POSTED ON February, 1 2019

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Dig a little deeper behind the reasons for a business to enable smart or flexible working. Chances are, ‘increasing productivity’ features high on the list. John-Trevor McVeagh, head of SME at LeasePlan, knows what this involves. “The evolution of technology has made mobile/remote working easier and eliminated a lot of traditional barriers. Mobile devices allow us to be always in contact by voice, email, instant messaging, video, etc.,” he says.

Embracing flexible work

For many years, LeasePlan has operated a virtual desktop environment that lets staff access their systems no matter where they are. More recently, the company has been increasing its use of cloud technology to further embrace flexible working. All company sites now have meeting rooms with video conferencing facilities.

“People will increasingly demand flexible, convenient ways to do their jobs, their expectations driven by improvements in consumer technology in their home lives. Mobile technology in particular looks set to continue enabling more remote and flexible working, with new models of collaboration and team management likely to emerge in reaction to these changing workforce demands,” adds John-Trevor.

The user experience question

But let’s think for a moment about what that means in practice. How can a business that has employees working in multiple distributed locations really deliver true productivity gains unless it can deliver a consistent user experience? For IT managers and their teams tasked with delivering efficient services to the business in every site, this question brings up a fresh set of challenges.

More and more devices and users are getting connected, while growing numbers of companies are adopting applications like video conferencing and moving their phone systems to voice over IP. The demands on a company’s networking infrastructure have never been greater. Yet many multi-site networks today are a patchwork quilt of different connectivity options and varying bandwidth capacity.

Security challenges at branch sites

Often, branch offices or manufacturing sites have opened direct connections to the cloud or are running business-critical applications over the internet. In many cases, this happens without the traditional ‘health-check’ of WAN security that routes all network traffic back through the firewall at a company’s HQ or primary data centre.

That creates a three-part challenge for IT teams: delivering consistent service for users, maximising limited IT staff resources, and ensuring security. Firstly, the increasing demands on bandwidth are making it difficult to ensure quality of service for the applications that matter most. A couple of seconds’ waiting time in sending or receiving email isn’t critical, but it’s a different story if the video conferencing link between head office and a branch site suffers from poor picture, or if there’s jitter and delay on an important customer call.

Strain on IT resources

Secondly, all of this network-centric activity in the branch sites and secondary locations is becoming more and more complex to manage. That’s putting a strain on IT resources that, in many businesses, are limited at the best of times. Thirdly, as more users log on with laptops, tablets and smart mobiles in remote company sites, it becomes harder to ensure security for important company data.

SD-WAN, or software-defined Wide Area Networking, can address all of those pain points. It is one of the most exciting networking technologies available today, because of how it can enable seamless connections right across a company’s multi-site network, regardless of bandwidth limitations. SD-WAN is a new way of managing and operating network infrastructure that allows network administrators to use available bandwidth more efficiently, prioritising network traffic to ensure the highest possible level of performance for critical applications without putting security or data privacy at risk.

Want to find out more about how this new era in networking can unlock business growth? Innovate, together with our partners Virgin Media Business and Cisco, is hosting a half-day seminar on Thursday 7 March at Virgin Media Television HD Studios in Dublin. To book your place, email ask@innovate.ie or click below to register.

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