As silos fall, office hours become more fluid and where one works is ever less important, communication and collaboration are driving modern business.

In the connected workplace, characterised by global teams, agile processes and virtual offices, technology is changing the way that employees talk with each other. Instead of conversations around the watercooler and face-to-face meetings, we’re integrating platforms like Microsoft Teams into our workflow and video conferencing clients.

As companies of all sizes strive to attract and retain young talent - more and more of whom have progressive expectations of the working environment and employers - it is falling on IT to reduce barriers between employees by enabling seamless access to social networking, instant messaging, video-on-demand, and more.

Increasingly, even the most ‘old school’ of corporates contain a few small teams operating like start-ups, with more dynamic work and project processes. Instead of leading with email and formal, documented meetings, these teams often prefer to connect virtually so they can quickly reach decisions and resolve issues.

Collaboration within the enterprise is not just about enabling employee interaction; it is so that everyone performs more efficiently. This translates into more effective knowledge sharing, transfer and capture, and into better business results.

In this type of collaborative environment, it is the exchange of content that places critical strain on the network. Employees previously exchanged email with attachments that were limited in size. Now, they are sharing screens and video, and working on documents simultaneously.

What does this mean for the enterprise network that must increasingly accommodate data and content flow between tens or hundreds of employees, rather than just a handful of meeting rooms?

The challenge is addressing the demand for a new way of working, while consolidating the costs associated with various collaboration and communication tools to get more out of both budget and workforce.

The fact is that flexibility and resiliency isn’t cost effective using the network design and pricing models that we’re used to.

Centralised network architecture with its limited ability to scale means that encouraging collaboration tools – with their demand for more storage, bandwidth, and processing power – may turn out to be more costly than anticipated.

A wide-area network built with multiprotocol label switching links may struggle to keep pace with the increased performance demands of multiple cloud-based communication applications.

And, due to what is likely both infrastructure and cost, a lack of bandwidth will soon handicap an organisation that wishes to be digitally collaborative.

In South Africa, where data is still priced so high, it’s not surprising that penetration of these tools is still relatively low. We lag behind Africa – where there are limited fixed-line networks – in terms of broadband rollout. Given the investment fixed line operators have made in infrastructure, it is likely that we’ll still see internet access charged at premium rates for some years.

When it comes to infrastructure, enterprises now have options. Software-defined networks (SDNs) require less hardware which means less capital expenditure. Controlling the entire network from one central point makes maintenance and updates much simpler and more cost-effective.

SDNs leverage all available connectivity options including public broadband. No longer are companies investing in fibre, LTE, broadband or any other kind of connection, just in the internet. If one link goes down, traffic simply gets routed through another. This ensures that the network – and Teams, Skype, Yammer, Slack, and whatever other collaboration platform – remains up at all times.

That network could extend across the city, country or even across continents. Unified SDNs enable enterprises to manage connection, configuration, and security centrally when getting far-flung offices or teams on the network. There’s no need to set up hardware appliances at new sites, simply deploy virtualised services remotely.

Ultimately, it’s not about what communication mediums the enterprise chooses, but how easily employees can move between them.

Seamlessly transitioning from one communication preference to another, thanks to a stable, reliable network, encourages employees to use the tools and change the way they work for the better.

By Basha Pillay, Executive Head of Cloud and Collaboration at Internet Solutions

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