“Businesses must ensure that employees working remotely have the same level of enterprise security as they do when in the office. It should be one consistent experience, no matter where work happens”, says Juan Vela, Global Head of Market Strategy at Cisco Meraki in an exclusive interview with EnterpriseTalk
ET Bureau: Cisco recently announced that it is fully committed to hybrid work, with a policy of “no return to office.” In the best of circumstances, adopting new ways of working is difficult, but you have to do so rapidly. What was your strategy for dealing with this shift?
Juan Vela: People have varying responsibilities, but they ultimately must securely connect to resources like enterprise software, or even other people through collaboration tools. Employees must use things such as computers, phones, or role-specific equipment like VoIP endpoints, and they work in different places. The permeations are endless, but the touch points are simple—people doing their jobs in diverse places using things that require secure, predictable and high quality connections. Our strategy is to help our IT leaders easily apply the right technologies such as Wi-Fi, mobile device management, and security to employee devices no matter where work is done so our employees can continue to operate in the most operationally efficient manner possible.
ET Bureau: While most IT firms were able to improvise to suit the abrupt change to long-term hybrid/remote models, post-pandemic work will necessitate more complex digital infrastructure. What is the most difficult aspect of managing a remote IT team? What are the most effective remote IT staffing tools and strategies?
Juan Vela: For remote teams, there are so many variables that are not within the control of centralized administrators. For example, how can you predict the quality of the broadband connection in an employee’s home? Or the impact of residential traffic competing for airspace and priority in network uplinks? Ensuring remote IT staffers have enterprise-grade Wi-Fi, always-on VPN, visibility, and prioritization of collaboration and enterprise applications is key to ensuring both remote employees and centralized administrators have the best work experience possible. Being able to take that experience from the office to a remote work location, and everywhere in-between, remains our priority, especially as IT goes hybrid.
ET Bureau: What can we anticipate from remote IT in terms of productivity, how can executive leaders ensure it, and what metrics should IT use to assess its effectiveness?
Juan Vela: Every organization is different, and while productivity remains a top priority, it now requires a greater dependency on collaboration tools. Ensuring that access and security to enterprise tools is fully optimized is key to keeping teams productive and connected to their work and each other. While looking at productivity metrics like network uptime, time to response (for support tickets), and utilization (both of budget and tools) continues to be top of mind, I would also encourage business leaders to think about other metrics, such as employee engagement, workplace satisfaction, and even culture surveys. The key to attracting and retaining productive employees is ensuring that they are enthusiastic about their work and not distracted by network, security, or application performance issues.
ET Bureau: How can companies ensure that conversations take place digitally once employees return to the office? Will this necessitate a shift in working operations to bridge the digital and physical divide?
Juan Vela: By sheer necessity, most companies have made adjustments over the past 18 months, and changes that were forced during the pandemic will become permanent. According to recent research, 58% of the workforce expects to be working remotely at least eight days a month. Working operations must facilitate and optimize collaboration tools to bridge the divide and maintain high levels of productivity while accommodating new workplace demands. Employees have more choices in how and where they work, and that will manifest in a higher dependency on IT departments to meet and exceed their expectations.
ET Bureau: What are the issues that the post-pandemic hybrid workplace poses for companies in terms of developing and managing workplace facilities? Will businesses have to reconsider their IT investments and alter their technology stacks?
Juan Vela: Businesses are dealing with the backdrop of hybrid workplaces and employee acquisition and retention challenges. As such, technology applied to these challenges can help create competitive advantage. I would summarize the issues with five words: flexible, inclusive, supportive, secure, and managed.
Businesses should create flexible workplaces that facilitate collaboration and productivity no matter where you are, including beyond traditional offices. The workplace must be inclusive and embrace everyone, no matter what their background or responsibilities. The workplace must also be supportive and keep employees safe and their devices and applications secure. To make this happen, technology from traditionally disparate management domains like Wi-Fi, physical security, and SD-WAN must come together to deliver elevated employee experiences. I believe technology decisions should be based on how easy it is to assemble the technologies that keep employees connected, secure, and safe—both in the virtual and physical worlds. Doing this at scale requires a management strategy that pulls together different technology domains to deliver elevated employee experiences.
ET Bureau: Without question, one of the most significant technological issues associated with the transition to a hybrid work model is security. What are some of the ways that businesses can build a secure infrastructure for both remote and in-office workers?
Juan Vela: One of the biggest challenges with security in a hybrid work world is ensuring consistent quality and operations in a distributed environment. The workloads and apps that users access remotely are no different than those in the office. Businesses must ensure that employees working remotely have the same level of enterprise security as they do when in the office. It should be one consistent experience, no matter where work happens.
Furthermore, there are multiple security solutions, cloud-delivered or on-premises, that organizations can implement, but this creates complexity that does not practically scale. Building an agile security environment gives businesses the choice between on-premises or cloud security to deliver the right security in the right place. Integrating with their existing infrastructure is an option that should be considered.
By investing in a strategy that also unifies security and networking infrastructure, businesses can secure remote workers to the same enterprise level as those at the office without the complexity of multiple point solutions. It’s also imperative that companies carefully choose infrastructure that can scale up or down, particularly for remote workers. Cloud management of this consolidated infrastructure allows organizations to easily implement and manage hybrid worker security at scale.
ET Bureau: How can businesses and their IT teams use Cisco Meraki’s cloud-managed IT solutions to facilitate remote and hybrid work?
Juan Vela: In order for agile businesses to easily adapt to change, they must bring together traditionally disparate networking domains like access, IoT, physical security, and even SD-WAN. The connectivity, security, and intelligence technologies in these domains can be applied to hybrid and remote workforces, the places they work, and the devices they use to remain productive. Cisco Meraki helps IT teams do this from a cloud-first platform that includes APIs, ecosystem partners, and a single web-based dashboard—all designed to take complexity out of IT. Simply stated, Cisco Meraki enables businesses to accelerate the deployment of remote and hybrid work through easy-to-use cloud-networking technologies that deliver secure customer experiences while exceeding employee expectations.