Unicomm > 2021 > July

The most important network performance factors to consider

We’re all doing so much more online, which was true before the pandemic, and now it’s even more clear that businesses rely on their internet connection. Coping with Covid-related demand put enormous stress on many corporate networks, and with new ways of working likely to outlive lockdowns, network performance has become a business-critical issue.

While flexible working was gradually gaining acceptance before 2020, there’s no doubt that Covid gave it a powerful shot in the arm. Home working proved so successful during lockdowns that many businesses are likely to offer it in part-time or “hybrid” form, as part of a standard employee benefits package.

But as we saw during the pandemic, home working is only successful if it’s properly supported. Remote employees need the digital tools and services that allow them to work as productively and efficiently away from the office, as in it.

That almost certainly means video conferencing, and for many businesses has also meant the adoption of cloud-based unified communications solutions. Services that bring video, voice, chat, text and email together in one package, alongside presence, file sharing and other collaboration tools.

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The pace of change

As staff acclimatised to home working, companies that hadn’t already done so replaced desktop productivity tools and finance software (among many others) with cloud equivalents. All in all, the pandemic accelerated cloud adoption by a serious rate of knots.

The amount of data travelling between corporate servers and the cloud increased significantly as a result, but that wasn’t the only factor stretching some company networks to breaking point.

Already hugely important, e-commerce was given a major boost by lockdown closures and social distancing. At the same time, contactless payments replaced cash for many consumers. All of which added hugely to the amount of data corporate networks were forced to deal with.

Lockdown may be all but over (at least for now), and life is returning to something approaching normality. But we all adopted new ways to work, socialise and spend during the pandemic and there’s no turning back now. Our reliance on digital tools, data and networks has never been so profound.

Or as analysts McKinsey puts it, “businesses that once mapped digital strategy in one-to three-year phases must now scale their initiatives in a matter of days or weeks.”

More innovation on the way

So in a nutshell, more devices are using your corporate network to access more applications. The switch to cloud computing means a huge increase in the amount of data travelling back and forth between distant servers, possibly causing network congestion.

Even if your network performance is as expected, it’s likely to be put under even more pressure in the near future. A new generation of applications based on AI, VR and Internet of Things (IoT) technology is just around the corner. Meanwhile, the ISDN switch off in 2025 will force all businesses to adopt all-IP telephony.

All of this makes the health of your network traffic critical to the success of your business ambitions. Performance issues can’t be allowed to undermine everyday operations and affect the user experience of your staff. In the digital age, downtime isn’t an option, which means measuring network performance is more essential than ever.

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How to measure and improve network performance

So how do you measure the performance of a network, and what network performance metrics should you keep an eye on? The obvious ones are latency, packet loss and disconnections. As far as your IT team is concerned, problems with the network may be signalled by increases in user complaints about slow downloads, lost documents and jittery video conferencing.

You can optimise your network to better deal with this deluge in a number of ways. Investing in extra bandwidth, full fibre connectivity and a private line are obvious solutions.

After that, network performance management solutions can help you identify bandwidth hogs, dropped packets and network latency issues, and do something about them in real time. Malware is not only a security risk but also a threat to network performance, so tight security is a win win. You may also need to check and replace old or broken network devices.

Finally, Quality of Service (QoS) can make sure bandwidth is reserved for critical applications and services. For example, if keeping remote colleagues connected through video is important, QoS can prioritise that data. If your e-commerce site is getting inundated, you can give it the capacity it needs to ensure smooth customer interactions.

The simple truth is, no business can be satisfied with “good enough” network performance anymore. In a new world of remote work and e-commerce, your network has to handle peaks in activity and have the capacity you need to scale at will. Keeping an eye on network performance factors, and prioritising network optimisation, has become a “must-do” for organisations of all sizes.

If you’ve noticed bottlenecks in your internet speeds, unusual and possibly malevolent behaviour on your network, or simply want to know how you can make the most of your existing infrastructure, then don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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Preventing human error with effective IT support

There’s a sense that, when employees work from home, your IT team loses an element of control. Without a physical IT presence, staff may be more prone to taking shortcuts, and less likely to attend to the basic maintenance of devices and systems.

And of course, most of your employees aren’t IT experts, but that lack of knowledge and experience can no longer be used as an excuse when addressing human errors.

Some of them will only have the most basic knowledge of the devices they use every day. Whether in sales, marketing, finance or HR, remote employees are likely to need IT support as often at home as they do in the office. Without a physical IT team to call on, they may lose valuable work time or be more inclined to attempt to resolve issues alone, potentially making problems worse.

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The consequences of human error

“Human error could lead to damaging consequences for your business”

In other words, without the proper support in place, IT issues have the potential to make remote work more stressful and less productive. At the same time, human error could lead to damaging consequences for your business.

For example, with employees working away from the office, how do you know they’re sticking to security protocols, or only using approved applications? How do you know they’re updating software as soon as patches become available?

Unpatched hard- and software is more vulnerable to cyberattacks. The kind of consumer-grade or “freemium” apps that remote staff install as an easy workaround or shortcut – or because they already use them on personal devices – might not be secure enough for corporate use.

And as you’re probably aware, the number of phishing attacks has massively increased since the start of the pandemic and the wide adoption of cloud based communication platforms. Without IT teams looking over their shoulder, remote staff may be more likely to click an untrustworthy link or fall for a well designed scam email.

The cost of mistakes

These common human factors could be costly for your business and in some cases, they could be calamitous. Estimates vary, but one common calculation of the average cost of successful cyber attacks on small businesses is £11,000. According to some reports, 60% of small businesses go under within six months of a cyber breach.

“60% of small businesses go under within six months of a cyber breach”

This is one end of the scale of remote IT challenges. At the other are thousands of employees struggling with slow connections, or upgrades that won’t install, or devices that simply won’t do what they’re supposed to do.

The accumulated cost to business of IT issues like these is £3.4 billion a year in lost productivity, according to one report. The same research found that employees spend over one day a month on average trying to fix IT issues. With more and more staff working from home, that figure is likely to rise.

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Human error prevention

So how do you ensure that your own remote teams are not beset with the kind of IT issues that drive down productivity and can even threaten the future of your business?

Good IT training is crucial in reducing human error in the workplace, and it should focus first on cybersecurity. Teach employees about the particular risks of remote work, with regular refresher sessions and alerts to cover information on the latest phishing attacks and email scams. Make sure every employee knows and employs two factor authentication (where available) and password best practice. Produce written guidelines on the management system, devices and apps that are sanctioned for use, and any that definitely aren’t.

“Good IT training is crucial, and it should focus first on cybersecurity”

And hybrid working – with employees regularly moving between their homes and the office – increases the risk of lost or stolen laptops. Make sure you have policies in place to cover just such an eventuality. Think about implementing remote data wiping for all company devices that leave the office.

Remote IT support

For more everyday issues, make sure that members of the IT team are always available, and give every employee contact details for a manned support desk. If employees can get their issues solved easily, they’ll be less likely to go it alone.

It’s also true that the better you equip employees for remote or hybrid work, the less likely they are to run into IT challenges. For example, a cloud-hosted unified communications system like Mitel McCloud Flex lets your hybrid workers take their complete office communications and collaboration system home with them. That means they can continue to use the secure, all-in-one solution they’re familiar with wherever they are, without having to switch software or download separate apps or services.

“The better you equip employees for remote or hybrid work, the less likely they are to run into IT challenges”

By making the transition to remote or hybrid work seamless, solutions like MCloud Flex reduce calls to your IT support desk and drive productivity.

A good IT provider will also support your home-worker solutions remotely, taking pressure off your IT team and freeing it up for tricker issues. At Unicomm, our involvement in your solution doesn’t end when it’s up and running. Depending on your need and in-house resources, we can build a support package that will take a lot of IT support legwork off your hands. For example, we can take care of software updates, database issues and interfaces with other systems, as well as troubleshooting network issues.

Left to their own devices, remote workers can make entirely preventable mistakes that reduce your operational efficiency and might even leave you more vulnerable to cyberattack. Effective remote IT support is crucial, alongside tools and services that were designed for a new world of nomadic work.

Here at Unicomm, the more we can do, the better for your business. So, get in touch today and discover how we can help secure your operations and prevent simple human errors from derailing your organisation.

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