Autonomous, segmented and simplified: building a network adapted to the challenges of the digital age

By Laurent Bouchoucha, VP Business Development Network Solutions - Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise.

The pandemic has accelerated major digital transformation projects. After 18 months of forced adaptation and lockdowns, all sectors of the economy are now aware of the need to transform themselves: to increase productivity, retain consumers, or retain talent who have adopted teleworking as a way of harmonising their professional and personal lives.

However, even the most mature companies vis-à-vis the hybridisation of work have been caught up by the new cyber threats that have exploded since the beginning of the health crisis.1 Between the revolution in work, the exponential development of connected objects and the omnichannel processing of information, IT systems departments have a major challenge to meet: how to secure an increasingly complex network infrastructure exposed to the digital age.

Hybridisation of work: the enemy within

Among the big lessons to be learned from working remotely, we must now realise that cyber threats also come from within an organisation. The firewall has always been necessary but never sufficient in terms of protection. It is even less sufficient because of the new mobility of employees and in the face of a hybrid IT network, between physical servers and the cloud.

The "Zero Trust" model is becoming the norm for companies, which must consider that everything outside the company is potentially hostile, but also control suspicious behaviour inside the system.

While we are talking about breaking down silos, the network must be able to segment each user and connected object to isolate them from the rest of the infrastructure in the event of a compromise.

Multiplication of connected objects: new uses, new threats

By definition, connected objects (IoT) are designed to meet a purpose: to interact with other IoT or people, and integrate them into a process. Whether used in industry (IIoT), in the medical (IoTM) or generically, each object is a potential flaw for the security of companies. Indeed, their ultra-specialisation does not allow for a very high level of security.

But these IoTs are a new gateway for hacks of all kinds. In order not to compromise the integrity of the organisation, virtual network segmentation is essential to identify, inventory and manage connected objects in a secure way.

Omnichannel communication: multitasking... multi-risk?

At the crossroads of the two previous revolutions, companies are now faced with the complexity of communications. For employees, it is a question of using multiple and agile telecommunications tools to ensure business continuity. For customers, it will be necessary to offer them the most suitable "contact" tool: voice, emails, instant messaging or chatbot, social networks, etc.

Channel diversification requires both resizing networks and securing them, by encrypting communications and flows from end to end, to avoid any risk of flaws or data capture.

Automate, segment, simplify: three pillars of a network in the digital age

These challenges, which are currently faced by CIOs, are unfortunately not, or are poorly, addressed by most companies, because their general management has not effectively assessed the measure of the risks.

In a pragmatic and simple way, here are the three areas of improvement to comply the network with the requirements of organisations and their stakeholders:

● The need to build an autonomous network, to easily, systematically, and securely connect people, network processes, connected objects (ever more numerous) and their applications, without having to reconfigure the network.

● The virtual segmentation of the network, micro or macro, must be designed to be scalable, to integrate in an efficient and secure way a multitude of connected objects, internal or external to the organisation (especially with the increasing BYOD trend)

● Simplifying workflows through their digitalisation. Productivity is thus improved by the immediate presentation of data (IoT or business) for the fastest decision-making. The company's employees can concentrate on higher value-added analyses.

For companies, the investment is not negligible, but the long-term benefits are numerous. That's why user experience analysis is important. Let's forget the simple aspect of teleworking to imagine the additional services that a robust, resilient, and secure network could provide. Predictive maintenance of large critical industries and infrastructure would be greatly improved and would allow for more targeted, less time consuming and costly patches. For the teams, automatic identification would allow a better allocation of tasks, even in a "nomadic" use. Finally, it would also be easier to geolocate lost, misplaced, or stolen connected objects such as wheelchairs in a hospital, identification badges, tablets, etc.

All the examples cited aim to improve working conditions, accessibility or productivity of employees and the satisfaction of customers or users. This requires building a network "of the digital age": tailor-made, depending on a sector of activity, able to be deployed with the same level of intelligence in classic office environments, nomadic or constrained, from elements compatible with all current and future network technology (Wi-Fi, Ethernet, SD-WAN, SD branch, etc.). Thus, the network will be adapted, secure, robust, and durable.

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