The workplace has changed forever—and it’s not only employee expectations that are driving this change. Nine out of 10 C-suite executives say their organizations will continue combining remote and onsite working after the pandemic, according to a global McKinsey survey. What’s more, most of those executives agree that their employees’ productivity has increased during the pandemic.

As an IT leader, you’ve most likely taken big strides in adapting to this change, by introducing measures to deal with the sudden shift to remote working and then safely reopen offices.

However, with sudden change turning into long-term change, now is an ideal time to fundamentally reassess the physical and digital infrastructure underpinning your workplace, workforce, and business activities. And given the type and scale of the changes, that reassessment should include the infrastructure that connects everyone and everything in your enterprise: the network.

To help IT leaders with this reassessment, we’re launching a series of articles on how to modernize your enterprise network for the post-pandemic era—starting with the three biggest challenges you’ll face.

The connectivity challenge

Even before the pandemic, most enterprises had expanded well beyond the traditional office and branch network. Many office workers had already swapped their workstations for mobile offices, giving them the freedom to work anywhere. Many more have since joined them, working at home either full-time or some of the time.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has accelerated the use of digital technologies in more occupations in more places, from delivery drivers to health professionals in the field. Many more devices are connected to digital networks, as industries ranging from manufacturing to agriculture adopt new applications for the Internet of Things (IoT).

The challenge for IT leaders is to enable all these remote workers and devices to connect to the network easily and reliably. Enterprise networks also need to support users’ increasing performance and bandwidth needs.

Virtual meetings—often in high-definition video from several locations—will remain the norm. Video and other bandwidth-hungry media are being increasingly used for other remote applications, such as telehealth and technical support. Remote workers and IoT devices need instantaneous access to cloud applications via low-latency networks.

The security challenge

Another key challenge is securing business data across an increasingly distributed workforce—and the consequences of not doing so are greater than ever. The average cost of an enterprise data breach is now US$4.24 million, according to the IBM-Ponemon Institute Cost of a Data Breach 2021 report. That’s the highest ever in the report’s 17-year history.

Remote work appears to be largely responsible for the increase. The average cost was US$1.07 million higher in breaches where remote work was a factor, compared to other breaches.

Meanwhile, IoT and other automation applications are driving more machine-to-machine (M2M) connections. In fact, Cisco predicts M2M devices will comprise half of all connected devices globally in 2023, up from a third in 2018.

That’s a scary thought. Not only is your organization’s attack surface constantly increasing, but many of those endpoints may lack nearby humans to help secure them.

The network management challenge

In addition to more endpoint devices, enterprises are using an increasing array of disparate systems and applications to accelerate digitization. This includes using multiple cloud services, with 69% of organizations investing in a multicloud strategy, according to a recent IDC Cloud Pulse Survey.

However, the scale and complexity of many corporate networks have evolved well beyond what they were intended to handle. Traditional networking technologies and topologies weren’t designed for today’s enterprise, with its multiple wired and wireless local area networks, wide area networks, branches, data centers, and cloud services—and numerous remote connections.

Many organizations are modernizing their networks, but often in an ad hoc way, so their networks and IT environments are still being managed independently. It’s challenging, if not impossible, to gain end-to-end visibility of who and what is accessing the networks, and the quality of the user experience. It’s equally difficult to detect and diagnose anomalies and threats, and apply consistent policies.

A full-stack solution for multiple challenges

To meet these challenges, you may need to redesign your enterprise network for the post-pandemic era. At Cisco, we believe this is best achieved by taking a holistic, full-stack approach to your network infrastructure.

Such an approach should enable your organization to:

  • Create a pervasive environment for people and devices to connect from anywhere, easily and reliably, via wired or wireless networks
  • Secure your network with continuous, identity-based trusted access for authorized users and devices to use applications, services, and data
  • Automate network management and orchestration with artificial intelligence and machine learning, while gaining end-to-end visibility and insights from analytics of device, user, and application activities across the network.

Over the coming weeks, we will delve further into how to reshape your enterprise network, from connecting and engaging the hybrid workforce to creating a new network operating model.

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