Does Your Agency Pass the Telework Stress Test?

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If you haven’t already, ensure your capacity and licensing are at the levels needed for sustained telework.

While telework has long been an option at many federal agencies, fewer than half of federal workers were eligible to telework until March 2020. The shift to widespread work from home arrangements for nearly 2 million civilian employees due to the pandemic required agencies to come on board with telework almost overnight. These directives, put in place out of necessity, put a massive strain on IT resources, and urgently tasked agency IT leaders with keeping government operations and services running smoothly while also ensuring vast numbers of employees stay productive under their new remote conditions.

Although remote and field work has long been part of many agencies’ operations, a majority of the changes put in place this spring were intended for short-term use by a large number of teleworking personnel. Causing additional stress to systems, networks and IT resources was thought to be temporary. How can agencies evolve their IT infrastructures for a future that may include a higher proportion of teleworkers long term? And what can be done to ensure the ongoing reliability, availability and speed needed to support the essential business of government?

Prepare for the Move to TIC 3.0 

Trusted Internet Connection, or TIC, 3.0 aims to replace previous iterations that were not designed with the cloud, software as a service or mobile users in mind, yet many agencies are becoming more dependent on these kinds of applications—such as Microsoft 365, Salesforce and Box—for basic business functions. Mobile users are also facing unique cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities, including inadequate Wi-Fi passwords, lack of adequate firewalls, out-of-date patches, sharing networks with nongovernment devices at home, bring-your-own-device equipment and a well-documented increase in phishing attempts in recent months. 

TIC 3.0 is designed to improve security and performance for all personnel accessing cloud and SaaS applications as well as websites. Agencies need to ensure they have the proper support and controls in place for TIC 3.0 architecture to support the current telework environment.

Get Licenses and Equipment in Order

Once the mandate to implement telework went into effect in March, many agencies were caught unprepared when it came to software licenses, appropriate number of devices, and overwhelmed networks. If you haven’t already, ensure your capacity and licensing are at the levels needed for sustained telework. Build your network and infrastructure with flexibility and agility in mind to support remotely connected workers.

Focus on Performance and Visibility

Look for solutions that allow you to optimize performance and reduce network traffic as opposed to focusing only on bandwidth. More bandwidth doesn’t necessarily equate to more speed, because in reality, latency has the greater impact on performance. Telework means greater distance to the servers that support users, and distance equals latency. Also, home internet connections are not typically as reliable; they can vary greatly in latency, available bandwidth, and uptime for a variety of reasons. 

Agencies should seek solutions that boost application performance even when networks are under strain. Deploying network optimization, application acceleration and network visibility solutions from endpoint to endpoint can help agencies attain optimal application performance.To identify and mitigate slowdowns as early as possible, agencies should also look for solutions that provide greater visibility into all connections, including cloud and SaaS services even for mobile users. Investing in visibility and performance monitoring facilitates better enterprise awareness and faster times to resolution, which will result in greater productivity overall.

Reimagine Office Space and Technology

As government offices and facilities begin to reopen, some agencies may want to reconsider office layouts to account for fewer or a fluctuating number of employees on-site. There may even be an opportunity to reduce agencies’ real estate footprints and costs. However, optimal work culture, collaboration and overall productivity will likely call for face-to-face time on occasion. The demand for some physical space will require a flexible approach to office solutions. For IT teams, this may also mean rethinking and upgrading in-office networks to handle more agile spaces, collaboration centers and to support more users of Wi-Fi, video and collaboration solutions.

Keeping Looking Forward

As the pandemic crisis continues to unfold, we learn new lessons almost daily. It is essential for agency leaders to update continuity of operations plans to reflect the lessons learned from this situation and prepare for the next one—as well as to prepare for a more enduring mobile workforce. Today’s dynamic and changing environment makes COOP even more essential. What do you need to add and revise to ensure you have a COOP that supports both short-term surges and long-term remote workforces, and reduces the stress on your resources and people?

Marlin McFate is the chief technology officer of public sector for Riverbed Technology.