Lockdown has demonstrated, particularly to flexible working sceptics, how individuals and teams can operate successfully while not being sat in the same office. The challenge now is to take this from “make do” solutions to a long term new way of working. Every home worker and every flexible/drop in office will need the bandwidth, quality and resilience necessary to perform their role. The “make do” solutions may not be sufficient.
At one end of the scale a broadband connection with no guaranteed SLA may be adequate to access information and systems using a VPN with simple alternative arrangements if there is a fault. This may be no different for example to the way on-line banking is secured.
At the other end of the scale are roles that interact with the public, contact centre agents and social workers for example. Telephone or video conversations and access to information and systems will be important. Jitter, latency, poor sound or picture quality may be acceptable in a work environment with people you know but not where it is a conversation with somebody who may be distressed. And can loss of connection be tolerated? Quality, availability and the available bandwidth need to be commensurate with the requirements of the role.
There is already a range of technologies that can provide service across the scale. Some of these like using company or personal laptops from home over a broadband connection during lockdown will inform what could be acceptable long term and what isn’t. The technologies exist and are already in use and capabilities will be enhanced as 5G becomes more widely available. It is relatively straightforward (and some organisations will already have done this) to have a range of packages. For example:
Guaranteed quality and high availability. Connection that supports QoS to ensure bandwidth for voice and video and a second connection. Today FTTC should be adequate as a primary service for a home worker and probably a small office. The backup service may be a challenge for homes and 4G may be an option where it is sufficient and reliable. However, this would require additional equipment and may not be practical for everybody. In future, FTTP and 5G will significantly enhance this as it becomes available.
Team working. There could be several options depending on the type and reliability of access required and the amount of interaction between team members. Members of some teams for example may be better served using a local drop in offices if they require printing and a service level that cannot be achieved at home.
Ad hoc. Home broadband with VPN technology is likely to be sufficient where most activity is transaction based and is not dependent on quality or availability.
These are all available today with a standard price so can be easily fed into any business case.
While this is a natural evolution, the big opportunity for IT is to radically redesign the underlying infrastructure. Much of this will be invisible to the end-users. It could look at policies on hosting, Business Continuity, “Internet first”, the underlying network to support this and the security architecture. And fundamental decisions on whether the network should be an Internet, MPLS or SDWAN architecture.
by Ian Wilcox, Public Sector Strategist.