Sometimes one size does fit all.\n\nThat\u2019s true in the case of audio specialist Sonos, which developed a universal IT stack that could be used by its 1,200 employees, manufacturing partners, and engineers scattered in 15 locations across the globe.\n\nThe innovation, dubbed \u201cIT in a Box,\u201d was developed in October 2020, just as CIO Ruth Sleeter took the helm, and though it was designed for more general use it was a panacea for the Sonos IT\u2019s pandemic response. \n\nAlso known informally as \u201cSonos Homes,\u201d the solution enabled a scalable and expedient way to build a Sonos office environment in areas where no office exists. The project has earned Sonos a CIO 100 Award for IT leadership and innovation.\n\nSleeter credits the company\u2019s \u201cvery virtual\u201d and employee-centric corporate culture with the project\u2019s inception at a time when COVID-19 was forcing employees out of physical offices worldwide.\n\n\u201cWe believed in a very flexible, diversified workforce and were employee-centric well before the pandemic hit in order to get the right talent in the right places,\u201d says Sleeter, noting that employers often forget, for example, that recent college graduates often share an apartment with several others and needed a solution that would work in tight areas as well as big manufacturing plants. \u201cEven pre-pandemic, we were at the forefront of this work experience and used video and Zoom and Teams.\u201d\n\nPlans for IT in a Box began in mid-2020 when it became clear Sonos engineers needed a more dependable work environment to collaborate with external design and manufacturing partners \u2014 not relying on partners\u2019 infrastructure, such as \u201cguest wifi,\u201d which sometimes proved unreliable and a security risk, according to the company.\n\nThe project got a big push with Sleeter\u2019s arrival.\n\n\u201cOne of the biggest impacts that I can have as a CIO is to drive culture through technology that leads to great innovation,\u201d she says.\n\n\u201cWe continue to raise our pace and our innovation around collaboration. We realized that there is a huge need to think globally about that and not to get super mired in our own experiences through the pandemic,\u201d Sleeter adds. \u201cWe really look to try to solve this problem across our entire technology stack and one of the things that we ended up with was with this very portable infrastructure.\u201d\n\nA network-centric solution\n\nSonos\u2019 IT in a Box consists of three components: a secured network, robust collaboration tools, and compute power for engineers designing the company\u2019s high-end audio and entertainment gear.\n\nWide availability of components, particularly in an era of supply-chain fiascos, was a key design element for a solution that would be used not only by employees but also by third-party partners at large independent manufacturing sites globally, Sleeter says.\n\nThe network layer is the most unique aspect of the solution, according to Sonos, and was designed to ensure that any employee and partner from any location globally could confidently access the corporate platform.\n\nThe network, for example, is comprised of low-cost Meraki routers and access points that enable Sonos IT to manage and configure the installation from anywhere in the world using the Cisco Meraki management portal. This equipment is readily available from local vendors to allow for fast implementation, according to the company.\n\n\u201cWe looked at the technology stack from a network perspective first, one that we can replicate and expand whether employees are working in a small location or a big office,\u201d Sleeter says. \u201cIt\u2019s perfectly adaptable. It can work for two people in a room, a mobile solution that people carry with them, or a full installation in a very big room with 10 seats and a big table. We made it very elastic and very scalable.\u201d\n\nJim Hauser, senior director of cloud infrastructure and operations at Sonos, says the magic of the solution is in its simplicity. Prepackaging a company-specific IT stack with components that are widely available ensures that Sonos IT eliminates common communication snags that occur between employees and partner engineers at different locations globally.\n\nIt also guarantees access to its components for engineers or designers who may be in very remote locations with limited access to technology.\n\n\u201cIn North America, we have a little bit of a blessing that in many cases, we have big spaces to work if we\u2019re not in an office. But when you go outside of this very small region, in the rest of the world, it\u2019s not always the case,\u201d Hauser says. \u201cA lot of our employees really value the fact that everybody has the exact same experiences if they\u2019re walking into someone\u2019s office here in Seattle or anywhere else in the world.\u201d\n\nThe corporation, which competes with Bose and Bang & Olufsen, is headquartered in Santa Barbara, Calif., and has many offices in the US and Europe. But most of its employees, designers, and engineers are scattered across the globe and require great flexibility and dependability in order to work as a team.\n\n\u201cWe could be working with any type of partner [such as] an installation partner, an LSP, a contract manufacturer, a [retail] store even, and any location that pops up in which we need to put an engineer in,\u201d Sleeter says. \u201cWe deploy this, and again that can be anywhere in the globe at any point, and they\u2019re automatically connected into our Sonos network.\u201d\n\nGing Yong Tan, senior business development manager at Pentech, an IT partner that supports Sonos\u2019 manufacturing facilities in Malaysia, sees the solution as unique in the industry. \n\n\u201cThe new IT infrastructure from Sonos has given the company's manufacturing partners a convenient way to collaborate with Sonos employees around the world. I don\u2019t see many companies set up their own collaboration infrastructure in a manufacturing facility. This solution offers time savings and productivity improvements for both the manufacturing team and my IT team which supports them," he says. \n\nThe future of work, indeed.