In every industry, innovation and productivity in the digital era require distributed computing across high-performing, ubiquitous networks that can scale to meet ever-increasing demands. This has always been the case, but it is now truer than it’s ever been.
COVID-19 has introduced a new mode of working and living with major implications for the underlying networks stitching our world together. Networking executives and managers must come to grips with a constantly evolving environment that is rendering the home the new micro-branch of the future.
In the early days of the pandemic, the typical organization suddenly went from a small number of branch offices to thousands or tens of thousands working from home. Companies scrambled to ensure reliable and fast connections and data security to keep people productive and meeting business demands.
That level of service will remain a priority at companies, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Square, that have said they plan to allow many or all of their employees to work from home forever. Other organizations will face a different challenge, as fragmented workforces – some home-based, others in newly re-opened offices, with wide capacity and geographical variations – complicate efforts to monitor massive networks, secure the perimeter, and gain insights into the end-user experience.
In this new normal, IT professionals have much more on their plates than worrying about whether Slack is up or down.
All of this means that a goal of greater simplicity in how organizations consume networking assets and services has become even more urgent. As organizations navigate how they can maximize resources in the difficult post-COVID-19 landscape, they no longer can afford the inefficiencies of networks that are too complex to build and manage. Driving greater simplicity must become nothing less than an industry-wide obsession.
Here are four critical necessities that every organization needs to be thinking about in this new era:
1) The new water cooler: In the near term, make sure you’re using simple, common-sense approaches to ensure smooth operations. Members of the technology and executive teams who used to meet in the hallway of the office should be closely aligned to inform understanding of the ongoing impact of remaining restrictions, schedules for when people will return to the office, and to what extent the office/remote mix has changed permanently. Take inventory of any technology issues that have been reported so far and use them to inform the solutions and improve the performance or resiliency of critical assets/services.
2) Basic redundancy and maintenance: Ensure that even the most basic items on the IT checklist – such as patching all servers to N or N-1 – are being consistently taken care of. The last thing an organization needs these days is performance or security problems arising because the IT team had failed to put in place the safest and best-supported versions of software. In other words, see this time as an opportunity to spotlight deficiencies and make sure the networking house is in order, and address them. These moves help companies streamline operations and leverage technology as cost savers and value adders, rather than cost centers.
3) Simplicity: Make simplicity the defining characteristic in the design and implementation of every aspect of every networking service. Only one thing matters: How can the organization consistently scale up to keep up with the explosive growth of users, devices, and applications? Then ask: What is getting in the way? Inefficient processes? Poor documentation? Functionality bloat?
For example, an organization could define parameters, such as “We will not release any technology unless it is easy to configure, enables easy automation, and supports industry standards and protocols to assure interoperability.”
This was true without COVID-19, but the pandemic’s fallout has made it all the more crucial not to bog down networking processes and tasks with confusion and complexity. Organizations now must make sure they have a constant feedback loop to identify any processes, tasks, or services that are too complex.
4) Automate: Embracing AIOps and freeing up IT staff to work on more strategic initiatives will make your business more competitive. Taking the human element out of routine and manual networking tasks – monitoring, maintenance, troubleshooting, and implementation – has become critical to scaling a network in a simple way. Automation acts as a networking team multiplier, allowing a company to scale without necessarily adding more team resources.
Though the pandemic has forced organizations to reassess IT spending habits to offset business changes, they continue to invest in technologies such as artificial intelligence that are defining the digital future, according to IDC.
“Technology has proven to be key in keeping businesses afloat by enabling remote work, agile business, and external digital engagement,” the analyst firm wrote. “In the longer-term, organizations will leverage technology to underpin every process, initiative, and value chain as they journey to the next normal. More now than ever, organizations are looking for new ideas and emerging best practices from their technology partners.”
Every crisis is full of valuable learnings. For networking leaders, one of the biggest lessons from this one is clear: Greater simplicity must be an obsession.