May 13, 2020

Shifting Sands in Technology and the Post-Pandemic Normal

By Mohammed Mulla, Senior Product Manager at SEACOM

At the beginning of the 21st century, connectivity solutions from ISPs meant simply connecting corporate offices to each other and to their data centres. Rigid in their WAN architecture and lulled by a false sense of security with their legacy VPN links, with servers tucked away in office basements. Mobile Internet access was limited. IT departments had to maintain on-site infrastructure, and tightly controlled user Internet access just as HR regulated office-bound work hours, permanent workstations, and lunch breaks.

Many C-suite executives held onto the old way of doing things and invariably avoided terms such as ‘Digital Transformation’ and ‘Cloud’. Others, however, viewed the Internet and emerging technologies as the key to doing business better. These leaders empowered their workforce to work from wherever they were based, using any means of Internet connectivity, and on almost any device.

The opportunity for digital transformation

Then, suddenly, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and globally threatened not only the health of humanity, but business health too. Almost every sector was immediately separated by one thing – the progress made on their digital transformation strategy. Reportedly, around 70% of businesses had a digital transformation strategy or plan in place, while the rest were still in the process of formulating one.

Businesses that embraced the relevant technologies and the Internet continued to function normally, benefitting from the immediate economies of scale and flexibility offered by cloud providers. The rest frantically tried to get their workforce connected to online business applications and technologies.

One thing is clear, the global crisis forced organisations to drastically speed up their digital transformation efforts because its impact fundamentally and immediately have changed the way they behave and defined a new way of working.

The new post-pandemic normal

The pandemic has already taught us about the need for business agility and the reliance on elastic technology, as businesses scale up and down with unprecedented speed. From an economic perspective, the only certainty is that there will be continued uncertainty in the short-to-medium term, directly translating into many companies reframing their core activities.

Technology partners and infrastructure providers need to align with this required level of agility flexiblility. Those fortunate enough to move fully to cloud environments, have embraced this elasticity and experienced the dynamic ability to shift both cloud resources and spend.

A key enabler to elastic cloud consumption is a quality Internet connectivity. Unfortunately, many organisations have been caught off guard, as hundreds of individuals needed to move away from centralised, rigid VPN-centric WAN-based offices to a decentralised Internet-access-driven structure in a very short space of time. On the other hand, those businesses that have had the foresight to connect directly to the cloud have been able to seamlessly shift an entire workforce, almost overnight. With high-quality and reliable Internet intact, business activity can be sustained from anywhere, and employees can access cloud services easily.

A fully connected world

For many, virtual gaming lobbies have replaced social gatherings, WhatsApp group chats have become the new smokers’ balconies, and which Netflix series to binge-watch next has become a heated topic of discussion among household members. An important element in this personal virtual transition is uncapped, reliable Internet. Without old school bandwidth limits removed, there is no need to worry about running out of data bundles and hitting usage caps in the middle of a nail-biting game or entertaining movie. This unlimited usage criterion has seen many home users switch to high-tier Fibre to the Home (FTTH) packages, offering the capacity every home needs with superior quality. The transition to working from home is, therefore, easier for these FTTH users, with uncapped and unthrottled packages that allow them to do business and connect to the digital world, quickly and efficiently.

Organisations have benefitted from self-isolation and lockdowns with cloud-based virtual collaboration tools, including Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Companies that embraced work-from-home policies, before the pandemic, had a workforce that was already exposed to these and paved the way to ensure the right connectivity was in place. However, others have struggled to transcend to a new way of virtual communication – a future norm that is now fast-tracked by the pandemic.

If you haven’t embraced the cloud, now is the time

The new question businesses are asking is no longer whether to adopt a cloud strategy but rather, it is to assess which cloud providers to use. If Elon Musk can diversify Tesla Gigafactories across different continents, so too can corporates diversify their business applications across various cloud providers. Similarly, while VPN-based WANs confine customers to a specific provider, Internet-based services can be aggregated across multiple providers using SD-WAN, with the ability to dynamically control connectivity options, thereby offering a truly elastic WAN.

In summary, the ‘new post-pandemic normal’ for business applications and connectivity is based on adopting cloud services over the Internet. Security and SD-WAN play a vital role in this new ecosystem, replacing the previously rigid MPLS-based, VPN-WAN environments. The only difference, introduced by the pandemic, is that the luxury of time and predictable budgets have been taken away, and replaced with the urgent need to be agile and adapt to the rapidly evolving world, with a set of underlying elastic cloud and connectivity elements. It seems that the only time and patience we should be sympathetic too, is waiting for our electric vehicles to charge, which could be our norm by 2030.