Hybrid work is a huge opportunity for companies to create a more flexible work model that can improve employee satisfaction and retention while expanding their talent pool, but it also presents challenges in maintaining productivity and collaboration across different work environments. Small and medium-sized companies with limited IT resources may struggle the most. But don’t worry, there are solutions!
We recently hosted Aaron Sturniolo, IT Director at RRMM Architects, a Chesapeake Virginia-based firm with four offices and customers across many states, for a conversation about the setup and operation of his IT network for 150 employees using the Cisco Meraki cloud-based network platform.
Aaron shared valuable insights on what it takes to run a secure, distributed office network with a very small IT team. Watch the full webinar to hear practical tips from Aaron andlearn how you can optimize your network for remote and hybrid work.
Q: Aaron, can you tell us about RRMM’s hybrid work environment?
A: Our hybrid work journey started when our staff had to work remotely during the pandemic. We needed a solution that was secure, reliable, and user friendly to allow folks to work from home and remain collaborative. With the Meraki MX security appliances already in place in all of our offices for secure VPN connectivity, we supplied MX security devices to all our employees. This allowed us to easily extend security anywhere folks were located.
Over the last year, our setup has allowed us to evolve our hybrid work model, with employees in the office two to three days a week.
Q: What have been the key ways you’ve kept employees productive and motivated?
A. Mainly it’s been the reliability and ease of use of the Meraki platform.
Users have the opportunity to continue working with their MX devices while at home, which provides the ease of just turning on their laptops. It automatically connects to Wi-Fi using the same ID that we use at the office.
We also leverage Meraki Systems Manager mobile device management (MDM) to remotely access their devices to troubleshoot connectivity issues. It also allows the user to come into the office and plop down almost anywhere and either join the Wi-Fi or plug into our data network and use the resources that we have in the office.
All of these benefits keep people happy and help them stay productive, and that’s the biggest thing we’re trying to do.
Q: Canyou tell us about how you’ve done IT all on your own?
A: One of the ways I’ve been able to save so much time was through the configuration templates in the Meraki dashboard. When we had to send about 70 MX devices to employees’ homes, we created a perfect configuration and then copied that to all the devices. We just selected the source and the devices we wanted and hit copy. This gave every employee the same content filtering, firewalls, and other static information that we needed to have programmed for them. It’s quick and easy to do through the dashboard.
Some of the benefits that RRMM Architects sees are thanks to Aaron’s IT leadership and the solutions he’s implemented, including:
Reduced IT headcount costs
Faster and easier issue resolution
Increased employee productivity and security
Reduced hiring costs by finding employees from a broader geography close to key clients
This article was contributed by Meraki technology partnerEkahau.
The Meraki dashboard is packed with useful features designed to simplify network management. However, many features require accurate provisioning of access point (AP) locations to unlock location-specific insights, and for network deployments with tens, hundreds, or thousands of APs, a primary pain point is manually provisioning the dashboard to show the geolocation of each AP.
Challenges with manual entry
Manually provisioning APs can be both slow and highly prone to errors. Even a small mistake in misidentifying a few AP locations can result in inaccurate geolocation data, causing devices to appear to teleport between floors or across the building. This can create significant challenges when troubleshooting and cause major headaches for IT teams.
Ekahau Zero-Touch Dashboard Provisioning utilizes the accuracy of the Ekahau Sidekick 2 device and Ekahau software to automatically identify and map AP locations in the Meraki dashboard. By simply walking around the site with the Sidekick 2, you can capture accurate location data and, with a single click, export the results for a fully provisioned network based on trusted and verified data.
This new integration saves you time and eliminates mistake-prone manual entry, and it works just as well for established networks as it does for brand new installed networks.
Save time on regular operations and maintenance
Once provisioned, the Meraki dashboard and Ekahau Sidekick 2 become a powerhouse combo for ongoing network health checks and troubleshooting. Real-time alerts from the Meraki dashboard can identify problem areas, and the Ekahau Sidekick 2 with Survey and Analyzer apps can perform more in-depth, on-the-spot troubleshooting right from a phone or tablet.
The Sidekick 2 provides an outside-in view of network performance, which, when combined with the Meraki dashboard, means less time spent troubleshooting and fewer network outages—resulting in fewer truck rolls and flights (and more money saved for other priority projects).
How to get started
Whether you’re deploying a new network, are in the middle of a refresh cycle, or have regular changes to your environment, this integration will save you time and enable the most accurate dashboard provisioning possible.
Mobile technology provides the incredible ability to communicate, connect, learn, and teach. Educators are especially aware of the power of mobile devices as teaching tools—enabling remote/hybrid learning environments of recent years and more engaging in-person classrooms today.
As effective as this technology can be as an educational tool, it’s often even more powerful as a distractor. Educational environments today face new challenges in managing both student productivity and data privacy, particularly with the rise of popular social media apps like TikTok.
With intuitive and customizable Mobile Device Management (MDM) from Meraki Systems Manager (SM), educators can provide focused, optimized, and secure classroom experiences.
Protecting students devices…and their attention spans
Both university and K-12 students are spending an inordinate amount of time on TikTok while in school. This app and other social media platforms don’t only pose a threat to students’ learning capabilities, but could potentially threaten their data privacy as well. Schools today need to find ways to limit distractions and protect their students as best as possible. With Systems Manager MDM they can do just that.
By utilizing SM, IT administrators can use integrated Cisco security tech like Cisco Umbrella to monitor and control specific application access on school-owned and (even more crucially) student-owned mobile devices. Any device connected to an educational network, either through an MR access point or MX SD-WAN, can be prevented from accessing any type of content, including on a per-app basis. These capabilities empower schools to protect students while on their IT networks and keep them focused on class rather than the newest viral TikTok.
Optimizing educational tools
The use of technology in educational environments continues to grow and evolve: as many as 94% of K-12 schools, for example, utilize school-owned tablets in everyday classroom environments. These can be essential for learning experiences, but without proper device management they can easily become distractors.
With Systems Manager, school-owned mobile devices can become honed and focused, lean, mean teaching machines. Administrators can control what applications or websites are accessible on devices, and even lock devices on certain applications for certain time ranges.
For example, during a trigonometry class, a tablet could be configured to access only a certain set of graphing or calculator applications. In the next period, the same tablet could be allowed access to an e-textbook for history class. Administrators can access a broad assortment of customizations for their school-managed devices. The solutions are endless, but also seamless and intuitive.
Administrators also have access to integrated security tools like Secure Client, Cisco Security Connector, or Cisco Umbrella that are compatible with a variety of devices across macOS, Android, Windows, and iOS platforms.
Mobile technology has revolutionized the way we learn and educators recognize the potential of these devices as effective teaching tools. However, both school-owned and student-owned devices can be distracting in learning environments and the use of certain applications can leave students vulnerable to data privacy concerns.
With Systems Manager, educational IT specialists can enforce rules on both managed and unmanaged devices, creating learning environments that protect students’ privacy and focus while in class. Learn more on how SM can be used to help optimize and secure learning environments at our Meraki MDM webpage.
Ophir Shalitin is CMO at NetOp.cloud, a Meraki ecosystem partner
Elauwit Connection is a growing U.S.-based network service provider delivering high-speed internet and technology solutions to apartment complexes and commercial real estate developments.
As part of their deployment, Elauwit relies heavily on equipment from Cisco and Meraki, including routers, switches, and access points.
Elauwit wanted to increase efficiency and provide an elevated service to differentiate themselves and better compete in the market.
The team looked for a technology that could provide better network-related information to their customers and their team, ultimately allowing them to scale without having to add headcount.
“It’s important for us to be able to see network issues and trends before there is an outage or before there’s a customer complaint,” says Taylor Jones, CTO of Elauwit.
Optimizing with NetOp
Elauwit realized they could do better than relying on traditional reactive monitoring and turned to NetOp to fulfill their needs.
NetOp provides innovative AI-powered solutions that proactively keep critical business networks healthy and secure, automating and optimizing network operations. This enables Elauwit to to extend their capabilities with limited staff.
In particular, Elauwit liked NetOp’s advanced ML-based automation, allowing them to proactively predict and rapidly remediate network issues.
“Being able to stay aware and solve problems for our customers, even before they know about them, is ultimately what we want to do,” added Jones. “NetOp allows us to do just that.”
Elauwit also found the holistic network topology diagram to be extremely powerful, allowing them to easily isolate issues without needing to look into different dashboards that provide only partial information.
Supercharged by Meraki
Jones highlighted the great reputation Meraki has. “You install it and know the equipment works. It is highly reliable and the combination of products works very well together. The management features and capabilities in the Meraki cloud dashboard are far ahead of other similar products.” Elauwit mainly uses the MX, MS, and MR Meraki devices.
Jones also likes the robust security capabilities that protect the business and customers, as well as the ease of deployment and management. Meraki checks the required boxes and allows Elauwit to quickly set up and support the network without extra training.
A combined offering
NetOp’s tight integration with Meraki allows Elauwit to efficiently go to market with a combined offering ready to go. “It’s like one plus one equals three,” says Jones.The combination of NetOp and Meraki allows Elauwit to effectively scale with future customers. The combined offering also provides different aggregation and management of various networks on a global level. “We really like NetOp’s simplification of multi-site, multi-network, or even multi-device management.”
Results and benefits
By adopting Meraki and NetOp, Elauwit can provide customers with ease of deployment of cloud-managed devices alongside overarching operational intelligence. These benefits enable Elauwit to better utilize their resources for growth without having to hire more staff.
To learn more about how NetOp can support your business, request a demo today by visiting the Meraki Marketplace.
Antonio Grasso is Founder and CEO of Digital Business Innovation Srl. Antonio is regarded as one of the top digital transformation influencers and researchers on artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, the Internet of Things, blockchain, and sustainability. The opinions expressed in this article are his and not those of Cisco.
Three years ago while I was attending Cisco Live in Barcelona, I finally noticed the subtle bridge in the Cisco logo. Increasingly, it is also ferrying us towards the Internet of Everything, the network that will allow us to move beyond connecting with each other to a connection with objects, businesses, organization processes, and data.
As we continue to evolve into a digital civilization, we should be mindful of the energy it takes and the environmental trade-offs that come along the way. Although we appreciate global leaders’ efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we should take a proactive role and add some “green nuances” to our daily business decisions. The actions we perform—no matter how insignificant they may appear on the surface—carry impacts. In determining which actions to take and how best to reduce emissions, we should be proactive and recognize that we are working toward the same vision.
Today, we have the opportunity to act based on our collective conscience, but we also have the certainty that failing to act decisively and strategically may put the future in jeopardy.
Change begins with small steps
While doing research for this article, I kept coming back to the idea that small steps can give way to major achievements. According to a study by Cisco Meraki, if 1,000 ports were shut down for 12 hours, it would save 43,500 kWh of energy per year (or a cost savings of over $20,000 USD). Beyond this, through automating controls and proactively monitoring the temperature of data centers and workplaces, it can trim operating costs and carbon emissions by anywhere from 20% to 50%.
Smart spaces, green efficiency
Making the workplace “smart” by leveraging connected Internet of things(IoT) devices can contribute to energy savings and reduced emissions by monitoring the environment and calibrating for efficiency. It can also offer a healthier and more intelligent work culture.
You may be thinking, thatsounds wonderful in theory, but wouldn’t it be an organizational challenge to implement?
A case in point
As exemplified in this case study by WPP plc—the British multinational communications, advertising, public relations, technology, and commerce holding company—managing everything through a single, cloud-based dashboard can be simple and highly effective. It can help the organization reduce its energy emissions from technology while also measuring its carbon footprint to help optimize efforts for implementation in the future.
WPP plc employs over 109,000 people in 110 countries. They understand the need for both organizational efficiency and sustainability and have challenged themselves to:
Foster a dynamic workplace through the transformative power of information technology
Create agile and flexible management practices for resources and office spaces
To achieve these ambitious targets, WPP partnered with Meraki to achieve impressive results. The team deployed Meraki MT environmental sensors, Cisco wireless and mobility solutions, and Cisco Catalyst 9000 switches. With these tools in place, WPP has been able to:
Create flexible office spaces with complete workplace mobility
Oversee smart facilities management
Prototype new technologies and work styles
Digital, green business transformation
The success of WPP plc demonstrates that achieving sustainability measures can strengthen both efficiency and competitiveness.
The more automation and organization that is built into infrastructure and processes, the more efficient they become—and that can ultimately transform an organization’s bottom line and also the consumption of resources and overall sustainability impact.
It is possible to combine digital innovation and sustainability. Arm yourself with the will, structure, and partnerships to make it happen!