With hybrid and remote workforce trends firmly entrenched in the current business landscape, employers are looking to ensure employees outside the office can connect to applications and be productive.
An Auvik Networks survey of 4,500 IT professionals across North America found that with the push toward distributed workforces, in-house IT professionals are facing stumbling blocks, including network visibility, management, and security.
Just half of survey respondents said they are performing software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud monitoring or WiFi management, and 45% admit don't know the full configuration of their network.
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While more than two-thirds (68%) of organizations are backing up configurations daily or weekly, more than a quarter of respondents said their organization only backs up configurations monthly or less often.
In addition, 61% said they believe a lack of time and money is restricting their ability to better serve their colleagues.
Many organizations are also dealing with SaaS sprawl and shadow IT, where SaaS ecosystems have grown beyond the visibility of IT operations, as end users seek out applications to perform niche functions.
This creates problems with security and compliance, and also drives up costs associated with application overlap and support needs.
Because SaaS applications are often just expensed by individual users or departments, many IT departments are simply unaware that there is a need to discover, manage, and secure the broader SaaS ecosystem within their organization.
IT Teams Lack Visibility, Affecting End-User Satisfaction
One of the most surprising findings from the survey is that nearly half of respondents are measured on end-user satisfaction, according to Glenn Gray, Auvik's director of product marketing.
"This indicates that organizations are connecting the dots between end-user experience and profitability or efficiency," he said. "It is particularly interesting for IT teams in the context of remote work."
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For example, if an employee is working from home or a coffee shop and is experiencing latency issues due to a slow WiFi connection, it can reflect poorly on the network manager.
"This should raise eyebrows because most IT teams do not have visibility, let alone control, over the end user's environment when they work remotely," he said.
Gray added that it raises the important question in today's hybrid work environment, "How do you manage the network when you no longer own the network?"
Another IT Challenge: Lack of SaaS Application Monitoring
One of the most concerning findings from the survey, according to Gray, is the lack of SaaS application monitoring.
"Salesforce, Slack, Microsoft 365, GSuite, Zoom, and other well-known business apps are likely managed by IT operations, but most SaaS applications are purchased directly by end users unbeknownst to IT teams," he explained.
These can be an essential part of an end user's productivity, but they also present unique data security and regulatory compliance challenges if not discovered and managed by ITOps.
"End users and the work they generate are the lifeblood of any organization," Gray said. "Their ability to remain productive and collaborative relies in no small part on things we all tend to take for granted — WiFi connectivity, hardware and network performance, and quick access to SaaS applications, to name a few."
The end user's experience is so profoundly affected by these and other IT-related events that they must be the key components of any end-user experience scoring mechanism.
"Put another way, a simple network latency issue might be the cause of significant end-user productivity and lead to serious financial losses," Gray said. "Ensuring that doesn't happen or that it is identified and resolved quickly is important to maintaining positive end-user experiences and reaping all their resulting benefits."
Adapting to the Post-Pandemic Workforce Landscape
Post-pandemic, many workers aren't coming back to the office full time, and this has put pressure on IT departments to adapt to this new permanent reality, according to Gray.
"Crafting a policy that focuses on positive business outcomes starts with realizing that keeping end users productive should be the key objective for IT operations," he said. "The person or people charged with creating and rolling out the policy should be familiar with basic ITOps, but also have a keen understanding of how to measure important components of productivity."
He added the policy should include near real-time measurement capabilities of IT-related events like WiFi connectivity.
"In the recent past, solving IT problems often meant adding headcount. Given the macroeconomic environment we're facing, IT leaders shouldn't count on more headcount," he said.
From Gray's perspective, the first thing they must do is identify areas of significant inefficiency and/or opportunities for automation.
"How much time is spent annually performing menial network hygiene tasks like backing up network device configurations or documenting configuration changes?" he noted. "Probably quite a lot."
Building a business case for new automation systems or processes that demonstrate real savings should be a fairly straightforward exercise and one that will likely help attain executive buy-in, Gray said.
About the authorNathan Eddy is a freelance writer for ITPro Today. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin.