After fifteen quiet years, the WAN is in a state of flux. Because it touches everything, WAN architecture and design is central to an effective business strategy. Mike Wood, VP of Marketing, VeloCloud explains
It was not so long ago that we were being exhorted to “align IT with the business objectives.” It was a sign of maturity at the end of the pioneering days of IT for IT’s sake. But digital technologies have been fundamentally transforming business processes and strategies, and not just in terms of newer, Internet-based operations like Amazon, Uber and AirBnB. A growing number of bricks and mortar companies are embracing digital technology for their market-facing operations – even when their back offices are still invoicing business partners by snail-mail.
This calls for another rethink of IT strategy. Companies that expect the IT department to wait while the next round of business objectives are being discussed will soon find that the tail is wagging the dog. It is no longer just a question “how can IT help?” but rather “what can IT make possible?” This calls for a closer fusion between IT strategy and business strategy, perhaps best described as a digital business strategy. For any large or dispersed operation, WAN architecture and design will be central to such a strategy, because the WAN touches and links every part of the organisation.
Can WAN architecture accommodate such change? Between the 1980s and 1990s the WAN saw major technological changes: TDM, Frame Relay, ATM, MPLS and later Carrier Ethernet. Since that time little had changed in the fixed WAN, even as cellular was forging ahead from 1G to mobile 2G, 3G to LTE.
Today’s business requirements are dictating a demand for even greater agility to adapt to rapid changes in the market, the economy and society. So the WAN too must be able to respond quickly to business and technological changes. We are no longer talking about a fixed system like a road network linking scattered sites: the need now is for a flexible and responsive software-defined WAN, or SD-WAN.
Rating the WAN
How do we judge responsiveness? It is determined by the WAN’s ability to maintain certain criteria in the face of rapid changes in the business environment. These criteria include:
- Acceptable levels of application performance and availability. This requires not just the acceleration of the accessibility and delivery of applications, but that voice and video traffic should arrive at the right speed without issues.
- The ability to take raw data and synthesize it into a simplified monitoring and management function that allows rapid analysis and remediation of problems is key. The more complex the system, the more important it is to clearly distill network activity.
- Network assets need to be protected at all costs and IT managers need to have the ability to tailor security to need and criticality, wihtout losing agility.
- Cost effective WAN services – it goes without saying.
To get an idea of the relative perceived importance of these criteria, Dr. Jim Metzler, co-founder and principal analyst at Ashton, Metzler & Associates, did a survey on top factors as perceived by business – Figure 1.
As expected, security was rated as the number one factor – but cost, real-time applications and access to public cloud services followed quite closely. Of these the most dramatic increase was for access to public cloud services – an evolution that only began in the last couple of years.
How well does the current WAN architecture meet the needs outlined in Figure 1? In reviewing Figure 2, we see that a mere 3% of all respondents are totally unsatisfied. However, in view of the critical importance of the WAN to business today – and even more so tomorrow – a more telling observation is that only a third of the sample was more than “moderately satisfied.” The real significance of this fact is that it suggests that at least two thirds could be open to exploring alternatives , such as SD-WAN.
Also noteworthy in the survey data, is the topic of primary concerns. The table in Figure 3 compares MPLS and Internet connectivity and shows the complementary nature of the two services. Security was the biggest concern for the Internet, much more so than for MPLS, where cost headed the list. Uptime and latency took second and third places in each case while lead-time to implement new circuits was a much higher concern for MPLS than for Internet.
The last big evolutionary change to the WAN was MPLS, but now we suddenly have a lot of options for flexibility with the introduction of software-defined concepts in the form of SD-WAN. How do we find our way around these?
One of the key questions is about where the SD-WAN functionality should be hosted – in the cloud, on premises or where? Figure 4 shows the result of Dr.Metzler’s survey (NOTE: The survey allowed multiple answers; aggregate percentages total more than 100%).
The most significant finding is the large proportion – nearly half of those surveyed – who were open to hosting functionality in the cloud. Years ago this was unheard of as the preference was to house key services on-premises. In comparison, one-third of respondents still want all WAN functionality in-house. Other options include hosting in a co-location facility, a CSP’s office or other.
In-house hosting supports the DIY mind-set that still predominates. When Dr. Metzler surveyed preferred implementation options, 54% wanted to do it themselves, and yet 42% were happy with a managed service and 27% a NaaS offering. This larger overall total reflects the number of managed services currently being marketed, plus the broader acceptance of outsourcing in the IT world today. This openness also means that people are more willing to change vendor, increasing the competition for market share and to continously deliver an ever expanding list of services, as seen in Figure 5.
In the past, people were more cautious about new technology and tended to wait until it became available from their preferred vendor: Figure 5 shows that this preference is still true and yet 22% would actively look for other vendors, and a further 27% are prepared to make some effort to explore elsewhere. This is a significant shift in the conservative culture that has dominated the WAN this century: it suggests that people are exploring options and are more receptive to new technology like SD-WAN.
How clear are the benefits from SD-WAN? Metzler asked the same sample what were the perceived drivers and inhibitors – Figures 6 & 7.
The drivers were clear and expected (Figure 6). This is a sign of a consistent, mature market proposition. Unlike the birth of most new technologies when everyone is articulating varying market messages, the benefits of SD-WAN seem to be well understood and this is no doubt a consequence of the success of software-defined networking in the data centre. People understand the basic principle, but that does not mean that they accept that it is ready for market – see Figure 7. Here we see a significant resistance with a third of those surveyed not thinking the products are proven enough, and even a quarter are still not sure that the technology is mature enough for adoption in their network.
Nearly a third also fear that it would add complexity. Too often a new solution that has a claim to make things more simple turns out to be difficult to implement: the path to future simplicity itself turns out to be complex. This is clearly a concern that vendors must address, and the ones that can promise a simple, seamless transition to SD-WAN, ones that really will make life easier, will have a big advantage. An additional point is the 18% limited by contractual constraints: this is surprising as a typical pilot SD-WAN scheme does not require significant changes like ripping out MPLS links, and it is not the sort of upgrade that would be made without several months of exploratory pilot projects.
10 Considerations for SD-WAN Implementation
In summary, there are ten considerations when planning to adopt SD-WAN :
- Location of WAN functionality – if you opt for cloud, then it will determine to which providers you will speak
- Customer Premises Equipment – do you prefer to install hardware or utilize VNFs
- Use of cellular services – adds great flexibility, but also has OpEx implications
- Visibility – for monitoring, troubleshooting and maintenance
- Security – this must increase with adoption
- Real time application support – a fundamental driver for remote offices
- Cost, and CapEx/OpEx models, eg pay-as-you go services
- Policy – what is the level of difficulty in implementing business policies
- Quality of Service – Optimization of jitter, latency, etc. to match business needs
- Automation – the ability to roll out changes to a wide range of branch office sizes
…and 9 steps to getting there
- Identify the focus – Branch offices, mobile workers, IoT, etc.
- Identify the goals – establishing a realistic prioritisation of considerations as not everything can have the same level of priority
- Agree on the extent of the analysis – this could mean agreeing on deadlines, limiting the length of reports and not getting mired in detail
- Management buy-in – Make sure that management agrees and accepts the above focus, goals and depth
- Choose an effective project team according to goals and focus – identify the necessary members of the team to execute the project appropriately and assign respective members to work on the project
- Choose vendors – Identify a clear focus and goals and choose vendors based strictly on this criteria
- Evaluate alternative solutions – determine if there are other solutions that may solve the existing problems
- Manage existing contracts – consider how existing contracts and their related costs will impact your selection and time to deploy
- Build a winning business case on the above
Wireless Connectivity Lights the Path to Bank Branch Innovation
By Graham Brooks, Strategic Account Director, Cradlepoint EMEA
As consumers cautiously return to the UK high street in the past few weeks, banks can expect customer footfall in branch to rise accordingly. But whether it’s checking in for a mortgage appointment or cashing in a cheque, awareness of the ongoing potential health risks must be top of mind.
At the same time, the pandemic has forced a transition to the future bank branch. This means that there will be less people and more machines – digital signs, contactless devices, and new cash deposit systems.
To ensure they continue to provide a service that attracts new customers, banks must digitise their branches. And wireless technology is going to form the underlying infrastructure that makes that possible.
Wireless WAN providing reliability
Traditional banks now face their biggest challenge in history: digital-only banking. Over two-thirds of participants in a 2020 study planned to transition to a digital-only bank in the future. It’s therefore vital that traditional banks running physical branches update in-branch customer experience to compete with the new pack on the prairie. Reliability plays a big part. So does trust.
The future of in-branch experience lies in technologies such as IoT, VR/AR, and AI, all of which are highly data-intensive. Reliable connectivity is therefore critical, and banks should be shooting for zero-downtime connectivity, allowing no room for gaps in service.
To do this, banks can deploy Gigabit-class 4G LTE (LTE Advanced) or 5G adapters that bridge to a traditional ethernet connection, providing a wireless option to the wired-line router. Then, in the rare scenario where wireless connectivity is down, at least one of the WAN connections is always guaranteed to be live. The router has the autonomy to determine when failover is necessary.
Better still, the reliability of modern Gigabit 4G LTE and 5G connectivity now means that failover is often unnecessary. A branch can, therefore, run its network independent of a wired-line connection and benefit from the security and agility of a resilient wireless network, while still providing enterprise-grade connectivity.
Branch network reliability, in this way, will support the bank’s reliability as a whole. In turn, this will fuel the higher standards of customer experience needed to compete with more agile digital-only banks.
The new reality of IoT
The first organised response to stop the spread of the virus around the world was social distancing. While transparent screens can be used to block transmission, the overarching effect of these measures has been a loss of communication capabilities. This will affect banks like it has everywhere else, if not more as a space where interaction is so important.
IoT technology will be core to overcoming these barriers. Digital signage, kiosks, and surveillance cameras will all contribute to improved communication and security, and a better customer banking experience. But to enable such extensive use of IoT devices operating on a single network, banks must ensure they can accommodate such high levels of data transfer. Using Gigabit 4G LTE connectivity to extend its services beyond traditional network infrastructure, banks will achieve the required levels of bandwidth.
Hybrid connections managed in the cloud
With high volumes of data being transferred across the network, security and availability should be at the top of the agenda when digitising bank branches. But these are not always easy to implement, especially in an environment with several complex networks of endpoints.
For example, marketing teams need to push personalised content to customers on digital signs and IT teams need to set visitors up on a guest WiFi network. These operations require the guarantee of security and availability, with trust and the customer experience at the core.
Wireless networks excel in this aspect as they can employ the benefits of a cloud-based management system. Cloud-based systems make it easier for bank staff working from home, who can access the same assets and applications from their sofa as they would otherwise have in-branch. The service is the same.
Cloud management systems also provide improved network visibility, giving IT teams endpoint information from across the network as it happens. With security patches being updated on devices simultaneously, leaving reduced time for opportunistic attacks to exploit known vulnerabilities.
Equally, by using a hybrid Gigabit 4G LTE network in tandem with a wired connection, businesses can achieve simplicity from an otherwise complex challenge. The primary wired network can be used to transmit any sensitive information securely, while a separate network using the Gigabit 4G LTE connection runs other in-branch operations.
The branch’s network, in this way, is ‘air-gapped’. The secure data being processed by the operations team runs on an essentially separate network to that of the marketing team’s content. The network will also increase its ability to process more information, with its workload spread out.
The simplest solutions are often the best. In this case, exploiting a hybrid network can address the complexities of security and availability when employing enterprise-grade connectivity.
Invest now for future 5G rewards
As banks continue to adapt their branches over the course of the pandemic, they should invest in business-wide digitisation to secure a sustainable pathway to the future. To achieve this, banks must ensure their network solution enables carrier-class connectivity. It should make use of the full spectrum of connectivity – 4G LTE to 5G – and offer the full spectrum of 5G bandwidth. Branches aren’t going anywhere soon. They must ensure that their services are optimal now, and in ten years’ time.
Fortune favours the bold, and those who chose to adopt revolutionary and innovative technology early are already on their journey. Learning from this, banks that invest now to improve their future infrastructure will thrive once 5G does arrive. Good things do not come to those who ‘wait’. They come to those who prepare well in advance.
Financial Regulations: How do they impact your cloud strategy?
By Michael Chalmers, MD EMEA at Contino
How exactly do financial regulations affect your cloud strategy? It’s a question many of our customers have been scratching their heads about. Some solutions are costly and over-complex – but by asking the right questions, the wrong solutions can be avoided.
Following the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) 2020 review, it’s clear that highly regulated enterprises must work harder than ever to stay within various limits which protect customers during an economically strenuous pandemic. Below, I address three questions we’re hearing from customers about how to optimise the cloud whilst sticking to FCA regulations.
- What regulations must you consider before outsourcing to a cloud provider?
If you have an application or workload that you’re looking to put into the cloud, you will have various service levels that you’ve defined for that particular stack. When you’re looking at the cloud provider and asking yourself what services to use, you’ll need to consider how that aligns to your service levels. How do I architect it to make sure that it’s aligned and that it can tolerate failure?
At the very start of that journey, before you even start putting your workloads into the cloud, you need to set the standards that you will need to adhere to. The Shared Responsibility Model is a key asset in understanding where your responsibility lies.
There are a number of things that you need to make sure are in your contract with the cloud provider. Unless you specifically sign a contract addendum with them, you can’t guarantee that useful and knowledgeable assistance is included.
While the guidelines are very clear on a number of clauses that you need to put in your contract with the cloud provider, these regulations apply to outsourcing in general. Cloud providers are very mature, so they will come with pre-packed addendums to the standard contract they offer that are customised to comply with FCA regulations. However, if you start outsourcing IT functions in a different way, e.g. if you start using a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provider which is delivered using the cloud, the new provider will need to be vetted to make sure that you have the right clauses in your contract with them. While cloud providers are very mature on this, most SaaS tools are not.
- How can you control or restrict where data in the cloud moves?
When it comes to data security, there are various options available on Amazon Web Services (AWS). For example, you can securely lock particular regions into an account on AWS. It’s also worth looking at your account structure policy. If you have accounts where data can’t reside outside the EU, you can put the workloads into that bundle and you can lock it down at policy level. There is an element of trust with the provider here as well.
While AWS offers prescribed controls to block certain regions, other cloud providers have different strategies. In the case of Google Cloud (GCP), you can specify service controls so that, even for managed services such as Big Query, you can lock your data in not just one region, but within your virtual private cloud. In other words, not only can you block specific regions or allow specific regions, you can specify that only things within a region can assess data within a region as a general policy.
- What does the regulator need to see to approve your exit strategy?
In terms of documentation, it’s not a case of “show me your policies and test plan” but rather “show me how you exercise it”.
Most of the time it’s a months-long process and it comes down to personal relationships: you build trust over time with the regulator as you build your exit plan. You should be able to discuss what else they would like to see in there. While there used to be a template for an exit plan in the European Banking Authority (EBA) regulations in a previous version, this has since been removed.
Regulators don’t tend to look at test reports. However, they do post a lot of information on audit reports and auditors. These auditors are there to check you’re doing what you say you’re doing. At the end of the day you are responsible for demonstrating your exit plan – it has to be coherent, consistent and compelling.
The truth is, most of the time, regulators are just trying to encourage you to do what works. That being said, sometimes their outlook doesn’t quite match with your view, or sometimes there’s an artificial difference that can be smoothed over or finessed. Occasionally you have to remember that we had 2008. What if in 2020 we have a massive AWS outage?
Multi-cloud is a natural strategy. There’s a number of high-level, cloud-native services that can be leveraged to simplify the implementation of multi-cloud in large financial institutions. Adhering to the multitude of guidelines can be complex and time-consuming, but forging the right path through the regulations will ensure that your multi-cloud is optimised to provide the most streamlined and efficient service possible to your business.
Post-COVID Mortgage Processing: Ripe for Intelligent Automation to Boost Organisational Resiliency
By Asheesh Mehra, Group CEO and Co-founder, AntWorks
As seen in many other countries, the COVID-19 pandemic sent a shockwave through the UK housing market, bringing the entire sector to a virtual standstill. As lockdown restrictions ease, we are now witnessing a housing boom like no other, as thousands have entered the market looking to capitalise on the UK government’s new stamp duty relief on properties priced up to £500,000. At the same time, however, the economic fallout from this financial crisis has resulted in almost 750,000 people losing their jobs and countless more being furloughed, leading to an increase in property remortgaging requests and payment holidays.
As a result, banks and mortgage companies now find themselves inundated with new mortgage applications, refinancing and forbearance applications. To support this, there is now a drastic need for increased manpower to manually process the plethora of mortgage enquiries in a more efficient manner. That being said, the uncertainty of future pandemic impact and restrictions being imposed at a local or global level is leaving the industry under severe pressure to deal with the demand as quickly and effectively as possible.
Like many other industries feeling the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, the mortgage sector needs to deploy digitisation in their operations in order to scale their business faster than before or risk being left behind. Artificial Intelligence, deployed in conjunction with intelligent automation, can help ease the burden on mortgage brokers and lenders by accelerating the mortgage loan process and reducing costly errors caused by manual input.
Achieving speed and scale through intelligent automation
Automation is a viable and logical solution for mortgage lenders as approximately 60 – 70 per cent of tasks in mortgage processes across the value chain are, replicable and prep-based tasks that are suitable candidates for automation. Traditionally, mortgage companies frequently conduct borrowing assessments that require careful analysis and comparison of customer data. This includes checking and establishing customer credit history as well as affordability by manually processing data from income documentation such as bank statements and payslips. This is a tedious but highly necessary process known (rather un-fondly) in the industry as the “stare and compare” stage of mortgage processing
These tasks require a huge amount of paperwork and form filling, which is not only time-consuming but also prone to human error. Furthermore, in their day-to-day routine, mortgage processors are required to literally unpackage and organise documents that are often in paper formats. This is a laborious process especially when executed across multiple mortgage applications at the same time.
This is where intelligent automation steps in to help mortgage companies take on and complete far more work, at a much faster rate and with higher accuracy. Automation can relieve mortgage workers from repetitive tasks such as manually populating the loan origination systems. This means that customers can get loans approved quickly and efficiently. In fact, a global mortgage provider leveraged the power of automation to increase the speed at which mortgage documents were being generated by up to 90 per cent without compromising the integrity of its review process. What’s more, they also managed to improve the turnaround time for the more complex documents by 100 per cent.
Cognitive Machine Reading (CMR) based solutions are the answer for companies looking to achieve straight-through processing for all their mortgage documents. CMR enables mortgage companies to overcome the challenges of digitising unstructured data and achieve faster ROI with higher accuracy with data certainty. Additionally, it can help mortgage companies to cut down on loan processing costs by up to two-thirds and mortgage origination time by 50 per cent.
The (fractal) science behind CMR is that it uses integrated AI capabilities to process highly complex unstructured data along with the more basic data formats. This data can then easily flow through the entire organisation via an end-to-end process achieved with little to no human interference.
Inevitably, all business data needs to be digitised so that it can feed analytics, drive automation, and provide those much-needed customer insights. CMR can play a part to eliminate repetitive and error-prone stare-and-compare tasks that are often a commonplace in mortgage processing. It is able to identify and process the context of data and validate it against existing information elsewhere. As a result, this speeds up the overall processing time for new mortgage and refinancing requests.
Avoiding common automation mistakes
Before kickstarting any digital transformation journey or automation projects, it is imperative that businesses look into avoiding the pitfalls of adopting the wrong automation tools. For example, utilising traditional Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology for business processes can lead to significant data challenges which will slow down and impede automation goals. OCR is a simple data ingestion tool that is limited to only processing and automating structured data that comes in the form of fixed-field text. Given that 80 per cent of the data within most organisations is unstructured or does not have a predefined format (e.g. emails, images, signatures, social media feeds), OCR technology cannot ingest the vast majority of data trapped inside a mortgage process (or any other business process). In order to overcome this and improve its business process outcomes, one leading Insurance provider managed to process large volumes of unstructured data via CMR automation to achieve 75 per cent reduction in the manual data extraction of handwritten documents. Additionally, the company also achieved more than 92 per cent accuracy in identifying and processing handwritten content.
Critical, everyday business data contained in multiple formats such as emails, images, and handwritten material make up a large part of unstructured data. This is why businesses need to put greater emphasis on researching and identifying intelligent automation solutions that can unlock this date to achieve their business goals. CMR enables mortgage companies to significantly accelerate the course of identifying and classifying all types of documents by cutting down the reduction time for processing mortgage claims by 90 per cent with a substantial level of accuracy (75%). What’s more, it enables any organisation to automate at scale, bringing true automation as a company-wide approach rather than a segregated one.
The COVID-19 pandemic has managed to speed up the need for businesses to embrace digital transformation. This may well be the catalyst for many mortgage organisations steeped in antiquated legacy-based ways of working to refine and streamline their business operations via straight-through processing. It is clear that companies can successfully automate entire business operations to not only improve their operational efficiency but also achieve organisational resilience in a long run. And the faster mortgage lenders can tackle their processes right now, the better for the sooner they can pass those efficiencies and savings onto customers to help rebuild the economy and bolster the housing market in the UK and elsewhere.
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