How CIOs are empowering teams to thrive in decentralised work environments

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With the increase in hybrid work models, organisations must now ensure secure connectivity amid the dispersion of the workforce.

At a CIO Day discussion, AECI CIO Toni Serra and Stefanutti Stocks GM for IT Kevin Wilson explored innovative strategies and best practices for achieving secure connectivity in decentralised work environments.

Toni said AECI is fast becoming a global organisation, and legacy connectivity has performed below par for the organisation. He explained that AECI has just turned 100 years old, and the business has grown as a consequence of mergers and acquisitions over those years, and a strategy that has worked well in the past.

“It was previously a ‘freedom within a framework’ style, which worked for at least 90 out of the 100 years,” he explained. “But the challenge that came up as we grew was that the philosophy changed to less freedom within a structured framework, and the business decided to consolidate and centralise the IT capability in the organisation – a massive cultural change for our organisation.”

He explained that the company decided to link all of AECI’s 100 global locations with the SD/WAN capabilities, a journey that began five years ago. Mainly because at the time there were limited options on the market that could provide a secure and reliable solution for them. “It was a brilliant strategy for South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, however it lacked performance. Latency became our biggest issue,” he said.

In addition, the user community in those communities grew and the requirements for the initiative grew as well. “Performance is always easy to solve provided you have the money, which we didn’t have,” Toni added.

Today, Toni and his team are looking at new product sets and also changing from a software-defined networking architecture to a more localised, secure breakout, particularly in international locations. “If we get it right, we’ll have a really secure capability!” he said.

Dynamic networks in construction

Kevin, on the other hand, said that Stefanutti Stocks has to some extent become specialists in terms of connectivity as they have 150 sites from Dubai to Cape Town, which change every three months. “We rip and replace 60 percent of our networking at least once a year: when we build a road to nowhere, we have to build a site on the road to the middle of nowhere – making us specialist in many ways,” he explained.

According to Kevin, Stefanutti has used all sorts of acceleration technology because the initial SD/WAN they had in place introduced a latency issue.

“To deal with the latency problem, we went into the application layer and recoded the reports,” Kevin said.

Recently, Stefanutti has partnered with a content delivery network services provider, initially starting out with policy-based networks, and later moving into zero-trust networks.

“We’ve had our fair share of headaches along the way, but are currently at the point where we have people in the company travelling across the world who are required to engage with the IT department before they move and they simply can’t leave the country without IT pre-installing them to another country in order to get internet coverage from there,” Kevin said.

Kevin noted that zero-trust networks are great, however, there's another layer to that approach, which means automating that process, developing your own code and synchronising with other departments. As far as speed is concerned, Kevin and his team rely on satellites and microwave links. “In essence, there’s been a lot that we’ve done in the connectivity space and a skill set that we have probably had to teach our guys the most,” he concluded.

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