Business Continuity Planning in a Pandemic? A Resilient Network is Essential!

14 April 2020 | Chris Rezentes, Director, Product Management (Network), CenturyLink Asia Pacific

We are living and operating in extraordinary times. Even before it was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization1, the current COVID-19 crisis had effected so much change from the way we live and interact with people, to how we conduct global business and work on a daily basis. Entire cities and countries have been in lockdown, non-essential travel has been halted, and employers have imposed split teams or remote working practices on an unprecedented scale. It would hardly be an exaggeration to state that this time of crisis has led to the biggest remote working experiment the world has ever seen!

Businesses have been severely impacted in several ways with massive repercussions to bottom-line and revenue; supply chains are disrupted, and retailers and hospitality establishments forced to either scale down opening hours or completely pull their shutters down for the time being. In this downturn however, digital services are surging in demand, including e-commerce, online learning platforms, and content streaming services. In workplaces, the shift in work practices are also putting online collaboration tools and video conferencing services to heavy use, testing the strengths and limits of their enterprise networks.

How can technology teams cope with this ‘new normal’ of supporting a remote workforce? 
 
While safeguarding employees, customers and partners is imperative, the world cannot continue to be at a standstill and for the majority of businesses, life must go on albeit with all the necessary precautions in place. It is at times like this that an organization’s business continuity planning (BCP) and emergency preparedness will spring into action and uncover its best laid plans and likely also the shortfalls. With the COVID-19 situation rapidly evolving, how can technology teams cope with this ‘new normal’ of supporting a remote workforce? 

How to ensure business continuity 

It goes without saying that no matter how big or small an organization is, emergency preparedness and disaster recovery plans are vital to ensure business continuity and should be subject to regular review.

As part of this review, it is necessary to identify your most important operations and processes to understand what procedures should be in place to meet productivity challenges and ensure business can run as normal, even in times of extreme disruption like we face now, and this would encompass functions from across the organization. 

Aside from legal obligations with regards to employee wellbeing, there are a number of factors that would be addressed when planning for a contingency. When remote working policies are enforced, have you maximized your employees’ ability to in fact, work remotely2? With more organizations needing to migrate apps to the cloud, have you ensured your network connectivity is strong enough to cope with increased digital workloads? Do your workforce users have the required secure, remote access to company Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and cloud applications to adequately do their job? How secure and protected are your network connections against cyber threats as multiple users and devices access enterprise resources3?
Navigate the complex environment of technology choices, workforce adoption and applications. 
Through digital transformation, technology has enabled us to do so much more today than the last time Asia faced a public health crisis, during the SARS epidemic in 2003. Major companies and brands such as Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Hitachi4 have shut down offices and asked staff to work from home as a precautionary measure against the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. To support these directives, collaboration tools are available in abundance, ensuring teams can continue to work even through lockdown; you can annotate in real-time over Google Docs, track projects and chat to members via Microsoft Teams, hold quarterly business reviews over Cisco Webex, and assemble regional sales teams for video meetings over Zoom. While these solutions absolutely spell success for productivity, according to Gartner, 54% of HR leaders in a snap poll indicated that poor technology and/or infrastructure for remote working is the biggest barrier to effective remote working5.
54% of HR leaders indicated that poor technology and/or infrastructure is the biggest barrier to effective remote working.
— Gartner

Remote working is much more accepted in modern digital businesses and that is a massive win for agility and productivity. However, there is still much to be considered in terms of its efficiency, particularly in the supporting technology ecosystem. In simpler terms, it is not enough to just have shiny new tools if the craftspeople are not empowered with the required skills and your network infrastructure cannot support the applications you have invested in.

On the other hand, IT infrastructure in several APAC markets is still in varying stages of development. With many enterprises expanding operations in the region, supporting a rising number of applications and delivering better customer experiences are high priorities. Recently, we are seeing about a 35% growth on the CenturyLink Internet backbone over the last month and a significant capacity increase in voice and collaboration services as governments continue to regulate their citizens to work from home. It is no surprise that with the increase in remote working, there has also been a surge in usage of VPNs6 as private sector organizations, government agencies and schools, among many others, scramble for connectivity.

Digital businesses also need to continue acquiring, analyzing and acting upon data to reach their customers, once more putting their enterprise networks to the test. Despite early hesitation in adoption7, software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) have been rising in prominence for digital enterprises as a remedy for managing network challenges and this itself was a hugely positive step towards more robust BCP.

Essential practices for remote working and BCP 

Managing risk and the BCP process involves several elements and scenarios which include crisis management, natural disasters, IT breaches and pandemic preparedness. Proper planning ensures your business and your employees are protected in a number of eventualities.

What are some of the ways your organization can improve infrastructure to build resilience?

From an IT perspective, I would like to highlight the following essential practices for business continuity:
 

  1. Build a strong network infrastructure that moves at the speed of your business. This means a high performance network that has capabilities to scale bandwidth and respond with speed and agility when demand surges; in present circumstances, this would encompass businesses such as telemedicine services, education and streaming content providers, and e-commerce platforms (example: food delivery services). Digital enterprises are deploying more business-critical applications such as unified communications and video collaboration, CRM and ERP systems, and contact centers in the cloud, requiring a powerful network to support their functionalities.
  2. Link your cloud environments globally with your data center for secure and fast connections. In the face of severe business disruptions, IT teams will look to agile solutions such as SD-WAN to migrate data and workloads to the cloud.
  3. While social distancing has been mandated and large gatherings banned in several countries, delivering content virtually is the preferred option over industry events and conferences.
  4. Audit existing hardware and software and close gaps in access and adoption8. Also ensure IT usage policies and guidelines are frequently reviewed and updated to reflect changes in circumstances.
  5. Leave the hard work in the hands of experts. Engage a Managed Security Services Provider (MSSP) so you can focus on keeping business running and securing revenue. Increased number of remote devices at use and the resulting workloads and applications in the cloud would mean that your cybersecurity strategies will require expert evaluation. Likewise, plan your business resilience and disaster recovery strategy more efficiently by investigating the right approach for your business.
  6. Consider a single technology partner for operational stability. CenturyLink has a comprehensive portfolio of network, cloud and dedicated hosting capabilities for business continuity and disaster recovery solutions that can be tailored to meet any business requirements.

Give your network a health check

Just as enterprises have to prioritize safeguarding their people, IT systems also need protection and a boost of immunity. Downtime is money and it is only practical to plan for business survival even when a pandemic strikes. Remote working enabled by a robust IT infrastructure and network support businesses to overcome physical constraints, delivering virtual presence seamlessly for teams to get work done in the safety of their own homes.  

Discover the business value of adaptive networking to enterprise WANs

1 World Health Organization, WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 11 March 2020, Mar 11, 2020. 
2 Jeff Levin-Schearz and Deana Allen, 8 Questions Employers Should Ask About Coronavirus, Harvard Business Review, Mar. 15, 2020.
3 Alex Scroxton, COVID-19: NSSC issues secure remote working guidance, ComputerWeekly.com, Mar. 17, 2020.
4 Brian Lufkin, Coronavirus: How to work from home, the right way, BBC Worklife, Mar. 13, 2020.
5 Jackie Wiles, With Coronavirus in Mind, Is Your Organization Ready for Remote Work?, Smarter with Gartner, Mar 3. 2020.
6 Niall McCarthy, VPN Surges During COVID-19 Crisis, Forbes, Mar. 17, 2020. 
7 Destiny Bertucci, The 3 Myths Slowing Adoption of SD-WAN, Network Computing, May 9, 2019.
8 Cali Williams Yost, What’s Your Company’s Emergency Remote-Work Plan?, Harvard Business Review, Feb. 28, 2020. 

This content is provided for informational purposes only and may require additional research and substantiation by the end user. In addition, the information is provided "as is" without any warranty or condition of any kind, either express or implied. Use of this information is at the end user's own risk. CenturyLink does not warrant that the information will meet the end user's requirements or that the implementation or usage of this information will result in the desired outcome of the end user. This document represents CenturyLink’s products and offerings as of the date of issue. Services not available everywhere. Business customers only. CenturyLink may change or cancel products and services or substitute similar products and services at its sole discretion without notice. ©2020 CenturyLink. All Rights Reserved.

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