VPN, Workspace and User Experience

Feeling the pain of VPN connectivity for remote work? Have no fear, there’s an alternative near. Digital Workspaces will keep you in the races.

Matthew Metelsky, CEO, Third Octet

This article was originally posted by Third Octet.

In March, businesses were overwhelmed with the potential need to shutter physical place and continue conduct in a virtual world. Orders to close all non-essential businesses then came, forcing organizations to hurriedly shore up technology strategy to maintain user accessibility and, ultimately, productivity.

Time was of the essence. Unfortunately, the seemingly overnight transition to a remote workforce caught many organizations flat footed, exposing massive gaps in business continuity planning. Knee-jerk decisions soon followed – bring your work computers home and swell VPN connectivity. Enter chaos.

These reactive decisions – deemed appropriate due to the tools at hand – were also based on short-term need. As we progressed through March, it was evident social distancing would become a longer-term model. And for the organizations that hastily decided that a VPN-based remote work strategy would appease the masses, well, the pain was soon felt.

Businesses that maintained a VPN-based approach for remote work did not foresee 1) the massive influx of internet demand and 2) the “small change” in the later states (i.e. VPN contribution on internet congestion when factored exponentially). VPN will not cut it anymore – you are not only impacting the productivity and well-being of your remote work staff (and your business bottom line), you’re also impacting the productivity and well-being of everyone else.

In theory, VPN sounds great; however, there are many contributing factors that hamper VPN experience over time.

First, security. VPNs extend the security boundaries of your most trusted and secured asset – your data center – increasing potential attack vectors that malicious characters are looking to exploit. This endpoint, now located in homes, is the prime point of entry into your environment, and the massive spike in our relatively gullible remote users is now at an all-time high, unfortunately putting any security at risk. Certainly, there are mechanisms to thwart endpoint risk across VPN connections; however, it is a gamble and risk mitigation tactics should avoid potential threats at all cost.

Second, endpoints. For a VPN to function, it requires a device. If businesses allowed employees to take their existing corporate devices home, using VPN becomes less of a chore. However, what if your staff was not equipped with devices that were pre-configured with VPN functionality, or any corporate-owned devices at all? It would now be the responsibility of IT to equip remote worker devices with the necessary capabilities and software to support VPN functionality. As you could imagine, there are zero standards enforced on user-owned devices, and the multitude of technical issues IT could face is daunting. With so many different devices & operating systems available, or worse, no device at all, the supportability is almost insurmountable, both in the short- and long-term.

Third, supportability. If IT is forced to support a remote work strategy that is influenced by factors beyond our control, everyone will suffer. Antiquated home PCs, legacy operating systems, device failures (and supply) and congested internet are just a few variables that our internal IT teams cannot overcome, no matter what actions are taken. These variables also represent massive roadblocks to VPN functionality, positive user experience, productivity, and stress minimization.

Fourth, experience. We have all come to expect availability and quality – high-definition streaming, immediate media availability and on-demand. When anything hampers our ability to access content and access it NOW, we become stressed, frustrated, and upset.

Now, via VPN, we must wait. The timeline to get work done no longer meets our expectations and coupled with the congestion on the internet, the wait is compounded and not always in a linear form. What used to take seconds now takes minutes. Though this is a technical challenge, the impacts are entirely emotional and physical.

What you should do.

Better the World through Technology, of course.

We have an amazing opportunity to provide massive technology investment to advance business and the wellbeing of our workforce. Life and work may never return to what we all once considered normal, which means you must transform your IT strategy to accommodate a future filled with uncertainty and, quite likely, the continued existence of remote work.

If your business is in an industry that is fortunate to stave off the economic impacts of this global situation, you must continue to shift and pivot the business to pass benefit to your workforce. This is largely done by investing in technology that meets the resulting needs of today’s emergency, as well as the new normal that will result. A VPN-based delivery approach is not the future of work – a holistic digital workspace is.

A Digital Workspace provides:

A better employee experience.

Endless stacks of apps, systems, and sign-ins across mobile devices like laptops and smartphones are burying employees in a mountain of distractions and wasted time. Further, VPN-based approaches slow down the completion of business processes and task-based work, whereas a Digital Workspace approach removes the burden of network congestion and its impact on productivity, achieving more with substantially less demand on networks.

Enhanced security and data breach protection. With more employees now working from home, the potential for compromised accounts is everywhere. That is one reason why a Digital Workspace offers single sign-on (SSO) to every app and file, from any device. Fewer passwords mean less risk to the business — and fewer calls to the IT help desk. A Digital Workspace also gives IT a complete view into network traffic, users, files, and endpoints while providing stop-gaps to minimize endpoint risk on the greater data center footprint. The inclusion of machine learning and artificial intelligence even protects company data from hacks, malware, and end-user mistakes — long before they happen. And you can decide who gets access to what based on job role, location, device, or activity.

Flexibility to choose any technology your organization needs. A digital workspace makes it easy for organizations to embrace new technologies and the cloud without worrying about security or a compromised user experience. A digital workspace offers one place for people to access any app, whether SaaS, web, mobile or virtual. And IT can manage it all in one unified console on the back end.

Endpoint freedom. Instead of being concerned around what type of device is used, or who owns the device, IT is instead focused on merely providing a simplified method to access, typically a single web-based address. The type of device, client operating system, and all the other traditional worries that surround VPN-based approaches are no longer relevant. Essentially, if you have a device that can run a web browser, you will be able to access a Digital Workspace.

A Digital Workspace is not the future of work, it is the present of work.

You, too, can make a difference.

At Third Octet, a Digital Workspace strategy is enveloped in our Modern Workforce approach, covered under our expertise of Workspace Craft and Collaboration services, and well aligned to our philosophy of Bettering the World through Technology. Of the 39,643 individuals we helped to work remotely by the start of April, a vast majority worked for organizations that had already started shifting their strategy to a Digital Workspace approach. Clearly, the ability for these organizations to break from traditional working conditions to a remote-first style was made exponentially easier due to their existing investments in technology, namely Citrix.

As we move forward, we are now seeing businesses realize their knee-jerk and reactive decisions around remote work (and especially VPN-based approaches) were short-sighted and will not stand the test of time. They are now reconsidering their approach to sustaining remote work and provide a positive user experience, shifting conversations towards a long-term, proactive, and strategic target, factoring the need to sustain a new normalcy of remote work.

Third Octet is a Citrix Platinum Partner based in Toronto, Canada. Third Octet’s vision is Bettering the World Through Technology. They design and implement technology solutions as a means to anywhere access, from any device, from any network, for Work Life Balance, improving engagement, productivity and profit for our clients. Visit thirdoctet.com to learn more.