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Is a Mobile Workforce the Future for Utilities?

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The worldwide Covid-19 lockdown has enforced a rethink of “regular” assumptions about work practices, office premises, and remote working. What started out as a stop-gap emergency response response to the pandemic is now clearly morphing into a permanent change in the fundamental ways employers approach work.

Many companies are reaching toward the idea of an "elastic workforce" — employees working from remote locations, often from home, either on a part-time or permanent basis. This new paradigm will need updates in corporate IT and security, however. The permanent elastic workforce will require new approaches to network and application architecture, along with a major focus on security concerns, particularly where the job can have significant impacts on national security, which is the case with most utilities.

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IT Challenges Arising from the Permanent Elastic Workforce

 

Although “working at home” generally conjures images of artists or writers, or perhaps parents home-schooling while running an eBay business, utilities stepped up and enabled many of their employees to remote work; obviously many engineers were mobile-working anyway, but the pandemic has pushed the process forward.

Companies found benefits from having their employees work from home – greater productivity, reductions in overheads and bills, happier people, who were spending more time with their families.

As the current situation continues, though, it is clear that some people at least may be working from home for the long term. This has implications: the scramble to get remote work up-and-running is not a solution for the future without further careful planning

Serious challenges are evident across several dimensions, including:

1. User Experience

In the office, technology solutions are configured and monitored by the IT department. At home this function may be taken over by the eldest child, while dodging schoolwork. Public cloud-based apps like Microsoft 365 and Zoom are dependent on good connections. Now lots of people are using them, the experience is likely to be degraded, and of course the IT department cannot monitor home network connectivity very well.

This was an acceptable arrangement when only a handful of people worked remotely a small proportion of the time. Now, when nearly everyone is accessing applications remotely, this is causing issues.

2. Security and Business Continuity

Working from home exposes organizations to additional cybersecurity risks. Vulnerabilities arise out of increased use of consumer-grade devices, which may not have endpoint security software, lack or have insufficient security configuration on home routers and use less-than-secure home Wi-Fi connections.

3. Managing Employees

A large, permanent elastic workforce presents a new departure for managers. With the exception of a few innovative companies, premises-based employees have been the norm. With the permanent elastic workforce, all systems for hardware and software provisioning, IT support, and network management need to adapt.

 

How to move into the new IT age

 

  • Update your corporate network

  • Take back control

  • Protect the business and remote workers

 

Update your Corporate Network

While there are a number of different factors inherent in realizing the project of an elastic workforce, the corporate ICT network connecting all these remote users is arguably the most significant issue affecting success or failure. It needs to be updated to the latest cloud-based technology.

Take Back Control

Workers are using an increasing number of applications, services and computers, which are massively distributed across public and private clouds. The IT department should take control of the security, performance and reliability by leveraging networking and security cloud services for a specified amount of applications, not random ones the user happened to like. This is now possible by using integrated SASE solutions delivered by the cloud.

Protect the Business

Protect the business and remote staff: ensure that security, performance and visibility is available when employees are working even when they are not in the office. Full-stack security and networking implementations are available in mobile devices which are easily deployed by employees in their home while being managed at scale by IT providing maximum security and performance. For employees who are mobile, for example linemen and engineers, IT should implement zero trust network access combined with performance technology such as SD-WAN. IT is able to provide protection against security threats, improve application performance and gain full visibility into applications, performance and most importantly, potential threats.

The full-scale, long-term elastic workforce is coming: the pandemic just gave it an impetus. IT managers are need to devise sustainable, economical solutions to solve the problems of secure network connections for utilities whose employees work from the office, power plant, home or anywhere else.

Julian Jackson's picture
Thank Julian for the Post!
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Steve Lindsay's picture
Steve Lindsay on Mar 31, 2021

Julian - good post as we transition towards a more permanent future of remote and blended office/remote work force. I was glad to see you mentioned cybersecurity as a serious issue as allowing only the authorized people onto you system us crucial - whether that be for standard IT applications or active OT systems. We posted a guide here a few weeks ago about securing remote access for both people and the devices they use that may be useful to the audience.  https://energycentral.com/c/iu/water-cyberattack-highlights-need-strong-authentication

Julian Jackson's picture
Julian Jackson on Mar 31, 2021

Thanks Steve. I took a look at that article you linked and it was very useful and told me some things I didn't know.

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