When I’m on a plane, the first thing I do after I open my tablet is to check for a Wi-Fi connection. Unsurprisingly, the Wi-Fi on offer usually isn’t all that reliable – which pretty much means it’s unavailable.

My first long-haul business trip to the US after the COVID-19 lockdown was nothing like my prelockdown trips. Before I arrived at our Sunnyvale, California, office, I received a text message with the address and directions, a digital passkey to the office and Wi-Fi access details. This happened again at our partners’ offices in the days that followed. “Going to work” had changed – in more ways than one.

It’s no secret that employees around the world now expect more flexibility, including the ability to work from home in the long term.

But, because many of the same people crave a human connection, the campus remains very much alive, albeit for a different purpose. People still want to go to the office sometimes, even if it’s just because they miss catching up with their coworkers around the water cooler.

And, once they’re at the office, they expect all of their devices to connect as seamlessly as they do at home – exactly what I’m hoping for the next time I try to connect to Wi-Fi on a flight.

New ways of working create new network demands

Nine out of 10 companies aim to make the hybrid workplace their permanent new work model, McKinsey reports, but most remain unclear on how to achieve that. Only 13% of corporate leaders are looking to decrease their real-estate footprint, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Organizations face an urgent need to refresh and upgrade their campus-network infrastructure and operations. Their applications are hosted in the cloud, their users are local and remote, and nothing less than Wi-Fi 6, the newest iteration of the network protocol, is acceptable.

And, if you’re in an industry that relies on mission-critical devices and connectivity, then you also need your Wi-Fi and private 5G working side by side, complementing each other.

The number of devices and sensors connected to the network is fast exceeding the number of actual users, as anyone going to the office today will take their laptop, phone and tablet with them. Then there’s the large number of IoT devices being added to networks – possibly exceeding 14 billion globally by the end of this year.

In addition to applications such as wayfinding (orientation in physical spaces), asset tracking and contact tracing, trends such as network as a service, virtualized network functions and cloud migration are dominating the discussion on buying and deploying networks.

Both wired and wireless networks are also becoming more interconnected with operational technology to support smart-campus use cases.

The campus-network management challenge

All of this leads to the same old question: how do you manage these networks?

People often think new technology will manage itself. They equate the capabilities of new technology with the notion of it being seamlessly designed, deployed and managed. In short. they expect magic. This was the case when we first started talking about the cloud or software-defined networks – and, yes, these networks can often manage themselves … until something goes wrong unexpectedly.

This is where AIOps can play a significant role in simplifying the management of the network and reaping the benefits of the large volumes of data generated by new network technologies.

For example, you can gather occupancy data through your Wi-Fi access points (wherever your employees move, they’ll have their devices with them) and use the data to save on energy with smart lighting or to automatically schedule deep-cleaning of usually busy areas when they’re not occupied.

Another important factor is securing the modern campus. Where does it start and stop – at the edge router or in your employees’ homes? And how will a secure campus develop into the type of smart, sustainable campus that your organization needs?

The good news is that many network vendors are building a layer of AIOps into their technology. That leaves us with the challenge of using both vendor-specific and domain-neutral AIOps to manage our clients’ campus networks – but it is a challenge that we embrace.

The campus network remains an essential part of your business success. In a series of publications and webinars to follow, we will set out our vision of how your organization can benefit from the evolution of its capabilities.

Stay tuned: the future is promising.

Read more about our Managed Campus Networks service.

Omar Alassil is Director of AIOps and Managed Network Services at NTT

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