We have become sufficiently technology-dependent, such that, in every modern enterprise, peak employee productivity depends on continuous access to networks and essential applications. For distributed enterprises – from retail chains to corporations with multiple office locations – maintaining uptime and avoiding disruptions to productivity can be especially challenging.
That challenge is the result of legacy wide area networking. Traditional WANs, which enabled much-needed coordination throughout distributed enterprises, depended on IT skills at each location to keep on-premises hardware running. In other words, gains in enterprise coordination came with new vulnerabilities.
Recent technologies such as software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) and cloud-hosted communications eliminate those vulnerabilities. And what a breakthrough these newer technologies are. Thankfully, the disruptions I’ve dealt with earlier in my career are fast going the way of the dodo bird.
Inherent challenges in managing traditional WAN
Before joining Windstream Enterprise, I spent more than 20 years in the telecommunications industry in various operations roles. That experience left me all too familiar with legacy WAN challenges in keeping distributed enterprises running, and employees productive.
I will never forget one puzzling situation involving a national retail chain. Bandwidth constraints in T1 store connections would increasingly slow the network to a crawl. That in turn caused multiple issues with productivity, including long delays to our white glove activation process and slowing the queues at cash registers. Nobody had the network visibility needed to easily determine what was happening. I had to divert multiple network engineers from go-forward work, deploying them reactively to find the source of the congestion. The culprit? Our new white glove activation service was pulling firmware updates from the cloud and pushing it down to devices through the store’s WiFi connection.
And I thought, you have to be kidding me? We built a great cloud-based process, but forgot to check whether we had the right bandwidth to get to the cloud. Our T1’s were now officially in my mind, our ‘weak links’, and in serious need of an upgrade. Easier said than done, back in those days.
How SD-WAN can eliminate your ‘weak link’
As I think back, my first thought is, I wish we had Windstream Enterprises SD-WAN In those days. With online analytics, I could have seen the bandwidth hog without involving my engineers. Knowing it was a mission-critical application, I would have immediately ordered DSL or Cable Broadband and integrated it with our existing T1 to provide the bandwidth needed. And, in doing so, I would have effectively guaranteed 100% uptime through redundancy.
More importantly, employees and customers would have been spared the experience of a slowed network. Floor salespeople would have continued processing transactions at top speed. That’s what happens when you eliminate your weak link.
Unified communications completes your store technology
Coupling SD-WAN with cloud-based unified communications (UC) increases productivity even further. Having phone, email and other communications tools reside in the cloud, enables business continuity in the face of events that would prove disruptive with solutions hosted on-premises.
If a looming winter storm means the retail chain in my earlier example should send store employees home, having a cloud-based UC system would enable enterprise phone, collaboration, and email connectivity to go with them. Cloud-hosted applications can also offer SLAs approaching 100% uptime. Deploying SD-WAN and cloud-based UC means enjoying the best of both worlds: Flexibility in communications, plus always-on application and network access.
Still, some persist with legacy systems – and loss
Consider the local outlet of your favorite pizza chain. If the phone system is down but the Internet is up, that location has lost one sales channel (phone) and must rely only on another (online ordering). The reverse is true if the Internet is down but the phone system is up. Either way, productivity and sales take a heavy hit at that store location.
I encountered exactly that at my family’s favorite pizza place. As with most pizza chains, this one is currently encouraging ordering via mobile app or web, though I find ordering by phone more convenient. Accommodating personal preferences is why we have so many options, right?
So I placed an order by phone, and stopped by to pick it up on the way home from work. A sign on the front door said the store’s Internet connection was down, and orders could be placed only in person or by phone for now.
Out of curiosity, I drove by two days later. The sign was still on the door.
That meant at least two days, maybe many more, with no access to orders placed on the most heavily promoted ordering channel. That in turn, meant lost sales and a loss in employee productivity.
Employees – and worse, customers – were likely thinking the same thing I was as I looked at that sloppy, hand-written sign on the door. Are you kidding me?
Given the widespread availability of SD-WAN and cloud-based UC, it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m sure my favorite pizza chain, like all forward-looking distributed enterprises, will come around.
Kevin Halpin is senior vice president of process development and project management for Windstream. He was appointed to the position in January 2015 and works with business unit leaders across the company to enhance the customer experience. Halpin has worked in the communications industry for 20 years. He previously served as a transition lead vice president at AT&T, where he helped oversee the buildout of the information technology infrastructure needed to migrate Allied Wireless customers to AT&T. Before joining AT&T, Halpin served as vice president of process development for Alltel Corp. He also held a number of other leadership roles at Alltel in relationship marketing, product management and strategic marketing.