The public sector moved rapidly in using technology to support the new demands, but it’s time to assess the approach, writes Adele Every, managing director public sector, Cisco
For many public sector organisations, hybrid working evolved quickly during the Covid-19 pandemic, and while it enabled them to keep their operations going it has not been a perfect process.
Various weaknesses and problems arise and, with the pressure from pandemic lockdowns having been removed, there is an opportunity to assess the scope for improvement.
There are fundamental issues in the approach to hybrid working that relate closely to the technology choices and feed into how it is organised and managed. The nature of these is going to vary between organisations, dependent on their priorities and internal dynamics, but there are factors that most will have to address.
The first is to define the type of hybrid working the organisation needs: whether some people are going to be required in the office full time; how often remote workers will be expected to come in; whether they will be working primarily from home, with the benefit of fibre broadband connections and multiple screens on a desk, or from out in communities with tablet computers or smartphones; and the degree of supervision to which they will be subject.
This will feed into the technology choices with the aim of giving people from the different entry points the common experience in the virtual office.
While these choices will vary, there are steps that will be valuable to most organisations. One is to ensure that the technology provides employees at home with secure access to applications and data, to the same level as if they were in the office. There are products that enhance security and the zero trust approach will strengthen the management of the risks from remote access.
Second is to aim at delivering better experiences with the applications by assessing their performance in real time, with comparisons of how they are working for people in the office against those at home or in the field. The analysis can identify weak points and show where some applications will need to be reconfigured or possibly replaced.
Third is to look at how it all relates to any cloud services and platforms used by the organisation. There has been a growing sentiment in favour of hybrid cloud, in which applications and workloads can be shifted between public and private cloud platforms, on-premise infrastructure and software-as-a-service. Developing flexibility in how these are used will help to manage any changes in demand for bandwidth and storage and help users get the best from the services.
Fourth is to take a fresh look at the organisation’s IT budget, with a deep dive into operational costs and a readiness to make changes that would be more cost-effective, such replacing parts of the infrastructure with a cloud option. This can help to provide resources for future investments in hybrid working.
These have to be accompanied by the appropriate security measures, and there are options for protecting a whole technology stack through a built-in platform for security, and providing extra layers to block any malicious activity.
Useful guidance on non-tech issues has been produced by CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development. It includes steps such as engaging people managers in the organisation to deal with concerns about the change, developing a communications plan, supporting effective team building, and taking account of hybrid working in the training and development of managers.
It will help if the issues are addressed early and a key question in any technology choice will be how smoothly it can fit within the requirements of hybrid working. This will have to be combined with other requirements, such as interoperability, adherence to data standards and the provision of APIs, but this aligns much of the current thinking in the IT industry and there is a steady growth in the choice of solutions available.
Cisco is making a strong contribution with offerings that can be integrated within a platform to make it easier to manage the individual functions and scale up to meet an organisation’s needs.
They include Cisco Secure Remote Worker, bringing together the functions of identity verification, secure VPN access and defence against cyber threats in a single package. This incorporates Duo for the verification function, using two-factor authentication with passwords and a one-time code sent to the user’s phone, the AnyConnect Mobility Client for secure VPN access and the SecureX platform to defend users and endpoints from threats.
Other solutions are available to strengthen the approach, such as Secure Access Service Edge, which combines networking and security functions in the cloud, and analytics across all the company’s network platforms. These add to Cisco’s traditional expertise in building and maintaining different types of network.
Optimise the effort
This all provides the scope to build and manage networks that ensure the security and optimisation of hybrid working in an organisation of any size.
These and related issues are explored in greater depth in a new white paper, The future of hybrid working in a shifting landscape, produced by UKAuthority in association with Cisco. It incorporates the results of a survey and the companies’ discussions with public sector officials on the issues.DOWNLOAD REPORT