Troubleshooting remote-employee experience is a must in the era of COVID-19

A conversation with Catchpoint CEO Mehdi Daoudi on the challenges in improving the work from home experience

Remote worker  >  A man works from home with his dog
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The COVID-19 pandemic has created a massive wave in remote working, and this is causing some new pains for organizations, particularly network operations.

Since shelter-in-place orders were given, I’ve talked to about 50 IT and business leaders to discuss their priorities, and here are the top four:

  • Minimize disruption of employees
  • Maintain the highest levels of customer service
  • Minimize the impact to supply chain
  • Continue with 100% of business operations

Three out of four of these are directly affected by network performance. Employees working from home are collaborating over video to approximate an in-person experience, and the majority of tools they use are cloud-based. Organizations are also shifting their contact-center workers to cloud solutions to keep customer service high.

Monitoring cloud-based applications is significantly different than monitoring on-premises apps because legacy tools can't see across the internent. To get an understanding of the problem and how IT professionals can mitigate it, I chatted with Mehdi Daoudi, CEO and Co-Founder of Catchpoint, a company that builds systems specifically designed for Internet monitoring.

What have been the top three technological shifts that have occurred in the past couple of months due to the crisis?

There have obviously been a number of different trends ranging from technology to the people side of things. The first is that the spike in remote workers is revealing holes in the digital work preparedness for companies.  Business continuity used to be about very data-center-focused things, and we measured metrics like recovery objective times.  Now, business continuity is about maintaining full business operations for an undisclosed period of time.

The second trend is that everyone has been forced to use digital technology such as video collaboration, grocery and food delivery, e-commerce sites. This might sit well with the younger generation that routinely works and lives with digital tools but the older generation, such as baby boomers, are being forced to use them. 

That brings us to the third trend, which is the explosion in internet traffic due to increased loads. There has been a lot of focus on the rise of video traffic, which there has been, but people working from home are competing for bandwidth with people playing X-box, watching NetFlix and other consumer applications. This is causing critical business applications to perform sub-optimally.

What are the greatest concerns for IT leaders now?

There is no shortage of things that IT leaders are concerned with now.  However, I can group them into three bigger buckets.  The first is application availability. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to understanding availability. It requires visibility into the infrastructure that’s handling the massive spike in remote work. This includes an understanding of the performance of collaboration platforms such as Webex and Zoom as well as SaaS applications suites like Office 365 and G-Suite but also visibility into the networks of ISPs like Comcast and Verizon.

Another concern is security. With users working remotely, they are now exposed to a number of new security vulnerabilities. Businesses are struggling with protecting the company data when the “employee front” is so widely distributed. 

Lastly, there is the performance of business applications. The network has a huge impact on performance, and that has a direct impact on employee productivity. Understanding the network can help provide some clarity into what applications are impacted and how this affects employee productivity and morale.

How can IT troubleshoot issues with remote employee apps when everything is delivered over commercial internet? Where can they get the telemetry to help them identify and fix problems quickly?

This is the biggest challenge for organizations today.  Billions have been spent on monitoring solutions over the years, but most were designed for a different era. Up until just a few years ago, the majority of applications ran in a company-controlled data center with a manageable volume of data. The shift to the cloud has moved applications out of an area that IT controls to an environment that is chaotic because the internet is the transport mechanism. Also, the equipment vendors, cloud providers and other companies involved in delivering an application provide real-time telemetry information. 

The problem with tools designed for legacy data centers is they can’t address complex user experience challenges, such as:

  • Companies respond to problems only when users report them.
  • They spend too much time validating user complaints of problems.
  • They waste resources on false positives, resulting in poor data accuracy.
  • They lack perception of service by customers and employees.
  • They have limited ability to verify and enforce service-level agreements (SLAs).
  • Finger pointing between teams causes delays in resolving problems.

It’s critical that organizations look for solutions that collect data from as many places as possible. The traditional tools used by many are simply incapable of collecting telemetry from the vast and complex digital delivery chain. Businesses need solutions designed for the cloud era.

What will be the lasting effects of this crisis?

Remote and virtual will be more common; it may even become the new normal. eCommerce is enjoying a tailwind, and this will carry through. The older generation was forced to break through the tech barrier and will be now comfortable with digital tech. This will boost the digital economy. Vendors that had focused on their e-commerce performance will have a major advantage coming out of the crisis. Investments in the performance, reliability of the e-commerce applications, the usability and performance of the website, the quality and speed of the user experience – all these aspects will be a massive tailwind for those vendors that had made the investments prior to the crisis.

(Catchpoint combines Layer 3 through 7 synthetic monitoring with network, endpoint and user data to analyze and trouble shoot performance of digital services. It privately shares its monitoring data with service providers to help improve their services.)

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