Flexibility, Security & Agility – The keys to a successful WFH infrastructure
By Tony Jones, BSO Head of Low Latency Fiber
Since the onset of COVID-19, people’s working lives have changed dramatically. Most industries have seen a massive shift in working practices, with businesses across the globe having to adapt to the ‘new normal’ of employees working from home (WFH).
Almost overnight, businesses along with their supporting ecosystem of technology suppliers, fintechs, solution vendors and service providers, have all had to implement new ways of supporting their customers and employees.
With lockdown easing in certain countries and partially or fully re-implemented in others, some workers are slowly returning to their offices, though a large number are likely to continue WFH for the foreseeable future, especially with the threat of further restrictions resulting in more homeworking, cannot be ruled out.
This being the case, what are some of the ongoing challenges that firms face in the WFH environment, particularly from a data, connectivity and infrastructure perspective, and how might these challenges best be addressed?
Many firms have furnished their staff with home access to workplace systems via secure VPN, providing an encrypted tunnel to ensure that data is kept private and secure. However, despite their numerous advantages, poorly configured VPNs can lead to dropouts and slower connection speeds. If we take the example of the financial services industry, this can be particularly bad news for traders and other employees who rely on fast, reliable access to data.
From the firm’s perspective, having the right infrastructure to support employees under these conditions is vital. In order to accommodate the changing workflows, firms in many cases have had to re-think how they deliver data to their end-users, so that they can continue to perform their job functions.
Some firms have been more prepared than others in this regard. Since the global financial crisis back in 2008, new regulations – particularly around operational risk – have led to a greater focus on contingency planning, with larger firms in particular compelled to put clear and well-defined procedures in place. As a result, many such firms have been able to quickly transition to off-site operations and a dispersed workforce. Smaller firms on the other hand can be nimbler and, in some cases, have been able to transition their workforces more quickly than their larger competitors.
Regardless of the size of the firm, it is essential that the internal infrastructure is set up appropriately for mass homeworking, not only in terms of connectivity for access to both data centre-hosted and cloud-based solutions, but also in how servers, routers, firewalls, and the like are configured. There are all sorts of support considerations too, particularly around how to handle things like software updates and user queries.
Of course, not all firms have the in-house expertise or technology necessary to easily accommodate all of this, which is why many are turning to managed service providers to deliver the appropriate infrastructure for home working. Using a specialist provider to tailor these infrastructure components to the firm’s specific requirements and manage them on a day-to-day basis means that, rather than having to do everything themselves, firms can concentrate on their business functions knowing that the infrastructure they need to support home workers is taken care of.
Benefits of the cloud
Making appropriate use of the cloud can also be a key success factor in transitioning from an office-based to a WFH environment, as it provides staff with the ability to work anywhere there is internet access. Particularly as there are now an increasing number of secure collaboration and communication tools, desktop and mobile apps, and browser-based facilities that enable remote workers to complete their tasks in the same way as they would from the office.
But to really take advantage of the cloud, firms should look beyond trying to simply replicate their office environment. Financial institutions in particular are realising that Cloud computing provides a range of benefits, not least of which are the cost reductions of not having to maintain hardware, infrastructure or large IT teams. Data security, scalability, rapid disaster recovery, mobility and control are some of the other clear benefits that the Cloud offers.
Firms that truly embrace the cloud will not only guarantee that their workers can continue to perform during the current pandemic, but they will also have a strong competitive edge for the future.
Internet versus private networks
In order to realise the benefits of a cloud-based infrastructure, it’s worth pointing out that firms do not need to rely wholly on the public internet. In fact, there are many instances where a private or hybrid cloud environment makes more sense.
One area in particular where a private network may be more appropriate is in financial markets, particularly the trading environment, where speed of trade execution is paramount. To support high volumes of market data, quotes, orders and trades, firms generally require access to low-latency high-performance networks, whether for traders working from home or in the dealing room. Deterministic latency and reliable connectivity are essential factors when it comes to institutional, high-volume trading.
To ensure continued productivity and to stay competitive, trading firms, banks, brokers, investment firms and the fintech vendors that support them, should consider working with a specialist network partner – one who can offer the necessary performance through a private, dedicated financial network, while still offering full connectivity into the Cloud.
Over the longer term, the keys to a successful WFH infrastructure strategy lie in flexibility, security and agility, and firms therefore should be looking to their network and connectivity partners to provide all three.
Flexibility not just in terms of flexible networks that can be configured on demand, but also commercial flexibility around contract terms and implementation options.
Securityof data, of network traffic and secure access to systems, whether they are hosted on-premise, via a collocated data centre or delivered via the cloud.
Agility in being able to rapidly shift to and from a WFH environment. The current pandemic is by no means over and the situation is evolving constantly, so firms need to be able to adapt their infrastructure quickly to changing circumstances.
With its global network ecosystem, secure cloud access capabilities and innovative technology, BSO provides the flexibility, security and agility that firms need in these uncertain times.