Part 6 of the 6-part Future of Work Networking Series: Reimagine Your Networking Perspective
Reading through this “The Future of Work” blog series, you may have noticed that our focus was mainly on achieving high quality of experience for applications that support the hybrid workplace and workforce. Why? Because the future of work isn’t just about the ways in which people connect to the network or the type of applications they use. It’s about their experience with the networked applications they depend on to continue innovating and delighting customers. Sure, IT can and should concentrate on the technology infrastructure that supports current workloads. But as network operations become more automated, IT can refocus on ways to improve the experience of customers and stakeholders and change the way everyone—and every thing—works together.
Looking Beyond Today’s Workflows
The pandemic certainly shifted our collective focus to a “work from anywhere” perspective. Two years later, IT is working to accommodate increased video consumption, collaborative applications, edge use cases, and zero-trust secure remote access, as well as how they are going to accommodate an eventual safe return to office. While it’s necessary to plan for what your network needs in the coming year, that’s too short a timeframe.
For organizations to thrive, they need to be thinking about how people will work in the next decade. Organizations that plan now for the next Black Swan disruption or transitions in workforce deployment, can get ahead by building a flexible and resilient network that will be able to provide the best service to their employees and customers.
Think of it this way: the shift to hybrid work is an opportunity to reimagine IT. Rather than focusing just on how to provide bandwidth for the workflows already in place, look ahead to the possibilities of new applications, the use cases that will drive innovation, and what it will take to support those new endeavors. It’s not about doing more of what you already do. It’s about reimagining what you can do.
For example, some people consider video meetings to be adequate but less effective than in-person meetings. But for telemedicine, two-way video creates wholly new ways of serving patients. Patients who have trouble driving or live in rural areas can see a doctor regularly. Doctors can have shorter, more frequent visits, and help more patients than with the existing model of an appointment every half hour in an office. And when we succeed in making broadband connectivity available throughout rural environments, doctors will be able to interact and treat many more patients than what is possible today. Add wireless- connected health monitoring devices for at-home patients that report changes in health conditions in real time, and quality of care can far exceed an occasional office visit. That’s looking beyond what we can already do today and envisioning a better world—and making it a reality.
Turning to our cities and campuses, we have already discussed how making buildings smarter and more connected can not only help prepare for hybrid work, but also realize gains in sustainability and energy conservation. What are the next steps in this evolution? How can the network of today, help prepare for the buildings of tomorrow? By using 90 Watt Power over Ethernet (PoE) in Cisco Catalyst 9000 switches to power and control as many compatible building devices as possible, IT and OT teams can concurrently monitor and adjust a building’s energy usage; confirm OT devices are secure and not interfering with IT operations; and ensure the environmental conditions are conducive to the well-being of the workforce. The integration of IT and OT opens a realm of possible benefits for hybrid work, workforce health and safety, and sustainability.
Another way of leveraging networked IoT is when Operations teams want to keep close watch on the performance and reliability of physical assets like engines, wind turbines, and machine tools. These assets are often remotely located or inaccessible due to hazardous environments, making physical examination on a regular basis difficult. Leveraging network connected sensors (temperature, vibration, RPM, emissions) on the devices, Ops teams can create computer-generated Digital Twins of the devices using streaming telemetry from the real-world devices. A Digital Twin mirrors the actual device, providing data to analytics that can predict “what-if” events, determine maintenance cycles, and fine-tune designs. Here again, the network is key to connecting the Digital Twin with the real-world device and keeping the data flowing to accurately represent operations in real-time.
Augmenting Your Reality
Even before we immerse ourselves in potential metaverses, my bet for the next revolution in business and consumer electronics is Augmented Reality (AR). We’ve all seen the vision of AR glasses that digitally impose data onto the analog world. A camera in the glasses captures what we are looking at and contextual information is projected onto the glasses as an overlay on our vision. AR glasses will remind us of someone’s name, the last time we met, and what we talked about. What’s that flower? Who designed that building? What does that sign say in Spanish? Our phones already do much of that work, but AR glasses will bring a whole new level of information literally into our eyes.
The level of compute to do this is not (yet) feasible on small form factors such as glasses frames with tiny batteries. Thus, AR glasses will be “capture and display” devices that send data to our phones and up to the cloud for processing before displaying the results on the glasses. In the office, collaborative applications such as Cisco Webex will be able to leverage the fast campus networks to achieve shared experiences with advanced AR capabilities. Which means the network—once again—is the foundation of innovative collaborative applications.
My estimation is that AR will become mainstream within the next five years. Of course, we’ll need the technology in place to enable it. High-speed, very low latency Wi-Fi 6/6E and Private 5G networks will be necessary. And we will also have to solve many other issues such as privacy. Because AR glasses will capture everything we see, security will take on an even more important role. Built-in network security is a necessity to safeguard personal information everywhere it is collected and stored.
We must never forget that technology exists to serve people. Devices are the interface to the people using them to create innovative products and services. To reduce complexity, IT will need greater visibility into the network to track devices, estimate multipath SLAs, and use AI and ML to further enhance experiences.
As we have discovered in this six-part series, Cisco is leading the way to the Future of Work with its people, technology, and innovations.
So, what’s your future going to look like in the next decade and beyond? Add your thoughts in the comment section below.
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