Introduction

As a result of Covid-19, almost all organisations have seen a seismic shift in the way they operate and organise their business and their workforce. For some organisations the transition to permanent home working was relatively simple as existing infrastructure, policies and processes were already in place. For others however, particularly retail, customer-facing, and manufacturing organisations, the shift to the new norm has been a far more difficult process with many challenges still to face. As we begin to see some light at the end of the Covid tunnel, organisations are now beginning to engage in what is being defined as “the next normal”, to understand how they reset, shape, and grow their post-pandemic business. 

The Next Normal

The term “The Next Normal” is based on the assumption that there is a past, present and a future; the period before COVID-19 “normal”, the present “new normal” and the post-viral era “next normal”.

The focus of this article is on “the next normal”. This period is going to be critical for organisations to recover revenue, rebuild their operations, and accelerate the adoption of digital solutions to meet the expectations of “the next normal” consumer. We have selected three key areas to analyse the impact of the next normal and understand what this could mean for your post-pandemic network strategy. 

Technology Impact

Long before the pandemic, digital transformation was a programme of works many organisations would claim to be doing. In reality the pace and effectiveness of many digital transformations was slow and often unsuccessful. For many organisations, one of the consequential products of the pandemic is that digital transformation changed from a “should do” to a “must do” and “do it quick”.

Although this approach was a necessity to keep the business afloat, many have introduced some technical debt as a result. Looking forward into the next normal era, organisations will look to firm up their digital technology capabilities. Technologies such as digital adoption platforms to automate employee onboarding, training and workforce management will be provisioned in the cloud, AI and ML technologies will be adopted to drive a higher volume of business process automation and customer self-service, and a renewed focus on user and application security will become a high priority. 

Workforce Impact

It is highly unlikely that a mandatory return to the office for all members of the workforce is on the cards for many organisations. We have already seen various press announcements from some very big organisations stating that a flexible working policy will be permanently adopted, and we have also seen customers begin to rationalise their real estate to account for a lower office worker density.

Looking forward it will become a necessity to enable a frictionless colleague experience that encompasses ease of access, operational management, and security. This frictionless experience should be unified across the office and home working environments through the use of new, secure access technologies and operational processes. In sectors such as manufacturing and distribution, the development and use of robotics is likely to be accelerated to optimise processing, but also reduce the risk of any pandemic reoccurrence or other disruptive event. 

Customer Impact

All types of organisations, from retail to restaurants, have had to quickly go digital to maintain their customer base, continue their operations and meet the new contactless reality. The next normal will see further development around the concepts of omni-channel, artificial intelligence and machine learning to deliver a personalised customer experience across any engagement channel of choice. From a customer’s perspective this will translate into a more convenient engagement and transaction model which is based on their own preferences and terms. 

What does this mean for my
network strategy?

In short, the network will play a pivotal part in the successful execution of the next normal.

With offices largely empty and retail outlets closed, the traditional “hub and branch” network as we know it has been rendered almost entirely redundant. It was estimated that around 88% of organisations either encouraged or required their employees to work from home during the early stages of the pandemic, and this figure is still estimated to be 75% plus today.

In practical reality this means that the public internet has become the corporate network backbone for many organisations. It is highly unlikely that any person responsible for developing a pre-pandemic network strategy would have factored in this reality. Therefore, to provide a view of what we expect to change in the next normal era, and to understand what this could mean for your post-pandemic network strategy, we have selected the following key areas to analyse: 

Internet as the Corporate Backbone

As mentioned above, for many of us who are working from home, the public internet is our only means of accessing our corporate applications and data assets. Although a very small handful of customers have rolled out supplementary business-grade connectivity to employees’ homes, the vast majority are reliant on consumer-grade broadband which is often shared with other family members.

Inherently, there are a number of challenges this approach presents: consumer broadband is unmanaged, has limited performance guarantees, and is likely to be contended, either by other household users and/or within the network provider’s infrastructure. Strategic considerations for the next normal should be focussed around the use of optimised applications designed to operate over the public internet, increased use of cloud services, end point device management and security, and the concept of zero trust networking. This last point in particular has already gained traction during the new normal period and is tipped to accelerate as new network technologies evolve and mature in the coming years.

Secure Application Access

The public internet is inherently an untrusted network - the wild west if you like - with lots of bad guys lurking around hoping to steal your data, identity, and many other bad things. Therefore it is imperative that you design and implement adequate security at both the user end point, and at the application or service the user is consuming. Pre-Covid, this was a fairly manageable activity as new applications and services would be launched in line with best practice service introduction procedures which would normally include various levels of testing and sign off by the likes of InfoSec. However, during this new normal period, where quite frankly best practices have been replaced with “JFDI” processes, the level of rigour and governance has not always been possible.

Looking forward into the next normal, strategic considerations must be made around firming up application access technologies to ensure they are secure, compliant and sustainable. Consideration should also be given to new technologies such as SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) which is delivered as a cloud-native service and provides convergence of networking and security to optimise access performance, reduce operational complexity, and enhance security posture on a global scale.

Automation

Possibly one of the biggest changes we will see during the next normal era is an increased use of automation. Automation will come in many guises. For example, in customer services organisations, we will see an increased use of AI and ML being used for customer engagement, using initiatives such as self-service, personalised journeys, and auto fulfilment. In the network space we expect to see increased use of automation to carry out repetitive administrative tasks, incident self-healing, and zero-touch deployment. And finally in the manufacturing and distribution sectors we expect to see the acceleration of IOT and robotics to further automate product line and picking processes. This increased use of automation will place additional load and criticality on the WAN, LAN, Wi-Fi and Cellular elements of the network. Strategy considerations for the next normal should take into account resilience, access density, performance, and quality to ensure the foundations of the network are fit to deliver the increasing number of services dependant on it.   

How can TNC help?

Achieving the optimised end state for networks for most organisations has become considerably more complex, challenging, and risky. With networks touching almost every part of the organisation, increasingly part of the go-to-market strategy, and reflecting the radical pace of change in the industry, it is easy to see why changing networks can no longer be considered a “migration” – these days it’s a “transformation”.

Achieving a successful transformation requires you to tackle a much broader range of elements, and to nail them all. Of course, it’s not easy, but what is key is that you take the time to tackle all these elements completely, and ensure you have the skills and resources in place to do so.

To help customers with the strategic planning and preparation for their network transformation, TNC has developed a strategy development and transformation framework to assist customers at each step of the process from baselining current services, business case creation, statement of requirement development, option analysis and sourcing strategy.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you on your network transformation journey, we would be delighted to talk to you and share our experience and knowledge. 

On average, TNC delivers a 22x Return on Investment to its customers

Disclaimer

Other than matters relating to The Network Collective, this research is based on current public information that we consider reliable. Opinions expressed may change without notice and may differ from views set out in other documents created by The Network Collective. The above information is provided for informational purposes only and without any obligation, whether contractual or otherwise. No warranty or representation is made as to the correctness, completeness and accuracy of the information given or the assessments made.

This research does not constitute a personal recommendation or take into account the particular investment objectives, financial situations, or needs of individual clients. Clients should consider whether any advice or recommendation in this research is suitable for their particular circumstances and, if appropriate, seek professional advice.

No part of this material may be (i) copied, photocopied or duplicated in any form by any means or (ii) redistributed without the prior written consent of The Network Collective Limited © 2021

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