How Can Enterprise IT Support the ‘Rising Tide’ of Communication Tools?
Visibility into the network is key
If you need proof that decentralization and the rise of remote work is redefining the enterprise, look no further than some of the products and platforms sprouting up in support of this phenomenon — specifically, the communications tools companies leverage to stay connected.
Slack, Fuze, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and other “team collaborative applications” are part of a $3.5 billion global market, with a forecast to grow nearly 70% in the next three years, according to research firm IDC. And with so much cash on the table in a market poised to explode, it’s no wonder that the latest tech arms race is playing out in the unified communications market.
Back in July, for instance, Microsoft shared user statistics for Teams that indicated more than 13 million people use the app daily, besting unofficial estimates of 10 million daily users on Slack. While much of Teams’ popularity can be attributed to Microsoft bundling the platform into its Office 365 suite of products, it’s still remarkable to think that just two platforms that only came into existence within the past decade are used by almost 20 percent of the U.S. labor force daily — and that’s not even counting Google Hangouts, social media platforms, and the wealth of communication tools that workers leverage over the course of the work day.
The reason for the rise is clear: When workers can leverage communication tools that break down the geographical barriers between team members, the benefits are boundless. Companies can expand their search for new talent from a specific locale to across the globe, for instance, if the best qualified candidate is able to do the job remotely from where they live. Managers don’t need to spend time and money traveling to hold meetings with teams or schmooze with a potential client — with stable video chat, a face-to-face conversation can take place with thousands of miles of distance between each participant.
But ensuring that the network that underpins these tools can deliver stable connectivity that spans the distance between the screens can be its own daunting challenge. After all, you’d be hard-pressed to find an executive who hasn’t had a video conference derailed by poor audio or video quality in the past.
According to AppNeta’s 2019 State of Enterprise IT Report, most enterprise teams today use messaging apps daily (56%), with more than half of respondents deeming them “critical” or “very critical.” With messaging and communication apps playing such a significant role in business, how can IT be sure these latency/jitter-prone technologies aren’t competing for network capacity at the expense of productivity? The answer varies, but following these best practices will help you get there.
- Understand what apps are on your network and at what scale. Without visibility into all of the apps leveraging network capacity, not only will enterprise IT be unaware of potentially malicious applications on the network, but they’ll also have their hands tied when it comes to seeing how noncritical apps are impacting important ones. For communication tools in particular, ensuring that these “business critical” applications are getting the share of network capacity they require is essential. If quality of service (QoS) is in use, active monitoring of the end-to-end network paths can reveal if differentiated services code point (DSCP) markings are honored across the entire connection. This approach will tell how much capacity you’ll need based on current user behavior.
- Baseline network performance and explore alternatives. Building on the first step, enterprise IT should look at this as an opportunity to see what’s really working and explore areas for improvement. If a team abandons Slack for a different messaging app, for instance, IT should evaluate if it was simply a matter of user preference, or if it was actually a performance issue that IT could remedy to get all users back on the same platform. To that end, teams need to take a close look at the strength of the network in areas that may be ripe for weaknesses: Is network capacity at remote sites sufficient enough to support the needs identified in Step 1 as well as for new technology coming down the line? And how does capacity at a remote location and “last mile” circuit health trend over time/through a full business cycle? This will help round out the picture of performance started with Step 1, setting teams on a path to take action.
- Leverage visibility to enforce policies and increase awareness. Enterprise IT needs to use a combination of monitoring approaches that allow them to see the whole picture when it comes to network and app performance. This doesn’t necessarily mean dedicating manpower specifically to policing end users and holding them to task, but employing lightweight — that is, low overhead and easy to control — solutions that can deliver real-time insights from a single pane of glass. Teams must then leverage this visibility continuously to ensure user experience and improve IT response times when issues inevitably arise.
Once armed with active and passive visibility across the enterprise network, enterprise IT can not only support their existing communication solutions but help prime the network for the unavoidable deluge of new technologies set to rock the enterprise space in the years to come. It’s all about looking at the big picture. Sure, there are some solutions that can monitor the performance of Slack or Teams specifically, but IT needs to expand their focus to the whole network, not just specific apps. This is especially critical as the performance of high-bandwidth communications tools are often impacted by the whims of the larger network and the other solutions sapping up network capacity.
All of these steps are in the overall service of giving enterprise IT the visibility they need to successfully do the overarching job of managing and monitoring the network.