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The future of the workplace is digital: here’s how to nail it

With vaccination campaigns rolling out, lockdowns lifting and borders opening, it seems the global economy is slowly getting back in gear. But that doesn’t mean that things are going back to the old normal – especially when it comes to the workplace. By Sander Barens, Chief Commercial Officer, Expereo.

If we go back 20 odd years, the connectivity aspect of the office environment was pretty straightforward. Companies would have their network spread across a couple of HQs; applications would be hosted in on-site servers; and staff would be connected via the same link. Today, however, end-users are everywhere. They've gone out of what once was a controlled network environment into multiple locations, creating what we call the ‘digital workplace’.

The digital workplace isn’t a “place”. It’s in the connections between locations, people and tools that allow for seamless collaboration across all the different applications used by the organization. The tools need some very specific qualities as to what they do and how they work together. But the people, you’ve already got. The challenge is to make sure that there is proactive support for the whole adoption of this new, digital way of working.

This involves non-technical aspects such as management practices, organizational processes and team responsibilities. Once that’s been taken care of, leaders should assess how well positioned they are to take advantage of everything that collaboration offers – that’s when the right tools come into play.

Moving to the cloud

Working in the cloud is what fundamentally allows for remote collaboration. By hosting applications in cloud services rather than on-site, enterprises give users access to company resources in real-time, from anywhere, on any device – as long as it’s all connected. Compute loads and data bandwidth need constant monitoring, balancing, and capacity management. In order for applications to work in an optimized fashion, you need high bandwidth and 24/7 availability, meaning that the investments made on applications need to be properly supported and underpinned by an effective connectivity solution.

Making connections

Distributed sites may rely on an Internet Service Provider or telco, but digital nomads need equally reliable mobile connections on the road, while those working-from-home may use their own broadband connection. All can be addressed by different underlay types of connectivity, such as fixed internet, mobile internet, and / or Bring Your Own Access (BYOA). The overlay, in turn, securely and intelligently steers traffic across multiple sites, adjusting bandwidth where it’s needed most.

Virtualizing your business network

The Internet itself is not one big happy cloud. You need further insights in order to make sure that you've chosen the right local connectivity options and that the routing to your sites and employees is in an optimized way. That’s where SD-WAN can help.

SD-WAN is a virtual private network for businesses, acting as an overlay for a company’s existing network solution (may it be MPLS, broadband Internet, mobile 4G/5G or a hybrid model). It separates the network control and management processes from the underlying hardware, making them available as software. By using a centralized control function, it securely and intelligently steers traffic across multiple sites, adjusting bandwidth where it’s needed most.

SD-WAN is also secure by design, as it runs on encrypted end-to-end tunnels that are built across the whole network. But, with devices, data, and apps far from the corporate HQ, and connectivity taking place on public wi-fi and home broadband, it’s no longer sufficient to secure access only to the network, however good a job SD-WAN does of that.

Getting sassy with SASE

Security, of course, makes connectivity effective. That’s the reason for SASE, or Secured Access Service Edge. SASE is about secure access at the application level, with the emphasis shifted to authenticating users and devices on an as-permitted basis at the network perimeter, rather than the once-you’re-in-you’re-in approach of a typical in-house setup – from user identification to logins and permissions, removing penetration risks at every step of the connection between people.

Granting access to specific applications rather than the network as a whole, with IP cloaking making that access invisible even to malware on a compromised device, keeps the network perimeter safe. The door is not merely open or closed; it’s a hidden door that only opens to people who know it’s there.

The value of Smart Edge

Cloud computing, SD-WAN, SASE… all relate to Smart Edge. Smart Edge’s purpose is simple: to make sure devices work and interoperate smoothly, so users don’t have to waste time grappling with technology. It’s not a product per se, but a catch-all term for the managed services you get from a Managed Service Provider, making products from different hardware and software sources work together. After all, it’s only when people feel truly connected, wherever they are and whatever equipment they’re on, that they truly feel part of the same team. And that’s how you nail the digital workplace.

By Eric Newcomer, CTO and Ricardo Diniz, VP and General Manager, UK I and Southern Europe, WSO2.
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