Digital Acceleration and the Next Normal

We have seen incredible and rapid change in recent times. The idea of “digital transformation” for instance has seen its definition shift dramatically.

For a long time, most of us accepted that the concept involved a long-term strategy to adopt new technologies that would help us to modernize business processes, achieve greater efficiency and in an ideal world cut costs. But the moment the global health crisis struck the entire world stopped and so did just about every digital transformation project.

At first, the response to COVID-19 called for steps that felt less like long-term change than immediate actions to enable the continuity and stability to ensure organizations could continue to operate and people could work safely.

Then, the need to reduce cost and risk took precedence as organizations large and small looked to optimize their environments and entered what could be considered an “efficiency phase.”

Now, as we embark on the earliest stages of a recovery, the idea of digital transformation has re-emerged as an initiative that encompasses the process of defining, designing and delivering on the “next normal.” We understand that many things will never be the same. Some of the ways we live, work, and do business will require a re-model. Others will need a new model altogether.

Accelerating to the Next Normal

How the next normal looks will vary by industry, region and organization but two things we know are: 1) it will be digital-first and 2) it will move faster than ever.

Today, modernization is no longer an IT aspiration – it’s an operational necessity.  Consider the following:

  • An online consumer is 4 times more likely to switch to a competitor if they experience service-related problems (Source: Glance)
  • As many as 78% of consumers have backed out of an online purchase because of bad user experience (Source: Glance)
  • When it comes to adopting a new technology or process, cultural resistance can persist for up to 24 months, making the need to begin the process of change more urgent than ever (Source: Gartner)

Now, to compete and grow, organizations will need to harness this state of digital acceleration, a dedicated effort to rapidly modernize by:

  • Embracing an agile business model: Using modernized applications and infrastructure platforms that support the new requirements of doing business and ensure the ideal customer experience to drive revenue growth.
  • Rethinking the future of work: Re-imagining the workforce and enabling them with secure workspaces and collaboration platforms.

Let’s examine these two vital considerations for technology leaders as they begin to accelerate on the road to recovery.

Embracing an Agile Business Model

In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, clothing retailer Zara reported losing over $465 million as 88% of its mall locations closed due to public health and safety measures. In the same period, however, the company’s online sales grew 95%.

As a result, Zara plans to invest $3 billion in developing its online shopping experiences [1].

In the next normal, an inability to adapt to change or innovate at or faster than the pace of the competition will put many organizations at risk of falling behind.

Embracing agile business is about seizing an opportunity to modernize the way you do business and – most important – to differentiate the way you interact with and serve your customers.

This is no easy task.

Some of the organizations we work with have told us, “We have legacy applications and systems we can’t change as fast as we need to.” In fact, organizations today spend 60 to 80% of their IT budgets on maintaining and operating traditional systems, leaving less time and resources for modernization initiatives. [2] Furthermore, 50% of IT leaders say the need to maintain traditional systems is impeding their efforts to transform. [3]

Others asked, “Our competitor’s digital strategy is taking our client base – what technologies should we consider?” Even with a modern, agile approach, Gartner finds 90% of organizations have said the need for skills in cloud infrastructure and emerging technologies outstrips demand.

How can your organization achieve a state of digital acceleration as an agile business?

  • Divest from infrastructure that doesn’t differentiate you: Avoid the burden of managing infrastructure that doesn’t drive a modern and streamlined customer or employee experience by embracing cloud technologies.
  • Focus on building a culture of rapid innovation: Pinpoint and remove barriers to adoption for agile methodologies, DevOps and automation to bring differentiated products and services to market faster.
  • Extend existing on-premises assets where required: Use modern cloud platforms to extend the traditional data center and modernize applications with less complexity and risk.

Rethinking the Future of Work

Over the past several months, employees everywhere have experienced the kind of transformation expected to take years in a matter of weeks – or even days. Where remote work was once considered a perk by some, it’s become a reality for many, perhaps indefinitely.

The immediate response to COVID-19 required IT leaders, along with their business and human resources counterparts, to provide for what their users needed right away: To be able to resume business as usual, safely and securely, with the same quality of experience.

To this end, many organizations needed to implement or drive adoption of new solutions for collaboration, security, remote access and virtual desktops.  As an example, between March 18 and April 29, Microsoft Teams saw 43 million new daily users, a growth of 134% in just over a month. This kind of application adoption has had a considerable impact on IT management and end-user enablement as organizations had to figure out how to deploy, manage and educate remotely.

And many organizations are still adapting to these changes.

Being ready for the future of work involves not only adapting to what the user needs today but also re-imagining the workplace to provide what they need to be successful in the next normal.

This calls for IT leaders to remove the barriers between the physical and digital workplace and break down silos around IT to connect the people, processes, and technologies to support growth and innovation.

How can your organization improve its readiness for the future of work?

  • Remove the barriers between the physical and digital workplace: Bring everyone together with a simple experience via modern working environments that run on cloud-based applications.
  • Empower IT to deliver a great employee experience: Onboard the right management and security solutions to make the employee experience easy to deploy, manage and protect.
  • Build the best employee experience for your organization: Design and deliver an end-to-end productivity and collaboration solution customized for your end-user requirements.
  • Get the most from your investments by ensuring adoption: Leverage strategic partnerships to drive structured on-boarding and usage of new tools and provide ongoing training and IT mentorship.

How Softchoice Will Continue to Help

The road to recovery from the global pandemic will look different for every organization.

From adapting to new challenges to defining your own next normal, Softchoice is here to help you make the right decisions to sustain momentum out of the crisis and thrive in recovery.

 

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

Explore Softchoice services for Cloud and Enabling End Users.

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.