforce will mean employees remain relatively dispersed between the home and office; therefore, a mixture of in-person and virtual meetings will need to be supported.
2) Investment in the cloud
The cloud has provided a lifeline for many businesses during the pandemic. However, the increased reliance on the cloud goes hand in hand with the need for secure, office internet breakout and software-defined networking technology to enable optimized application performance. SD-WAN will allow traffic to be prioritised and ensure bandwidth is allocated in the most optimal way. This ability to prioritise traffic across networks ensures the growth in the use of cloud platforms doesn’t outpace bandwidth availability to the point where applications run slowly or even crash.
3) Cybersecurity must work harder and reach further
The increasing cyberthreat landscape has elevated security to become a top priority for IT leaders. IT teams must shift their focus to the latest security techniques based on “zero trust” whereby network access that is enabled through an identity- and context-based, logical-access boundary around an application or set of applications rather than access protections being driven by the network perimeter itself. The introduction of SASE networking takes this protection one step further. SASE treats the enterprise as a distributed network of endpoint connections. Users can access their resources quickly and efficiently, no matter where they are.
As businesses contemplate the future of the office, it’s clear the network will continue to be a vital component of an IT strategy in the hybrid workforce model. A network with more intelligence at the edge that offers greater flexibility, the ability to prioritise traffic and integrated security will be key capabilities to ensure a smooth transition back into the office for the many employees who now work differently than they did pre-pandemic.
About the Author
Jonathan Brown is Senior Vice President Marketing at GTT and has more than 20 years of marketing leadership experience. Prior to GTT, Brown was head of marketing at Interoute. Brown started his career at advertising and PR agencies in London. GTT connects people across organizations, around the world and to every application in the cloud. Our clients benefit from an outstanding service experience built on our core values of simplicity, speed and agility. GTT owns and operates a global Tier 1 internet network and provides a comprehensive suite of cloud networking services. For more information on GTT, please visit www.gtt.net.