Smart, small and well connected mobile devices have been around for some time, but the way they have spread into everyday life and across all levels of employees in the working environment is changing working practices.
At one time only a handful of early adopters and hardened road-warriors would want to work remotely. Now, according to recent Quocirca research, around a third of UK companies have more than 50% of their staff working remotely at some point during the working week. This is no longer an easy to identify select few, but a broad cross section of the work force, each with different aspirations, motivations and support needs.
The shift in the tools they are using is equally significant. Most are well aware of the consumer technology options available, and have their preferred devices, which they would like to bring and use at work—not only for working, but also for keeping in touch with their personal lives. Already over three quarters of UK companies allow personal devices to be used at work for certain employees, with a third of this number pretty much permitting it across the organisation.
This growing BYOD (bring your own device) trend, coupled with the different user interaction experience made possible by the latest generation of tablets and touch screens means that many are willing (sometimes delighted) to ditch the keyboard and the implied need to sit down to access their IT. ‘Work’ is not only no longer the macro environment that must be commuted to in order to conduct business, it is also no longer the micro environment oriented around a fixed desk and chair. Initially the laptop and now the mobile phone and tablet have removed the shackles of the desktop computer, fixed phone and stack of in/out trays.
The most visible challenges this brings to the organisation are often discussed and primarily revolve around security, management and support within the corporate culture and of course, the cost. But there are hidden issues with the network infrastructure, which will surface under this increasing pressure from employee expectations.
While no longer quite so dependent on office and desks, employees do have an increasing reliance on the network. It has to deliver service, wherever the employee happens to be; corridors, coffee shops or home. According to the latest mobile workforce survey by iPass, almost three quarters of employees will feel annoyed, frustrated or angry if they cannot connect to the network.
Even when they can make a connection to their employer’s private network, expectations of the user experience have been inflated by services received on the consumer side. At one time connectivity itself might have been sufficient, but now it is only the foundation at the base of a Maslow-like hierarchy of network needs that the network needs to deliver from the core data centre right to the edge. These are the demands of network dependent applications for throughput, capacity, assurance of delivery with a seamless, simple and effective user experience.
The decline of the desk and growth in mobile working exert even further pressure on the network. Remote and virtual teams of employees need to digitally communicate more than ever and share even richer content. Unified communications, which make it easier to involve more participants, switch media and threads of interaction and incorporate visual elements—application sharing and video—increases the impact on the capability of the network.
Not all network traffic is equal, at least from a business perspective, and organisations will increasingly find themselves having to dynamically tune and adjust to meet the ebb and flow of demands of users, their diverse devices and applications. It is no longer sufficient to think of the network as low value plumbing, but as a smart conduit that inspires employees and invigorates the business.
The network is not the computer (as Sun once stated) or the business (as Cisco declared), but is just as strategic an investment as other elements of IT.