As we move out of winter (at least in the UK), the days get longer and the spring starts to emerge, it gives us a chance to look forward to the summer and what the rest of 2021 has to offer. However, the last 12 months have been very different to any other period we experienced. We look back on a time during which a major global pandemic impacted virtually every business. No executive could have predicted the profound changes it would cause and few teams were actually prepared. We had to adapt to new ways of doing business, and working from home has shifted from a rare occasion to our new reality. Throughout all this, the Internet and digital platforms have delivered tremendous value and allowed enterprises to be incredibly resilient.
In this blog, we’ll review what this new enterprise reality looks like today, and what we should consider moving forward.
Observation 1: Employees Will Become More Digital Savvy
Up until last year, for many of us, digital interactions were mainly social or entertainment-oriented. However, with the acceleration in digital transformation that we have witnessed last year, education, work and family life are all became increasingly digital. With recent shelter-in-place measures taken by authorities across the globe, organizations have had to rely on digital channels to keep their businesses resilient. Employees had to learn new ways of doing business and use new technologies like collaboration applications for video conferencing.
It goes without saying, 2021 is clearly going to require more “digital skills.” Each employee needs to become adept at using digital applications and tools not only to be more efficient at what they do, but also to connect with customers, other employees and partners. Investment in understanding how to leverage digital resources is not only a differentiator today but a necessity for the future.
Observation 2: Secure Remote Access Is Critical to Doing Business
Remote access has never been as important as it has become with the shelter-in-place measures. According to a March 2020 survey from Statista, VPN utilization globally spiked with month-over-month increases ranging from 12% to 160%. And this trend shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. In a July 2020 report from Cisco and Freeform Dynamics, researchers found that there were, on average, 4.7x more home workers compared to pre-pandemic levels. While many IT teams struggled to scale with the sudden demand for secure remote access tools, the new enterprise reality we face requires us to look at secure remote access solutions, whether VPN, secure edge or secure web gateway based for the long term, ensuring we provide the right tools and services for remote workers.
Observation 3: Will I Still Need to Travel?
Corporate travel has always been an important part of doing business—connecting face-to-face with people enables communication and collaboration. However, technology has evolved considerably in recent years. Hardware like webcams can be found on virtually all laptops, tablets and smartphones and software, such as Cisco Webex, makes it possible to leverage those capabilities for more effective collaboration, conversation, and content sharing.
You might say that in our new reality we all became amateur video producers. Working from home, we are all connected with customers, partners and colleagues through videoconferencing, and students have grown increasingly accustomed to leveraging collaboration tools to continue their curriculum and education online. In April 2020, Cisco's video conferencing platform Webex reported 25 billion meeting minutes, which was 10 billion more meeting minutes than previously reported in March 2020. This increase in usage is likely the result of the shelter-in-place measures throughout 2020. As with all learned habits, we believe this behavior is likely to continue, potentially leading to an overall reduction in business travel even after restrictions are lifted in the future.
Observation 4: SaaS Adoption Will Continue to Accelerate
SaaS adoption has been happening for several years now, and this trend will continue to accelerate in the post-pandemic era. According to a widely referenced projection from the 2018 Cisco® Global Cloud Index, “By 2021, 75% of the total cloud workloads and compute instances will be SaaS workloads and compute instances.” While the growth trajectory of SaaS applications is evident, the pandemic has hastened the transition to cloud, as well. This article summarizing the findings of a 2020 IDC study, The Future Enterprise: The Next Normal Priorities Driving Technology Investments, asserts that “21% of organizations are moving additional workloads to the public cloud due to pandemic-related CapEx issues.”
Clearly, the simplicity of being able to implement and use SaaS applications and the public cloud is a compelling benefit—especially when IT teams cannot easily travel to data centers, campus locations or employees’ homes to install an application. As SaaS continues to become increasingly pivotal to business productivity, IT organizations should consider how best to maximize these experiences for a hybrid workforce.
Observation 5: User Experience Matters
Enterprise infrastructure has undergone significant transformation over the past 12 months in order to support a growing number of users working off premises. In addition, business-critical applications continue to migrate to the cloud and some, like collaboration apps, require high bandwidth and low latency to support real-time conversation. According to the same IDC study, “By 2023, 75% of the G2000 will commit to providing technical parity to a workforce that is hybrid by design rather than by circumstance, enabling them to work together separately and in real-time.”
There is only one answer to support all these changes from a network strategy standpoint: understand that the Internet is the new corporate network. As users are working from home, employees are relying on their local Internet Service Providers and consumer-grade networks. Over the past year, our deep reliance on the Internet and its ecosystem of third-party providers highlighted just how fragile user experience can be when one or more of these services experience a disruption. The following screenshot shows one outage that a local ISP experienced in 2020, as seen from the ThousandEyes platform.
In this example, Internet traffic shifted to the edge and closer to the users, effectively increasing the reliance on local Internet access. Remote employees find themselves in similar situations all the time, which means that the Internet is critical to their productivity and your enterprise success. This is where SASE (Secure Assess Service Edge) architecture comes into play. SASE enables a local branch with an Internet connection to connect to SaaS and applications hosted in a data center with security deployed in the cloud. However, this is not enough, the new enterprise reality requires deep visibility into the Internet and 3rd party services your employees rely on, delivering SASE alongside a measurable user experience.
Observation 6: Monitoring Requires Network- and App-Layer Visibility
To deliver an optimized digital experience, we are learning that we need to look outside our existing operating models. Traditionally, organizations will have network monitoring tools and a different application performance monitoring solution. But this model is no longer fit for purpose in 2021. Today, we need correlated insights from across the network and application layers that preserves context as you switch between layers. Together, AppDynamics and ThousandEyes not only fill the gaps of traditional siloed tools, but also they provide a proactive, comprehensive view into the application experience that includes app delivery, app performance and key performance indicators of your business metrics regardless of where your users are globally.
As we continue into the year, we can acknowledge that our habits have profoundly changed and a new enterprise reality has emerged placing our traditional enterprise networks to be re-imagined and with enhanced resilience, to ensure we all remain connected, at its core. Adaptability and user experience will continue to be critical capabilities now and into the future as enterprises support hybrid workforces and grapple with increasingly Internet-dependent application architectures.