What You Do Now Defines Your Recovery

Events of the past few months have forced organizations to make technology changes and investments that they weren’t expecting or that were planned for further in the future. In short order, new priorities supplanted existing plans, with long-term transformation projects paused in favor of immediate actions to adjust to new operating environments and  ensure business continuity.

The reality for your workforce, customers and partners has already undergone lasting change. There is likely more change to come. How you respond now will define your recovery from the crisis. But the question isn’t “What will our organization look like after the recovery?” but rather “What do we want it to look like?”

With the right approach and the right guidance, what you do now will not only help you recover but also compete and thrive post-recovery.

It’s important that business and IT leaders keep this in mind and continue to build momentum as they work through the phases of response and recovery:

  1. Enabling remote work capabilities
  2. Ensuring security and performance for core IT services
  3. Reducing costs and increasing ROI on existing assets
  4. Translating change into competitive advantage

Below, we explore the ways technology leaders can leverage this moment of change to drive innovation and establish a model for revenue growth once on the path to recovery.

 

Adapting to Change and Stabilizing a New Environment

When the implications of COVID-19 became apparent, organizations were singularly focused on adapting to fast-changing conditions and short-term needs as business continuity plans were defined and activated. Even for those who were somewhat prepared, the shift to all-remote work was jarring, as IT departments had to deploy or update the applications and the infrastructure they ran on. For those less prepared, it placed crisis on-top of crisis.

There just wasn’t enough time to lay the groundwork for a fully-fledged, secure and connected remote work strategy. Users may have been asked to adopt an unfamiliar working scenario or tools they weren’t used to overnight. After the initial deployment, challenges around use and support arose.

Next came the need to support a stable, workable employee experience in the new all-remote environment. This produced its own challenges as networks came under unusual stress, people learned how to work in the new reality and cyber criminals wasted no time exploiting the confusion.

The silver lining: The journey from business-as-usual to all-remote work at the outset has already started either to rapidly define or push forward a digital workplace strategy.

If you weren’t transforming through technology six weeks ago, you likely are now.

The roll out of modern collaboration, remote access and the accompanying security and network changes has equipped your organization to be more flexible, more secure and less tied to the core office environment and the proverbial walled garden.

The pandemic has also prompted many businesses to ask the question, “is it what we’re selling or how we’re selling?” For example, take a brick-and-mortar butcher that has embraced digital ordering and curbside pickup to accommodate physical distancing requirements. Already, the owner reports higher satisfaction from customers as they pick up purchases rather than wait in long lines the way they had pre-crisis. Meanwhile, selling through digital pre-order means the owners keep less inventory on-hand and dramatically reduced waste.

In short, transforming through technology, albeit quickly and out of necessity, has improved the customer experience while making the business more efficient.

If you’ve been through this kind of change, you already have more flexibility around the digital workplace, where and how you recruit talent and deliver products and services to your customers.

Security and Stability to Reduced Cost and Risk

The economic impact of the pandemic is ongoing and cost management has become urgent for organizations in every vertical. IT departments have or are about to enter an “efficiency phase” aimed at reducing costs and increasing return on existing investments.

Many organizations are now embarking on the process of rationalizing software, infrastructure (and in some unfortunate cases, personnel). At this stage, it’s important to stay focused on gains in stability as you look for ways to reduce short-term cost and risk.

It’s also important to keep in mind that recovery will begin eventually. Steps taken toward cost efficiency now should aim at streamlining for faster growth and innovation in that recovery stage. Simply put, you can come out of this an “optimized” organization.

Meanwhile, IT departments may have to find ways to support this new environment with fewer resources than they had before. The need to establish a zero-trust security posture hasn’t gone away, but options for doing so may be more limited. Every organization has its own financial needs and pressures that impact technology spending and many will be looking at new models of subscription, financing and leasing.

The streamlining of IT operations and infrastructure, while difficult today, will set up efficiencies that support a strong recovery.

There is no financial solution that fits every situation. For example, while shifting to subscription or OPEX (operational expenditure) models may work for some, this doesn’t suit organizations with cash flow or debt covenant issues. Considering the right financial options to meet your specific budget and technology needs will be paramount.

Nonetheless, rightsizing the data center or a broader use of public cloud to optimize efficiency, rationalizing licenses and augmenting your own resources with cost-efficient solutions will set you up for agility later. As another upside, many CIOs and IT leaders have received long overdue support for business continuity planning (BCP), modern collaboration and other transformation initiatives.

Driving Efficiency to Thriving in Recovery  

The journey out of finding efficiencies and into recovery will build on the lessons learned in enabling remote work and streamlining costs. In this phase, the steps you took to ensure you got to recovery, done the right way, will help you gain a competitive advantage and thrive once there. In some cases, the crisis has put transformative projects into higher gear, by highlighting the urgent need for modern, agile IT tools and infrastructure.

The PwC COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey in April found that half of those surveyed intend to make remote work a permanent option for roles that allow. Meanwhile, 40% said that COVID-19 has prompted them to explore the use of technology to enable automation and new ways of working.

This includes redefining the way you work and collaborate through IT automation, analytics and governance. It also includes innovating new ways to connect with and support customers for continued revenue growth. Sticking to this goal as you drive your decision-making in response to the pandemic will help ensure you thrive. To this end, organizations should re-evaluate their digital transformation agenda with the following changes in mind.

Most if not all the workforce is working remotely today – to what extent will this become permanent? What lessons about remote work can you apply on a lasting basis?

When the time comes, returning to work safely will require a holistic strategy that pulls together technology, facilities and human resources groups as well as senior leaders.

Your approach to engaging with employees and customers may have changed out of necessity. But that process of innovation should continue to have a positive impact during recovery and beyond.

How Softchoice Will Continue to Help

The response to the global pandemic has not been easy on any organization, but the hard work they are doing today has the potential to help them come back stronger and more competitive than before.

From adapting to change and ensuring business continuity to driving efficiency and setting the stage for future growth, Softchoice can help you make the right choices to build and sustain momentum out of the crisis and into recovery.

Are you ready to re-imagine your digital transformation journey?

Explore Rapid Response services.

Is Your Network Ready to Support a Remote Workforce?

The recent surge in full-time remote workers is putting corporate networks under unusual stress.

More people than ever are connecting through virtual private networks (VPNs), taking frequent video calls or meetings and accessing business applications from outside the office.

Without a LAN/WAN infrastructure designed and optimized for the new all-remote workforce, poor connectivity and degraded performance may be frustrating end users. Over time, these issues could prevent people from being their most productive while working from home full-time.

The keys to improving network performance while supporting remote work lie in alleviating network traffic, better supporting bandwidth-intensive applications and routing traffic intelligently. An assessment-led approach will help you map the traffic patterns in your current networking infrastructure and identify the main areas for improvement.

Below, we’ll look at the three key questions you need to ask to pinpoint problems and remove the barriers to network readiness for a remote workforce.

#1 Are you using best practices for VPN?

A sudden increase in the volume of connections can overwhelm a VPN infrastructure designed to support a limited remote workforce. In some cases, the surge in volume strains VPN concentrators at the edge of the network while in others, the number of VPN circuits isn’t enough to support a much higher-than-usual number of users.

As such, the response to COVID-19 has put many IT departments under pressure to scale their VPN implementations in days or weeks. Consider the following advice to ensure your VPN solution is ready to alleviate the traffic resulting from a massive spike in volume.

  • Upgrading VPN bandwidth: Remember, users expect the same connection speed from a corporate VPN as they have in the office. You may need to upgrade your VPN solution to handle bandwidth usage from a much higher volume of users.
  • Stress testing for stability: The ability to handle 24-hour connectivity requirements is a must for many organizations, especially those supporting essential services. Ensuring your VPN implementation is stable at all hours is critical.
  • Strong encryption and authentication: More users than usual will be connecting over unsecured public internet connections. It’s important to verify that traffic to and from the corporate network is safe. To this end, consider implementing multi-factor or other advanced authentication methods.
  • Cost-efficient licensing: As cost considerations become more important during this period, making sure you can afford to scale your VPN solution to accommodate the entire workforce is a primary concern. Ensure your VPN solution provider will support a cost-effective scale up in user and device counts.

#2 Are you doing everything you can to support bandwidth-intensive applications?

Working from home full-time has prompted a dramatic rise in the number of people participating in video calls and meetings. Meanwhile, users accustomed to using CPU or GPU-intensive applications in the office may need to do so remotely through virtual desktops.

This increase in bandwidth-intensive traffic puts a lot of strain on LAN/WAN infrastructure, leading to degraded performance and user experience.

The first step to better supporting these critical yet bandwidth-intensive applications is to assess the increase in traffic volume across a few categories: voice calls, real-time interactive video, streaming video (such as training content), collaborative applications (such as in-document collaboration tools), and bulk file transfers.

Next, it’s important to consider possible network stress points and remedies, including:

  • Traffic routing and internet access: You may need to consider rerouting network traffic to optimize performance while most or all users are connecting from outside the office. Routers, firewalls and other networking equipment may also need to be reconfigured to carry ingress and egress traffic.
  • Strain on the network edge: A surge in connections will likely strain VPN concentrators on the network edge. Virtualized solutions may be your best option to scale quickly.
  • Conference and video call limitations: Higher demand for video and conference calls may push the physical limits of equipment meant to support these calls in-office. In this case, cloud-hosted solutions may help alleviate connection problems.
  • Advanced virtual desktop requirements: You may need to support virtual desktops for “power user” profiles with CPU/GPU-intensive workflows like CAD drafting or high motion video. Here, cloud hosted VDI is a fast, cost-efficient option for scaling remote access.
  • Remote phone issues: Over longer paths, remote or “soft” phones may be subject to packet loss or latency issues. Consider diagnostic or testing tools to identify connectivity problems.

Other considerations outside the corporate IT environment may also have a hand in degrading user experience as they attempt to connect. These include:

  • Home networking equipment: The networking equipment people have at home is often less advanced than its corporate counterparts. At the same time, interference and bandwidth competition from inside the home (especially from streaming video) may be degrading connectivity.
  • Public ISP congestion: Past increases in the number of remote workers have tended to cause congestion in public ISP exchanges, especially in areas with lower public network quality. With a historic surge, many people may be experiencing added difficulty.

#3 Could SD-WAN help you improve support for critical applications and locations with intelligent traffic routing?

The shift to an all-remote workforce will cause significant changes in the way traffic flows in and out of the corporate network. Meanwhile, most legacy WAN infrastructure was designed assuming most employees would be connecting from a core office environment.

Modernizing the network by adopting SD-WAN could yield benefits, including:

  • Software-driven management and monitoring: With SD-WAN, monitoring and management happen in the cloud while traffic passes through the LAN/WAN infrastructure. This allows the network to remain secure without relying on continuous cloud connectivity.
  • Intelligent traffic routing: The leading SD-WAN vendors offer solutions with application-aware connectivity, which supports segmentation of traffic by differentiating high-priority workloads, such as productivity or collaboration tools, from typical internet usage.
  • Improved quality of experience (QoE): Intelligent routing and more predictable performance in turn support better user experience for end users along with centralized, streamlined administration for IT teams.
  • Cost efficiency: SD-WAN also eliminates the need to back-haul traffic to the data center over MPLS links, a significant cause of performance degradation, especially for cloud-based SaaS applications. As MPLS links are traditionally expensive to operate, the move to SD-WAN also has the potential to drive further cost savings in the long term.

Where to Go Next

Most corporate networks were not designed to support a sudden shift to all-remote work.

The related performance issues could be slowing productivity as calls and meetings drop, critical files fail to transfer, or users are unable to connect. Solving these issues may be critical to business continuity. The first step is to assess your current environment to pinpoint problem areas and put the necessary solutions in place.

No matter where your organization is in its response to the global pandemic, our team of experts is ready to help you identify and resolve network performance problems and in turn enable your employees for productive work from any location.

Looking for help to address network performance issues?

Watch our virtual workshop “Performance Meets Demand: Is your Network Ready to Support a Remote Workforce? on-demand. Or explore Softchoice Business Continuity solutions.

How to Address the Top 5 Remote Work Challenges for IT

 

When “business as usual” is disrupted, organizations must address these priorities:

  • Keeping employees and customers safe while sustaining operations  
  • Enabling a remote workforce for the short and long term  
  • Ensuring the business continuity plan is ready for this or any situation 

To address the human and business impact, IT leaders are being called upon to answer key questions for the following five challenges: 

Collaboration 

The Challenge: Keeping employees engaged and productive while working from home.  

  • What are the best collaboration tools for your users and workflows? 
  • Should you enable video calling and meetings for everyone? 
  • Does your current setup support these fast-evolving needs? 

Remote Access  

The Challenge: Providing secure access to applications and data from anywhere.  

  • Do you have the capacity to enable remote work for everyone?  
  • Do your users have the right equipment to work from home?  
  • How can you set up and manage work devices remotely? 

Security 

The Challenge: Protecting users and data within a decentralized environment.   

  • Are virtual private networks (VPNs) necessary for every use case?  
  • Do your cloud-based applications need additional security controls? 
  • How do you achieve visibility and protection for all-remote users? 

Network 

 The Challenge: Ensuring your infrastructure is ready to handle increased traffic. 

  • Can your network architecture support an increase in video calling?  
  • How do you assess traffic patterns and network readiness?  
  • Is a network upgrade necessary to support remote work long-term? 

Change Management & Communication  

The Challenge: Guiding employees, customers and partners through rapid change. 

  • What are the right messages to share when and with whom?  
  • Are your leaders ready to train and manage remote teams?  
  • Do your users have the tools and skills to adapt to all-remote work?

Recommendations 

Ensuring Collaboration 

  • Begin with timely end-user adoption in mind.  
  • Select the platform that’s easiest to deploy and adopt.  
  • Educate users on new tools and best practices to drive adoption and prevent shadow IT.    
  • Test your network for collaboration readiness.  

Enabling Remote Access 

  • Use desktop and application virtualization to extend and secure the digital workspace. 
  • Ensure coverage for managed, virtual and personal devices. 
  • Develop and test a mobility plan for your specific use cases. 
  • Optimize performance for cloud or on-prem. 

Preparing Your Network 

  • Assess your current identity and access, endpoint and email security solutions for a remote work scenario.  
  • Consider VPN for business apps and alternate secure options for cloud or SaaS apps.  
  • Remember short-term solutions can impact long-term security and performance.  

Helping People Through the Change 

  • Encourage senior leaders to communicate the shift and what it means to the organization.  
  • Provide success guidelines and best practices for using collaboration tools to work from home.
  • Ensure users have adequate training on new functionality, know where to find resource materials and have easy access to the support they need.

Are You Ready?  

Preparing to pursue business-as-usual, maintain the same level of real-time, person-to-person interaction while keeping users and data safe is a significant challenge facing IT leaders today.  

If you’re looking for help navigating the complex challenges around enabling a remote workforce, explore Softchoice Rapid Response services.