Why Businesses Need To Rethink Network Architecture and Privacy in 2021


Marco Di Benedetto, SVP and CTO at Riverbed, shares how organizations will reach a tipping point in 2021 where IT restructuring, new approaches to privacy, and refined network strategies will determine who succeeds in the brave new world of work.

The challenges of working from home have caused organizations to reevaluate how they look at networks for enterprise workloads. With more diverse and dispersed operations, IT decision-making processes — and IT teams themselves — will evolve in 2021 to meet new technical challenges, new attitudes towards privacy, and fundamentally new ways of working.  Here are four key areas where the quick adjustments and lessons learned in 2020 will likely lead to important, long-lasting change in 2021, and beyond. 

1. Organizations Reach a Tipping Point Between Patching Issues and Deeper Restructuring of IT

With no definitive end to the pandemic or the WFH experiment, many organizations opted for a patching approach to handling the IT challenges brought on by the massive WFH shift — making small fixes as the need for them became obvious. This may have been acceptable at first, but, as continual data breaches and security mishaps have taught us, a patching approach won’t cut it as a viable, long-term IT strategy in 2021.

Instead, organizations will need to take a deeper look at their core operating models and invest in structural changes that will prepare them for the future of work. The scales are finally tipping, and decision-makers recognize that the ROI for making these changes are far greater than continuing to make small fixes in the hopes that the old ways of working will return. This is an important moment in the story that began in March and we’ll look back at it as a time when the ‘winners’ of the early 2020s laid the groundwork necessary to emerge from the pandemic as truly evolved, resilient enterprises.

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2. Enterprise Networks and Workplace Policy Move ‘Closer To Home’

What does this look like in practice? One change organizations will make is to offer WFH-conducive alternatives to in-office enterprise networks. The definition of BYOD has changed with COVID-19. Working from home has created scenarios where individuals using two different devices may be regularly tapping into the same home network to access sensitive information from two different organizations. Employees are also often using the same device and network for both personal and work-related tasks. 

Organizations may turn to dedicated 5G networks that remote employees can access from their personal devices. A single dedicated network may help keep personal data flows separate from enterprise-specific activity, while also addressing at-home bandwidth issues. Hard boundaries (both for the network and for workplace policy) will be established between personal and professional digital identities. This will require new kinds of digital workplace norms, organization-wide understanding of security, and intelligent IT policy working together to ensure that employees are both protected and empowered in hybrid work environments.

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3. Privacy Policy Matures Into Its Own Area of Focus for Businesses 

Privacy has long been placed under the broader security umbrella when it comes to operations and corporate policy. Now, privacy considerations are branching out into their own category and sometimes even find themselves at odds with security interests. In 2021, these distinctions will become even clearer as organizations determine the extent of visibility they can and will impose on employees working remotely.  

Stronger consumer privacy rights, highlighted by the big tech Senate hearings may push employees to advocate for similar protections within their companies. This will create the need for more chief privacy officers and privacy-focused teams down the chain of command that understand local regulations and the distinct challenges and sensitivities around privacy. These challenges will reinforce the need for the kind of distinct digital identities discussed earlier and how organizations choose to articulate their privacy posture can have an impact on the company culture writ large.  

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4. New Pressures and Potential Emerge for SD-WAN

With changing employee expectations and many organizations now realizing that they can stay productive while working remotely, we will see a shift to hybrid, mobile-first environments in many industries. We’ll see scenarios where employees go into the office once or twice a week, causing enterprises to want to rent, rather than own, much of their IT infrastructure. This will create new demand for multi-tenant SD-WAN environments. 

Two primary capacities of SD-WAN — connecting branches with the Data Centers, and onboarding to the Internet — will need to be more deeply explored from the context of hybrid work environments. The relationships between IT teams, SD-WAN vendors, and other solution providers will need to evolve to meet the new needs of a hybrid workforce.

Looking Back To Look Ahead

The changes and challenges of 2020 hit the enterprise at breakneck speed. Rather than a sign of what’s to come, the past year is an indication of what’s already here, and here to stay. Decision-makers will need to reflect quickly, develop clear strategies, and then make investments to support their workforce as it continues to evolve. 

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