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Living on the Edge

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(Image: Pixabay)

Well, it’s been nearly a year since the Great Disruption. That’s what I’m calling it, anyway, as it seems appropriate. Work, school, lives, and business have all been utterly disrupted – and transformed – by the existence of COVID-19.

While many aspects of living during a pandemic will fade into memory and the history books, some changes are permanent. The accelerated pace toward a digital existence is still leading to the same place: a digital existence. We’re just getting there a lot faster than we thought we would. So let’s look at how that’s working out, shall we?

Remote Work  

You can’t mention the lasting effects of COVID without remote work.

An interesting side effect is that many coworkers have never met face to face. New hires have been onboarded remotely, with no indication when they might find out if coworkers are taller than them.

Yes, that’s really a question I’ve discussed with coworkers hired in the past year.

There are myriad surveys that tell us remote work will continue. If organizations can support a fully remote or hybrid workforce, they will. My relatively obscure tenure as a distributed, remote employee is over. Most of you will be joining me.

Just a note: pants are optional but highly encouraged.

Remote Life  

It may be hard to believe, but there are consumers who were first introduced to remote shopping due to the pandemic. In fact, 9% of consumers made their very first remote purchase in 2020. Yes, I know, it's "digital" or "online" shopping, but it's also remote. I shop locally, nationally, and globally. Location doesn’t matter as much as accessibility today, and digital options abound. And you really can't talk about digital shopping without mentioning digital banking because, without the latter, the former isn't workable.

Neither are expected to fade away. Multiple surveys indicate that a significant percentage of households will likely increase their use of digital grocery and delivery services, and experts predict the shift to a mostly digital-only model for banking will continue to rise at a steady pace.  

Use of mobile banking apps, for example, reached 72% of customers at the four largest U.S. banks in April 2020, up nearly ten percentage points from 2019, American Banker reported, citing J.D. Power research.

From video games to streaming entertainment, from paying your bills to scheduling appointments, we are all living on the edge (of the Internet) now.

Technology Shifts

A digital life relies on technology. And technology is rapidly moving to support this new, highly distributed existence because the sudden onboarding of millions of people to a digital life has been disruptive to the network, to applications, and to business.

Life on the edge has disrupted connectivity.

The rollout of 5G is accelerating to address the sudden deluge of traffic at the far-flung edges of the Internet that disrupt our Zoom sessions and interrupt our online games. While many enjoy the respite from congestion during their daily commute, the congestion from an increasing volume of traditional Internet traffic has replaced it.

Global internet bandwidth rose last year by 35%, a substantial increase over the previous year's "modest" 26%. Driven largely by the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this represents the largest one year increase since 2013, and has driven up the most recent four-year CAGR to 29%.(Telegeography.com)

5G will provide relief for some, but it’s not a panacea. Sadly, it won’t improve problems with my cable-based broadband, and service providers are struggling to accelerate plans to provide more capable fiber access in the more remote regions of the world. Like my house.

Welcome to the edge, where we might have access to fiber service in the next two to three years.

Life on the edge has disrupted security.

Traditional notions of a perimeter – however expansive – have proven inadequate to support the need for secure access to networks and consoles, and apps. Zero-trust and SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) are suddenly two of the hottest topics in security. Both offer solutions that address inadequacies of existing solutions but are also suffering from hype. Like cloud and DevOps, if it can be somehow labeled as Zero-trust or SASE, it will be. That tends to result in cautious adoption. Still, interest in both is high, and the more permanent the remote work situation, the more demand will grow for solid solutions.  

Life on the edge has disrupted performance.

Pressure on the local and regional networks that support "the edge" of the Internet has exposed a weakness in existing multi-cloud strategies. Issues with high-demand applications and services caused outages and frustration, despite being hosted in the “scalable” public cloud. Local network capacity constantly strains connectivity and forces participants to shift to "audio-only" during video conferences. While public cloud managed to decentralize the data center, it has not been able to distribute it to address the ever-present challenge of the last mile. The emerging edge promises to do just that. 

Life on the edge is more or less permanent.

Having enjoyed the benefits of an increasingly digital existence, most consumers are not only willing but demand to continue living on the edge. This desire will continue to be a forcing function for business not just to provide but expand their digital presence to meet consumers and employees where they are.

And where they are is living on the edge.  

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