A CIO’s guide to driving remote flexibility: Challenges and resolutions  

  • When most people talk about remote working today, they are really talking about working from home. And of course, that is what many people are currently doing.

    What’s interesting is that, even before we entered the pandemic situation, Gartner research suggested that “By 2030, the demand for remote work will increase by 30% due to Generation Z fully entering the workforce.”1 However, the model needs to be flexible—the ability to “work from wherever,” rather than just home, is key. The challenge for CIOs is that most current workplace constructs cannot be fully scaled to support a flexible remote-working model.

  • The ability to “work from wherever,” rather than just home is key. The challenge for CIOs is that most current workplace constructs cannot be fully scaled to support a flexible remote-working model.

  • We have already mentioned that buy-in from senior leadership is critical to ensuring that an effective remote- working model is created.

    For the CIO specifically, six factors are required for an employee to be able to effectively work remotely:

    1. A scalable network enabled by automation, such as software- defined networking (SDN) and virtualized network services (VNS), that can flex to support new usage patterns with work shifting outside of offices and enable application availability prioritization
    2. Cloud-ready applications for collaboration, core operations and support
    3. Strong and secure mobile connectivity to access those applications, as well as the corporate WAN (for those that are not cloud-enabled)
    4. End-to-end monitoring of network performance to maintain control, usability and security
    5. Zero-trust security implementation that strengthens the protection of sensitive information outside of physical offices
    6. A resilient end-user support model and supply chain that can deal with spikes in teleworker demand, both in terms of calls for help and the need for laptops, tablets or other mobile devices
  • Group of people working on devices in cafe

  • For many organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the gaps in their current model that prevent scalability.

    Here are the future technological building-block investments CIOs should be focusing on now to enable them to redefine the new normal in the workplace of tomorrow:

    A scalable network

    One challenge many organizations will have to look at is the scalability of their enterprise network services (ENS), as both hardware and connections are usually restricted. The first priority is to look at core network provisioning and ensure that there is enough capacity, via either private or public internet, to enable scaling to support changing work patterns. The ability to quickly scale services is vital in a high-demand, high-usage situation. With a strong network foundation, SDN can come into its own.

  • The ability to quickly scale services is vital in a high-demand, high usage situation.

  • SDN technologies give organizations the flexibility to scale at speed by enabling the network administrator to add or remove virtual machines (either on premises or in the cloud). Services, such as virtual private network (VPN) resources, can be orchestrated by a centralized policy engine to flex and scale as the business requires. And new services, like software- based firewall services to terminate VPN traffic in an emergency work-from-home environment, can be quickly initiated on demand.

    SDN can also enable policy-driven automated workflows via application program interfaces (APIs) and dashboards, giving CIOs the benefit of network-wide visibility, analytics and control, and also allowing enterprises to more seamlessly take advantage of non-homogenous connection types.

  • Women using tablet

  • Cloud-ready applications

    A second challenge for organizations is that many applications are not ready for remote working. Most organizations use three types of applications on a daily basis:

    1. Collaboration tools—e.g., cross-platform video conferencing or unified communications
    2. Core operations—e.g., mainframe-based applications or contact center platforms
    3. Support applications—e.g., integrated payment processing

    The challenges with collaboration tools are that they are not yet universally adopted; they lack interoperability (for example, you can’t use Cisco Webex to chat with someone on Microsoft Teams); and they are often only available for the most recent operating system updates (as many of us trying to support elderly relatives by getting them to download Hangouts have recently found out). In addition, it is often difficult to use them for real-time collaborative document sharing and editing. What’s more, many require WAN access to enable employees to collaborate with partners (e.g., local deployment of Google apps).

  • The answer here is to ensure that collaboration tools are easily accessible both internally and externally, unified and integrated across different systems and devices.

  • This might have to be user-case specific; for example, field staff who have to interact with multiple customers will need to have a tool that works for their clients as well.

    Additionally, for many organizations, core applications are not cloud based, but require access to the WAN through a Citrix desktop. This means that organizations need to rethink how they make access to core operational tools available. And this will, of course, vary by industry and job function.

    For example, payment processing and inventory management may have different starting points when it comes to cloud hosting. And payment processing may have different processes and requirements in different verticals, which may make moving all operations to the cloud even more complicated. But thinking about which applications can be moved to the (secure) cloud is a key component of enabling remote working.

  • Remote working capability will be limited to the capacity and resilience of network connectivity.

  • Strong and secure mobile connectivity

    This is perhaps a fundamental challenge when it comes to enabling remote working. Many employees’ remote working capability will be limited to the capacity and resilience of their network connectivity. Home broadband capabilities vary dramatically from country to country and city to city; even in well-served markets such as Europe, the European Commission reports that ~83% of EU households do not have access to next-gen high-speed internet access services.2

    In addition, many home networks are still unsecured, exposing users to potential cyberattacks. This is particularly true when people use “home tech” apparatus and utilize the same devices for home and work, and/or access free Wi-Fi on the go. (See Figure 4 for findings from Verizon’s 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report).3 It could also manifest as security issues across work practices, such as capturing sensitive customer information on scraps of paper that may land in the wrong hands.

    Employees can be internet enabled with hotspots, dongles or even just mobile phones, which can help them work remotely if their broadband connection is insufficient. But this is also where the VPN comes into its own, enabling the compartmentalization of work and personal information.

  • Supporting secure VPN access is a critical component to consider if remote working is to be successful.

  • However, many VPN solutions are not designed to handle the volume of traffic that a sudden increase in remote workers causes, and therefore may suffer loss of availability and downtime. What’s more, traditional VPNs may not address the risk of malware being introduced to corporate systems as a result of insecure remote-worker systems and devices. Supporting secure VPN access is a critical component to consider if remote working is to be successful.

  • Figure 3

  • End-to-end network monitoring

    Another challenge for CIOs is getting an end-to-end view of how business processes are working across their network, especially as mobile endpoints proliferate in a remote working model (refer to figure on next page). The essence of the story is that, as work moves outside offices, monitoring needs to follow. CIOs basically need to look to measure end-user and device experiences across the now disaggregated infrastructure.

  • Figure 4
  • Implementing robust tracking and monitoring capabilities for data-exchange process flows and transactions is critical.

  • At the device level, this means setting up a more robust network-monitoring architecture and accounting for more variables in the supply chain to achieve high levels of efficacy and productivity within the work-from-home environment.

    At the user or transaction level, this means monitoring the experience across the supply chain, e.g., baselining the supply chain to identify improvement levers and where investments should be channeled.

    For large organizations with managed services and differentiated service level agreements across multiple locations, implementing robust tracking and monitoring capabilities for data-exchange process flows and transactions is critical. 

    These must be complemented with the right toolsets to reduce errors. In addition, dynamic scenario planning should be considered, and constantly refreshed, to prepare for the worst and put in place preparatory measures.

    Zero-trust security 

    Security of customer, financial and personal data is fundamental for all organizations, large and small. Many companies have historically restricted access to sensitive data to on-premises devices, so shifting to employee homes (as needed) may be largely unprecedented territory. Security issues also become more complex when data and applications are utilizing hybrid storage, i.e., a mix of on-premises and in-the-cloud storage. So the challenge is how to protect access to sensitive data, while also maintaining the availability of resources.

    Organizations need to adopt robust protect, detect and respond mechanisms.

    Establish a security architecture designed to support remote working, e.g., one that leverages strong identity management, multifactor authentication, VPN, trusted mobile endpoints, network segmentation and post-authentication access controls. The use of personal devices for work also has to be weighed, as this may pose challenges when it comes to corporate-wide malware propagation and data privacy issues.

    Implement fully integrated risk monitoring and detection capabilities for work-from-home devices to identify potential security breaches. Organizations need to build deep, end-to-end, integrated data and analytics capabilities to detect breaches early, while also working to reduce the impact of phishing attacks.

    How the organization deals with a security threat. This is obviously easier within an “internal” environment and more complicated in a remote work model with multiple mobile endpoints. Cyber-risk monitoring enables organizations to effectively manage their security posture. Organizations should also consider the retention of professional support to assist in the event of a security breach.

    A resilient end-user support model 

    Finally, CIOs also need to review their technology supply chain to assess if they have an overdependence on specific suppliers. This may impact their ability to deliver equipment to employees or their customers, and reliance on a specific hardware vendor may also pose challenges for installation of any required customized features (for example, within SDN) to support remote working versus operating on a universal software layer. Diversification as a business-as-usual policy may be necessary to ensure that the organization is not anchored to a single brand or technology, so that issues such as stock depletion can be overcome.

  • Female working on laptop in a cafe.

  • What about 5G and mobile edge computing?

    5G and mobile edge computing (MEC) have a lot to offer in remote working scenarios, but 5G capabilities, at least in the initial phases of rollout, will be more focused on urban areas, or deployed to support Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) or similar applications. In that sense, the other technical building blocks we’ve previously referenced should be considered alongside any 5G and MEC deployment strategy.

    Of course, when 5G is available, it is expected to deliver faster download speeds, greater capacity and better quality communications, thus addressing stable connectivity issues in certain locations. But both are technology enhancers, not full enablers. It’s more critical that companies act now—and act fast—to enable remote working.

1 “With Coronavirus in Mind, Is Your Organization Ready for Remote Work?,” Smarter with Gartner, March 2020. https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/with-coronavirus-in-mind-are-you-ready-for-remote-work/

2 https://op.europa.eu/webpub/eca/special-reports/broadband-12-2018/en/

3 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report