It’s late at night and you are in your kitchen. You hear the smash of breaking glass emanating from a ground floor window and fear the worse…burglars. You panic. Scrambling around in the dark you grasp the nearest tool to hand to deploy as a defensive weapon, it turns out to be a spatula. Is that really going to help? Are you going to be able to fend off, or deter, a hardened criminal with a small rubber ended spatula? Probably not. Grabbing the tool reassured you initially but in the long run it’s likely to be ineffective and maybe brandishing it will prove more trouble than it’s worth.
This terrible, misleading, inaccurate, and potentially irrelevant analogy is one that I concocted to try and summarise what has happened recently in the world of business technology. I think we can all agree that I failed, although I would argue that there are some parallels.
It appears that many businesses weren’t prepared for the onset of a global pandemic. Who was? Many were not equipped with suitable technology solutions that allowed them to seamlessly enable their workforces to up sticks, vacate the office and work from home. With the prospect of workforce redundancy looming, organisations globally scrambled to find solutions that would immediately alleviate some of the issues. Rash, enforced decision making doesn’t often engender the best outcomes.
Feeling the strain
Businesses needed a quick fix. A solution, or combination of solutions, that would allow them to continue to operate whilst complying with social distancing requirements. Many organisations, who already had some capability to enable remote working, found that scaling solutions up to cater for their entire workforce was difficult, or even impossible. Technicians around the globe were finding themselves inundated with issues relating to increased traffic on VPN connections and with stuttering network appliances suddenly overwhelmed by the vast increase in remote access requests.
Networks strained, and in some cases failed, as a result. In the UK, during the first week of ‘lockdown’ the internet providers saw massive increases in demand. TalkTalk said total traffic had risen by over 20% and Vodafone witnessed a 30% increase in demand. That week major mobile operators experienced a mass outage with Vodafone, EE, Three and O2 all facing issues leaving customers without the connectivity they required to fulfil their usual daily tasks away from the office.
Even the world’s biggest technology companies were not immune. Microsoft’s collaboration and remote work enabling, Teams platform, suffered a major outage across Europe that week. Undoubtedly caused by an unplanned surge in demand and the resulting growing pains. Teams had witnessed a 500% increase in the use of meetings, calling, and conferences – and a 200% increase in use through its mobile applications – from the 31st of January onwards.
So if some of the industries finest were suffering and didn’t apparently have the required spare capacity immediately at hand, how were small non-technical businesses supposed to cope? Many couldn’t. The solutions they had in place either had no capacity for remote work or such little capacity, maybe just enough for members of senior management to sign in to systems over the weekend, that they couldn’t cater for an entire workforce suddenly wanting remote access to systems still based in the office.
Examining new systems that would allow for remote communication and collaboration became the primary option for many organisations. Cloud solutions, with their more simple global accessibility, apparently infinite scalability, and speed of deployment appeared to meet the needs of world businesses. This explains the remarkable increase in Microsoft Teams usage and the rapid rise of Zoom Video Technologies. Having already become one of the world’s most valuable cloud companies, after its IPO last April, its valuation now exceeds that of all of the US airlines combined, with a roughly $40 billion market cap. Its daily active user base has exceeded 200 million, that’s 1900% growth from the 10 million it had back in December 2019. One of its primary rivals, and one of the industry’s more established names, Cisco, said that customers spent more than 5.5 billion minutes in virtual Webex meetings in the first two weeks of March.
This boom has been seen throughout the industry with vendors, service providers and telecommunications firms all witnessing interested demand for cloud based communication solutions. The big boys aren’t the only ones who might profit from an enforced change in global working habits.
The wrong tool at the right time
This brings me back to my terrible spatula analogy.
Many organisations had to quickly implement solutions that would allow their businesses to continue to function in the short-term. To rapidly equip users with the tools they need to work from home, decision makers had to adopt any platform which could be rolled out quickly. With the clock ticking, many of the decisions made may not have resulted in the same outcome, were a longer evaluation and selection process feasible.
We have already seen a rising number of security and compliance related concerns associated with some of the most popular applications. Considerations around data sovereignty were easily overlooked during the scramble, but in the cold light of day businesses need to ensure that they are still meeting regional regulatory requirements.
Suitability checks may also have been hurried. An application might have quickly been able to provide users with remote work tools, but was it really right for the business long-term? Does it integrate with other critical business systems easily or would another platform have proved a more seamlessly fit, able to enhance existing workflows.
Then there is cost. Over 50 technology vendors in the collaboration and communication space have made freemium versions of their software applications available to ease the global burden. A great gesture, no-one can deny. Many businesses have adopted these platforms, but what happens when this is all over? Have these solutions been properly costed once any offers are rescinded? The usual due-diligence that may have occurred during normal procurement processes may not have been strictly adhered to during the initial scramble.
With that in mind, it is now a crucial time for the industry. Global business has placed its trust in our technology and as the crisis continues – and hopefully begins to subside – it is key that technology partners and vendors ensure that the solutions provided are truly suitable for a business needs long-term, not only during a scramble.