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The evolution of networks for the hybrid workplace

September 27, 2021

Genius Wong   

Genius Wong, Executive Vice President – Core and Next-Gen Connectivity Services, and Chief Technology Officer

The last 15 months have significantly altered the digital transformation journey for most organisations. In this blog, Genius Wong, Chief Technology Officer, Tata Communications, explores how organisations are strategising on aspects of business continuity and digitalisation to ensure the productivity of a remote and distributed workforce. 

As you move forward, besides continuity and resilience, the ability to offer high-quality digital-first experiences for your employees, customers, and partners will become the cornerstone for digital investments. This is increasingly a critical need; as highlighted in a recent survey of over 750 executives commissioned by Tata Communications, only 46% of CEOs and COOs believed that their organisations were strong at offering a high-quality user experience across their value chain.

Taking this a step further, many global organisations now recognise the need to transform their conventional networks, which have been operating on a hub-and-spoke model, to now cater for emerging dynamic business requirements. Nearly half of surveyed respondents stated that their firms’ productivity decreased during the crisis due to connection problems. By contrast, Digital Trailblazers have achieved a productivity boost of 67% since the pandemic began.

In this blog, I explore some of the common areas that you could be wrestling with in the new hybrid world as well as the transition to deliver quality digital experiences for employees and customers.

  1. Transitioning to Cloud First and Internet First

Traditional enterprise network architectures were neither architected for the cloud, nor were they intended to facilitate digital transformation (IDC, 2020) [1]

In a hybrid workplace, you want to drive seamless consistent collaboration both internally and with customers in a secure manner across the globe. A key enabler to achieving this is to embrace a cloud-first and internet-first strategy. By taking this step, you are moving away from a distributed architecture and hub-and-spoke enterprise-grade network. As a result, your reliance on traditional enterprise networks and fixed design is no longer an impediment to operations. However, migration to cloud and use of the internet creates two major challenges: 1) network architecture design to enable accessibility to data and apps on cloud; and 2) ensuring security. True, working from anywhere will include the use of the public internet to access corporate critical applications and systems. The internet is inherently vulnerable to cyberattack and is best effort in its performance.

“You need to ensure you can deliver secure and seamless remote access to core enterprise applications over untrusted networks and strike the right balance between ensuring security and not making access too difficult.”

There is also the added complexity of managing multi-internet service providers across the globe and navigating the varying geographic regulations, which can quickly become a major overhead with a global distributed workforce and set of offices.

  1. Embedding more intelligence

By the end of 2024, 75% of enterprises will shift from piloting to operationalising AI, driving a 5x increase in streaming data and analytics infrastructures (Gartner, 2020)

The new architecture for this hybrid work environment needs not only to be agile, scalable, and flexible, but also to make use of AI and ML, for example, using AI to help with capacity planning and managing your network in a more dynamic and agile fashion.

“At Tata Communications, in our own use case, we are starting to provide this along with associated data analytics to help simplify service and network management.”

We also use ML to carry out a lot of predictive and proactive management of the network, looking at data and trends to take preventive measures quickly. These will be key industry trends and will continue to evolve as we move into 2022.

  1. Optimising and building a new hybrid network for efficiency and productivity

The pandemic has resulted in a recalibration of cloud strategies, where collaboration, mobility, and virtual desktops are rapidly moving to the cloud to enable a distributed and secure workforce (Gartner, 2021)

This new network architecture, embracing internet, cloud, and intelligence, will need to support both the new digital business model and the new hybrid work environment. Solutions need to reduce cost but also provide consistent user performance, a uniform SLA, and complete visibility.

One example of a use case is that of a global bank looking to achieve superior site-to-site communications and accelerate cloud adoption, and to enable this we would see it adopt a strategy that provides internet connections to all its different branches across India from a public cloud provider. This would help it not only reduce cost but also optimise performance.

Similarly, with a pharmaceutical company that is perhaps migrating its global network from pure MPLS to a hybrid environment – combining both MPLS and internet would help achieve cost savings and provide a ‘single pane of glass’, giving greater visibility and control across all networks. In each of these scenarios, these businesses save money as well as gaining a flexible network, required for a productive hybrid workplace.

  1. Building an agile network architecture

By 2022, SD-WAN will be adopted by 67% of organisations (IDC, 2020) [2]

In the hybrid world, the key is to find the right balance of connectivity between the office and your remote workers. To do this you need to examine:

  • where the traffic comes from and how to redirect it such that the access gateways are not congested
  • how much should be on the internet
  • how much can be ‘burstable’ and how much can be stopped? For example, one country could be in the midst of a lockdown while another country could be seeing workers going back to the office
  • ultimately, how you can dynamically sense and shift traffic around.

To address this, you need an agnostic network that deploys quickly to meet dynamic business needs. SD-WAN is part of the solution; for example, a new site can be provisioned remotely. In addition, there is also a need for on-demand solutions, especially with connectivity to a major data center and cloud provider. The panacea is to essentially be able to select the kind of connectivity capacity you need by time, by day, and for how long you need it – all under the customer’s control.

  1. Protecting your business from the new risks that are exposed in this new model

Corporate, guest, trusted, and untrusted devices all pose a risk to the enterprise if I&O leaders do not properly coordinate when and how they will be connected. (Gartner, 2021)

Security is key in enabling your hybrid workplace, moving from a perimeter-based security model with IP addresses and locations to an adaptive access-policy approach using integrated identity endpoint management and security tools.

This approach allows you to evaluate the risk based on user identity and device trust. It’s about enabling a continuous complete risk assessment of the endpoints or unified endpoint management.

“True agility will be network on demand; dynamically moving connectivity up and down with an assured SLA.”

Using AI and ML, this provisioning could be automated – the activation and downgrading capacity all taken care of without human intervention. To conclude, no longer are the internal network and external network two separate worlds. You need an integrated policy across both, which means you can start to deploy new technology and reap the rewards. It’s time to create a truly dynamic network for an unpredictable hybrid world.

For more information on this, read our eBook Accelerate Your Workplace Evolution.