Virtual workers on the rise, study says


You may have noticed a subtle but significant change in your organization over the past few years. I’m talking about the increasing shift toward a virtual workplace in which employees and their bosses (or peers) operate out of different geographies. If you’re in Dallas, your boss is in Denver and your colleagues are in Detroit — you’re a virtual worker.

Research shows that the number of virtual workers continues to increase, year over year: the percentage of companies that define themselves as virtual workplaces has increased from 57 percent to 83 percent in the past 12 months.

Additionally, these offices are increasingly smaller and more distributed. Ninety percent of employees work away from headquarters, and the number of branch offices is increasing by roughly 10 percent year over year.

Here’s the kicker: At the same time that the typical enterprise organization is increasingly virtual, the typical IT organization is increasingly centralized. (Many companies have made the leap to complete help desk outsourcing, in which IT is not only centralized, but located in an entirely different geography). In other words, employees are increasingly likely to be outside the physical reach of IT support.

The impact of all this is a major spike in the importance and complexity of corporate networks. As recently as five years ago, telecom managers worried primarily about keeping the long lines of their enterprises up and running — meaning the fat pipes connecting large and midsize offices to the corporate WAN. Increasingly, though, the action’s around the edges: If a remote link fails, a company’s business-critical activity comes to a screeching halt.

What should IT executives do to address these revised requirements? Here are a handful of best practices:

* Assess managed services. Many carriers — including Megapath, Masergy, Fiberlink and others — offer managed services targeted at remote and distributed environments.

* Require carriers to provide CPE-to-CPE service-level agreements (SLA). Traditionally, carriers have been reluctant to provide premises-to-premises SLAs, on the theory that they don’t control the last mile. With consolidation, however, that assumption no longer holds (AT&T now includes both BellSouth and SBC). Ask for end-to-end SLAs.

* Look into centrally managed, all-in-one branch-office devices. Juniper, Cisco, Adtran and others make easy-to-use, multifunctional branch devices.

* Focus on enabling remote/mobile access. In a surprising number of cases, companies neglect remote/mobile access, or treat it as an “exception”. Big mistake: remote and mobile access can consume 40 percent or more of a total telecom budget. And even more importantly, vendors are increasingly offering multimode devices that transition seamlessly between enterprise VOIP — which means it’s important to consider mobile services in light of future VOIP and unified communications strategies.

* Invest in centralized management, particularly for convergence. Managing remote devices (not to mention disgruntled, disconnected users) takes the right tools. If you’re deploying VOIP to branches, consider products from vendors such as Fluke, Integrated Research, CA and others that enable effective management of remote, converged devices.

The bottom line: Smart IT executives will prioritize developing road maps and architectures that consider the shift towards virtualized workplaces.


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