New Trends for a New Normal
For the last 14 months enterprises have been reacting rapidly to the sudden change in the world around them.
At the beginning of the pandemic, enterprises were left with no choice but to be laser-focused on dealing with the immediate crisis by shoring up their application and infrastructure capability to enable remote users to connect to organizational services in a secure and scalable way, and to ensure that the operational rigor remained. Customer expectations were initially low, but they didn’t stay that way for long.
In turn, enterprises had to continue to deliver services for customers, predominantly via their digital platforms and so by urgent necessity, this accelerated the digital advancement of our clients’ businesses by as much as three or four years.
Long term strategies were either reversed overnight or accelerated into implementation at such speed that it was hard to believe it would have been possible without such an unforeseeable catalyst.
Over time the focus shifted from crisis management to flexibility. A noticeable doubling down on temporary fixes into permanent solutions has taken place and continues to do so, giving rise to a set of new trends and transitions in the industry that are shaping the future of enterprise IT:
- The rise of the ‘Anywhere Worker’
- Elimination of the enterprise perimeter
- Security and services at the edge
And additional to these, we still have two ever-present challenges that Enterprise customers must continue to focus upon:
- Technology innovation driving operational efficiencies
- Customer/employee experience
Goodbye Campus, Hello Anywhere
Perhaps the biggest cultural shift seen in a generation has been the forced acceptance of the distributed workforce, or the ‘Anywhere Worker’. Working from home (WFH), once seen as either a benefit for the few, or a trendy new start-up practice has become the only way the business world has managed to stay on its feet. This was a seismic shift in the way businesses operated, impacting internal processes, capability, hiring and managing staff, mindset and wellbeing, commuting and work/life balance. Some organizations have changed their hiring policy to tap into available resources around the globe, instead of within commutable distances to their office. Others are changing their policies to ensure no discrimination against employees who prefer to continue home-based working rather than requiring them to head back into the office. The ramifications on employers and employees continue to be significant. New habits have been formed, both good and bad, but for now at least everyone is in the same boat.
I think the role of the campus as we knew it has changed for good. Of course, there will be people desperate to get back to pre-pandemic working habits and behaviors, but for many enterprises their campus strategies are being reviewed with urgency. It’s likely that a hybrid model will emerge but the need for employees to remain productive remotely has been the genesis for a number of new technology capabilities.
Elimination of the Enterprise Perimeter
It used to be relatively simple to define the perimeter of your enterprise, in order to apply security policy. Users were located in the campus, corporate applications in the Data Center and SaaS-based services in the cloud. Security policy was applied to traffic ingress and egress at specific pinch points and although that policy was becoming more complex, user traffic could be identified and secured because they were on the internal network and you knew where they resided. This is no longer the case. The Anywhere Worker has eliminated the traditional corporate perimeter and replaced it with wherever your employees are working, and on whichever devices they are working. And the Internet is your new corporate network! Traditional security frameworks can’t adapt. The definition of policy may still be ok, but the implementation has to change.
Enter the Zero Trust framework, where explicit permission has to be granted before access to corporate services and resources are permitted. This is the exact opposite of how networking tends to work today.
A new best practice implementation method for this shift in approach is a SASE Architecture. Networking and security have been on a collision course for some time and given the shift to the Anywhere Worker, this has again accelerated.
Implementation options differ, between software agents deployed at the edge, to appliances at corporate locations or a hybrid of the two. But ultimately the outcomes are the same – controlling and monitoring the secure connectivity of distributed people and ‘things’ to each other, applications and services.
Security & Services at the Edge
As the Anywhere Worker is the instantiation of the corporate perimeter it follows that the edge is the new battleground for security policy implementation. It’s here that the new decision-making vector of security needs to be focused. With a data-centric approach, user traffic can be offloaded to a web-based engine for data scrubbing and analysis and additional services can be added over time. Now is the time for innovation with agents at the edge; it’s here that identity will be captured and policies implemented when remote.
Technology Efficiencies Driving Operational Efficiencies
Let’s look at what’s next for your software-defined infrastructure. I’m particularly interested in the advent of SmartNICs technology which I think will be a real game-changer through its ability to bring the disparate siloes of compute, optimization, security and networking together into one network interface card. You can read a short introduction to this technology in this eweek article, but to bring it to life, just imagine the elegant simplicity of plugging one intelligent card into your server which is easy to control, adapt and change rather than continuing to disperse and operate this intelligence across multiple separate domains.
I predict that 2021 will be the year of early adopters to SmartNICs technology, led by the cloud ‘titans’ whose agile forward-thinking mindset and operational approach make them ideally suited to embracing productivity gains and margin improvements offered by this technology. SmartNICs won’t go mainstream this year but I reckon that tough economic times can be a strong trigger for embracing innovation like this, to drive operational efficiencies and market advantages.
Customer & Employee Experience
Now that the relationship between supplier and consumer has changed forever due to the switch to ‘digital first’, it’s more important than ever to ensure that a priceless end customer experience is being delivered. To do this, an enterprise’s business critical applications need to be operationally robust, their dependencies fully understood, and automation and AI introduced to monitor and optimize their performance at all times.
But just as important is the experience of the employee, especially our Anywhere Worker, who relies on secure and robust access to applications to ensure that customer facing services remain at their peak performance.
Enterprises are now creating the capability to ensure that internal, but remote, staff are having the best possible experience. This is one of several key tenets that will contribute to creating an efficient, happy workforce. And this is more critical than ever because make no mistake, the Anywhere Worker is here to stay.
If 2020 was about enterprises catching up with the cultural shift brought about by the global pandemic, then 2021 is about enabling a long-term technical shift to support the pace of change in the new way of working.
These trends have been identified and, in some cases established, across all industries and verticals. As the year progresses, I’ll be interested to see whether these new trends become the new normal.
In my blogs this year I will be exploring additional technology headwinds and tailwinds, as well as addressing some more of the topics that are on your mind. If there’s a theme or technology you have questions about, please drop me a line at email@example.com and I will address it in an upcoming blog.