In Today’s Hybrid Workplace—All Data is Essential

Jan 20, 2022
IT Leadership

A truly functional and productive hybrid workplace needs classifications of tools and technologies to enable seamless transitions from a wide range of systems.

Zoom Meeting
Credit: AndreyPopov

By Scott McMaster

The essence of meaningful enterprise communications–whether needing to access sensitive data or to send confidential messages–is now going through one of its biggest shifts in decades. 

Much of this is because of the hybrid workplace, which means different things to different people. It can mean the massive increase in remote sites back in March 2020 (a number that has decreased slightly since then, but not significantly). It can also mean the sharp acceleration in the trend toward more data shifting to the cloud or, as in the case with most enterprises, multiple clouds. It can also mean the increase in sensitive data flowing both ways–with potential impact on compliance as well as cybersecurity–with all manner of external partners, including distributors, suppliers, contractors, consultants, financial institutions and large customers. Truth be told, the hybrid workplace includes all of the above. 

But those are all merely the elements of the hybrid workplace’s infrastructure. What the hybrid workplace means for IT and the impacted line of business executives is how they want users to interact with those environments and all of those various forms of data. Those executives want interactions to be seamless and highly intuitive. More importantly, though, executives need for those interactions to be as close to identical as possible, as users move through different environments. That means that a user trying to communicate on a mobile device, most likely running iOS or Android, should be able to communicate the very same way on a Windows desktop. That interaction should be the same whether the data is resident on that computer, being accessed from on-prem, an enterprise cloud or from the servers at one of thousands of business partners. That is the only way that the enterprise will achieve the efficiency and productivity it demands.

Maintaining that level of interaction/GUI consistency across multiple operating systems, multiple devices/servers and a huge number of applications is difficult. Indeed, the more intuitive and clean the GUI is on the front-end, the more sophisticated and complex is the coding on the backend.

That means that a truly functional and productive hybrid workplace needs classifications of tools and technologies to enable seamless transitions from a wide range of systems. Training is critical, where users need to understand the system and where resources are located.

Training strategies can get complicated, though. For almost all enterprise apps, the typical user needs to access only a small percentage of the app’s capabilities. More precisely, during normal operations, they only need to access a small percentage of functionality, although there will be some capabilities that those users will need, but they will use them rarely. Are they likely to remember that rarely-used functionality six months after the training? There are some who argue to train users on what they will most need and then offer supplemental training later for more rarely-used capabilities.

Training has another layer of complexity. Assuming the seamless operations across all needed platforms is tuned perfectly, users should—on paper—only need to be trained once. The reality, though, is that cloud applications tend to add—and remove and tweak—capabilities constantly. For some enterprise cloud applications, barely a week goes by without a change happening somewhere.

Those changes could be addressed through much more frequent training, but enterprises need to consider whether memos highlighting new capabilities and how to access them may be sufficient. Training is strategically critical in the long term, but can be seen as undercutting productivity and efficiency in the short term.

Users love that new technology allows them to work remotely and communicate effectively, but they aren’t often made to understand the implications of using alternate tech or circumventing their company security policies. Requesting a new router to boost LAN speed in that user’s workgroup makes perfect sense. But if IT is backlogged, getting a router from Amazon or Target is not the solution. Shadow IT is done for the convenience of users, at the expense of protecting those users, other users and the enterprise itself. 

Most cloud capabilities are untapped and many cloud users are more distracted by the technology than they are leveraging it. Better educating users will not only allow workgroups to be far more productive–while ostensibly better protecting that data–but it will also help the enterprise’s overall efficiency. 

This hybrid workplace shift has added a lot of data-sharing and communication capabilities to the workforce, but it also deprived those users of some. The water-cooler/hallway conversations have plunged. Users now need to shift their thinking and have those same conversations through digital means.

Why is digital better? First, those conversations are now captured and can be analyzed and stored. That analysis and storage is good news for knowledge management, compliance, legal discovery responses and a dozen other purposes. That analysis and storage is also good news because those discussions are now protected and not accessible to anyone who wasn’t supposed to be part of that conversation.

For decades, one key objective in purchasing applications has been best-of-breed. But in today’s hybrid workplace, best-of-breed is taking a strategic second seat to connectivity. In short, the grading for how well software plays well with others is getting stricter. This doesn’t mean lower-quality applications should now get priority. They shouldn’t. It does, however, mean that applications must be designed to play well with others. Fortunately, many ISVs are already rapidly moving in this direction.

Even that must factor in that legacy applications—especially homegrown legacy applications and legacy applications obtained via acquisitions years ago—need to be re-examined, with an eye on enhancing interoperability. CIOs and CISOs must consider this part of their timeline strategy. A timeline strategy is one that focuses on integrating the past (those legacy and homegrown applications) as well as preparing for the future.

Preparing for the future is highly profitable, but it is also difficult. It involves understanding where the enterprise is today and where the enterprise expects to be in 18 months—and then layering that on top of the future product plans of your most important enterprise applications. It doesn’t hurt to also factor in likely future compliance requirements, especially if the enterprise is considering moving into or out of geographies or verticals.

Sometimes, that future-proofing needs help from third-party consultants. Contact NTT today to learn how our Managed Network Services team can help transform and future-proof your organization.