Once Bitten, Twice Shy: How IT Pros Can Better Prepare for the Shift to Hybrid Work

(This post originally appeared on TechInvest)

As most Australian businesses slowly transition away from pandemic-mode into some form of normality, it can only mean one thing for IT pros: reintegration. Specifically, the reintegration of returning employees and their plethora of devices, cloud services, and remote software into an onsite digital infrastructure that’s remained largely static for the past year. Though it’s no pandemic, it’s certainly an apocalyptic situation for some IT teams.

Compounding this already overwhelming situation, a majority of Australian employers are embracing a more hybrid workplace. Make no mistake, this is a great move for overall company morale, but it’s less great for IT professionals already feeling the strain from months of by-the-seat-of-our-pants solutions and good-enough-for-now IT compromises. Here are several pointers for IT pros to manage reintegration of the remote workforce—and gradual transition to hybrid arrangements—without losing the technical equilibrium they’ve managed to establish, not to mention the precious little sanity they have left.

Take Stock of Your Network Topography
Like most of us, the one thing IT professionals lacked the most throughout the pandemic was the feeling of being in control. As the world went into lockdown, well-laid-out plans went out the window—painstakingly designed hardware upgrades or infrastructure refreshes scheduled months in advance were binned, and older CDNs were mothballed for flexible and cost-effective cloud or software as a service (SaaS) applications.

And now, with businesses potentially downsizing their physical office space in favour of a more hybrid workforce, IT professionals must rethink things like capacity and accessibility. Despite the need to retool (which includes everything from reprovisioning cubicles with hardware taken home by employees who improvised home offices at the start of the pandemic to renegotiating contracts with vendors mid-term and handling the migration of business-critical functions from on-prem to SaaS), IT spend has contracted significantly, meaning smaller budgets for IT teams. Increasingly, teams must re-examine the network topology of their business campus with the sole intent of optimisation in the context of this “next normal.” The sudden shift to fully remote work upset previously well-established physical network topologies, but this shift was also imagined (at least at the outset) to be temporary. With the new shift towards hybrid work, these topologies are due to change again in ways we now know are more-or-less permanent—to the chagrin of IT professionals.

It’s obviously tougher this time. IT professionals will need to delicately balance a permanent shift of both the physical topology and the logical one, ensuring access, convenience, performance, and security—all while operating on a fraction of the budget they had before when they had a kind of “do anything it takes, just make it work” carte blanche. This means monitoring utilisation—of cloud-based, on-prem, and obfuscated SaaS assets—like a hawk to prevent waste. There’s no telling if the cloud services or SaaS applications that proved useful during the pandemic will remain useful in this new hybrid reality. This means topology optimisation will involve not just retiring defunct technologies but shelving newer ones  recently brought online if their costs can’t be justified by their usage numbers as hybrid remote work takes hold and users settle into their “next normal” routine.

Ramp Up Monitoring and ITSM Capabilities
The key solution to ensuring smooth reintegration and change towards hybrid work is, as in most things IT, real-time network monitoring. With the pandemic-induced global shift towards remote work, it’s hard to imagine businesses NOT having some form of monitoring already in place. Moving forward, your monitoring solution will be critical in ensuring network stability and performance, both for on-premises employees and those connecting in via remote access points or unsecured network connections.

This means IT will be monitoring a large number of network metrics across vastly different and constantly changing environments—not just ones they’ve carefully designed and insulated from external interference, as was the standard in the “before times.” In this challenging and nebulous environment, simpler monitoring tools fall short. IT teams will find themselves needing a comprehensive network monitoring solution designed to track, visualise, and map multiple networks, applications, services, and custom metrics within a single data repository; analyse this unified set of data; detect issues based on sophisticated rules, not just fixed thresholds; provide automated responses to attempt to fix issues the instant they’re detected; and notify IT teams of what happened and what the current state of the issue is while there’s enough time to act on it.

This level of insight is especially helpful as employees constantly cycle between the office, their homes, and a variety of other environments. When they receive a ticket complaining about the performance of a cloud service or application, how else can IT prove—beyond any doubt—the fault lies with the external network the user is connected to (or even the vendors themselves)? With the visibility provided by comprehensive monitoring, they’ll have the data and heuristics they need to not just react but provide the right kind of support.

But beyond the sheer reactivity of this cycle, robust monitoring solutions make it easy to feed monitoring data into ITSM service desk software, enabling a self-service revolution for the organisation. Physical help desk troubleshooting is easy. Remote troubleshooting is less so, but split an IT team down both ends, and it simply translates into inefficiency. Establishing an ITSM service catalogue and translating it into best practices or documentation for self-service troubleshooting is only possible once you know what the common issues and technical problems are. And this is only made obvious from the data, logs, and analytic results of a comprehensive monitoring solution.

Earlier on, I bemoaned how the pandemic turned the best plans of IT professionals to dust like a well-known mad purple titan wearing a gaudy gem-encrusted gauntlet. This shift to a more hybrid workplace, however, gives them a chance to “reboot” and do things better by introducing new processes or technologies to streamline the network for better performance. And the single best way to do this is to improve visibility and observability so IT pros can spot gaps, resolve errors, and analyse ways to strengthen business networks, which are growing more remote and decentralised by the day.

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