What is the one key thing employees expect from technology when they start their working day?

For it to simply work. The expectation is always for an easy and consistent user experience, regardless of the industry, working location, or applications used. Across all the companies or industries I talk to the theme is the same. Users should not be considering what VPNs to use, or whether to use a different process to work from a different location. It should be the same simple behaviour for our staff regardless of where they are. This base requirement of ensuring simple connectivity for different users is fast approaching many CTOs’ agendas as a priority.

Why is this becoming more pressing? Because we are in a position where users demand to work from anywhere. We typically have our identity sources based in Microsoft clouds, we have some bespoke or legacy applications hosted in small data centres, and we have increasing cyber threats presenting themselves regularly. With our new hybrid workforce, applications can sit anywhere across multiple cloud providers and often need to be accessible globally.  

You can empathise with the challenge at hand for businesses in finding that balance of security, providing connectivity, and making it simple for the user. However, not addressing or exploring better options can in the worst of cases result in inconsistent user experience, performance issues depending on location, security concerns, and in some cases increased IT spending from adding vendor products on top of each other, all promising to secure or provide a better outcome.

While this can sound daunting, I believe there is an exciting opportunity to explore the best approaches so businesses can flourish during this critical point of change. So, what are the secret ingredients to make this reality?

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Understanding your users

When we start with the focus of introducing simplicity to our workforce, we must understand them and how they work.

As such, start by mapping out the key systems/applications the workforce requires. Then align with where these exist in your IT infrastructure, and how users connect to them. Finally, align this information into persona mappings to understand the different users in the business and what each of them relies on to be able to complete their job. Once you have this information, consider now how all the staff work to access these applications to complete their jobs—adding in any specific regional or geographic considerations on top.

From this simple starting point, you will notice why I view this as such an exciting opportunity. In most cases, there is a very inconsistent setup from an end-user perspective. You may think it’s simple from a pure IT technical perspective but take into consideration the first statement.

Your workforce should be able to simply turn on their laptops, wherever they are, and work in the same way without even thinking about it. At no point should your staff need to stop and work out if they are on the VPN for set applications, or if they are using the wrong VPN profile, or consider that now they are in the office they must turn the VPN off, etc.

Traditional approaches that were built to provide the ability to work from anywhere, were inadvertently not very user-friendly.

Ensuring consistency

We need to have the same approach for providing access to the user systems from employees’ perspective regardless of where they are.

To achieve this, we have typically ended up with technical solutions that vary depending on the location. In turn, the concept we will be aligning to is based upon zero trust network access (ZTNA), while not pushing it to the forefront of user interactions. By doing this, we change our approach so that with the knowledge of our systems and understanding of the users we can create policies to give access that are uniform from a usability perspective.

Secured but simple

I follow a tried and tested approach that follows a principle many follow. This is designed based on key business requirements, while always keeping it simple. It’s an important approach that I consider vital to ensuring the best user experience. This is particularly true when our goal is to have an outcome of it simply working.

Do not mistake this for meaning that it will not be highly secure. Going forward, based on what I have covered so far, the goal is to ensure increased protection while making it easier than ever for our workforce. What we should strive for is security not to be disruptive to our staff’s working day, but rather frictionless and transparent.

What I have described may sound implausible or as if it is a large-scale project which will take years to achieve. The reality, though, is this is achievable right now and many companies are already reaping the benefits of implementing solutions that can achieve all of this.

How to make it happen

Technology has evolved with offerings such as Security Service Edge (SSE) and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE). While I do not intend to do a comparison between these technologies, the key differences between them come down to whether you need integration for this fully into your SD-WAN environments.

Regardless, the premise is that they can help provide a Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) model without completely redesigning your whole IT infrastructure. For your users, they can be provided with a simplified connectivity method that is highly secure without them needing to be aware.

Something that can frequently be bothersome for highly geo-diverse workforces is deciding on the balance of remote workers’ usability and whether to spin up regional data centres or cloud environments for critical business apps. These SSE solutions enable you to have regional cloud-based firewall instances. Combined with then utilising the backbone connectivity between these cloud-based firewall instances, in many cases, you can reduce the latency and improve connectivity to your users worldwide. All without committing to building a complex network environment or relying on pricey carrier solutions.

Thinking back to the simplicity I described, this will enable uniform connectivity policies regardless of where the users are working globally. The users will work in the same way, they will not need to be thinking of which VPN to use, or if they need to connect to anything differently. They log in, open their business app, and start working.

I am particularly passionate about this topic having been previously involved in a smaller service provider network design, so it’s a premise I worked on creating many years ago. As the working world has transformed, enabling a seamless user experience for hybrid working has become a pressing requirement for businesses, but it’s one that with some forethought is simple to achieve.

Nathan Ashby
Nathan Ashby

Passionate networking engineer with 10+ years' experience within the industry. Currently a Senior Solutions Engineer at systems integrator and managed service provider, Cisilion. He has contributed to TechFinitive under our Opinions section.