Archive for the ‘Company Blog’ Category

Asset and Alert Management Made Easy with ServiceNow Service Graph Integration

When it comes to your network, we’re always looking to push the boundaries of what’s possible. We make great technology at Meraki—from our access points to security and SD-WAN, switches, smart cameras, MDM, and SaaS app performance products—but we know there is a universe of possibilities once you combine our products with other, third party technologies. We don’t want you to “stop there” when adopting Meraki, and that’s why we’ve focused so heavily on our Meraki Marketplace.

To date, we have over 90 technology partners on the Meraki Marketplace and 118+ prebuilt, turnkey applications for various use cases including Advanced IT, Proximity Marketing, Wayfinding and Mapping, and more. We’ve even recently been able to leverage this ecosystem of partners to provide 28 new apps in four COVID-19 related categories, enabling our customers to adapt and safely reopen in these tough times. 

This week we are excited to announce the release of another key application for Advanced IT on the Meraki Marketplace: a native integration with the ServiceNow Service Graph and Configuration Management Database (CMDB) through our Service Graph Connector for Meraki. This integration is part of the ServiceNow Service Graph Connector Program, a new designation within the Technology Partner Program. 

We recognize that many of our customers and partners look to ServiceNow for their leading IT Service Management (ITSM) capabilities and are excited to offer this integration to simplify management of Meraki devices in ServiceNow environments. This new, certified application will allow ServiceNow customers to easily integrate Meraki organization, network, and device data for Configuration Management Database (CMDB) synchronization and alert or incident creation. 

ServiceNow Service Graph, the next-generation system of record for digital products and services, addresses the entire technology stack from infrastructure to the application layer. It includes ServiceNow’s CMDB, the repository for all infrastructure, relationships and configuration management information. With Service Graph, IT organizations are empowered with a broad and deep data foundation for managing the entire lifecycle of digital products and services. In addition, it underpins all ServiceNow products, allowing customers to tie together technology components, people, and processes into a service-oriented view. This connected approach enables customers to leverage their existing CMDB investments to rationalize portfolios, automate development, streamline cloud and security operations, manage risk, and understand ROI, driving high-value business outcomes.

Learn more about the benefits this application can deliver to businesses from two of the project’s leaders.

“In our development of this application, we found that using this application helped to dramatically simplify asset and alert management for our enterprise customers and MSPs. We’ve received a lot of positive feedback already on the time and money savings this native integration provides – allowing teams to reallocate budget and effort that would have otherwise been spent building custom integrations between these two environments (ServiceNow and Meraki). This native, platform level integration is a demonstration of the commitment and maturity of our vision for the Meraki platform: to enable key integrations with market leading technologies to further simplify and optimize IT management,”

 – Cory Guynn, Lead Solutions Architect for this program at Meraki

 “ServiceNow is leading the future of work by creating great experiences for businesses. We are pleased to have Service Graph Connector to help further enhance satisfaction, build trust, accelerate time to value, and reduce risk for our joint customers.”

 – Jeff Hausman, Vice President and General Manager of IT Operations Management, Security, and CMDB, ServiceNow

 

If you are a ServiceNow customer (or not!), we hope you’ll check out the Marketplace to learn more about the Service Graph Connector for Meraki and other available applications! 

 

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Back to the Future of the Workplace

I thoroughly enjoyed hosting the first episode in a three-part webinar series with Cisco Meraki called “Behind the Network.” From my perspective, the pandemic shined a bright light on the need for not only networking scalability to support work from home, but also business resiliency and continuity planning. During my discussion with Chris Stori, who leads the overall Meraki business, and Lawrence Huang, responsible for product and solution delivery, we delved into several topics. The conversation focused on which industries have been most impacted by COVID-19, which tools companies need to stay ahead of it, and the future of the workplace. I want to double click into each of these areas, provide insights into what I found most compelling, and draw a lighthearted analogy to one of my favorite movies. 

 

Who is feeling the pain? 

I think we can all agree that COVID-19 has changed our lives in many ways. Its comparison to the Spanish Flu of 1918 is warranted, though there are noticeable differences that exist nearly 100 years later—specifically the internet and wireless connectivity in the form of Wi-Fi, LTE, and 5G. In our discussion, Chris, Lawrence, and I discussed some of the broader trends related to the response to COVID-19 with Meraki customers. To no surprise, verticals such as education, healthcare, brick-and-mortar retail, and manufacturing are struggling given the physical demands and workload requirements. Consequently, the million-dollar IT challenge seems to lie in supporting the same user experiences remotely. From my perspective, a new tool kit that blends video collaboration tools with more software-centric capabilities to deliver network automation for higher predictability and security for business-critical applications is critical. 

 

The work from home IT tool kit 

As a networking analyst, I often speak to customers directly about connectivity challenges. It was apparent to me during the peak of COVID-19 that mid-sized businesses, in particular, were ill-prepared to support remote work. The challenges spanned remote security, network and device management, and application access and support. During our conversation, Lawrence spoke to the need for simplicity and network automation to ensure the highest quality experience. I wholeheartedly agree and believe Meraki is delivering to this end with its investment in health and assurance, a robust ecosystem that includes location-based services capabilities, and an SD-WAN platform that is cloud-enabled and secure.   

 

What is the future of the workplace?

Is remote work here to stay? Companies such as Twitter have committed to supporting it indefinitely. More than likely, as COVID-19 infection rates decline, there will be a gradual return to the office with a balance of work from both home and office. During our last webcast session, Chris, Lawrence, and I discussed how Meraki customers embrace investment in new collaboration tools, such as Cisco WebEx, and improved home office setups and audio gear in light of the pandemic experience. A positive outcome from my perspective has been a revisiting of work-life balance, newly found productivity (something I can personally attest to given less time spent on airplanes), and the elimination of office commute time. How will this impact the future of the physical office? I believe it will result in the reduction of physical conference rooms, sustained use of video collaboration, broader adoption of location-based services, video recognition, and IoT sensors. Lawrence spoke to the latter in our session as a strategic consideration in the overall product roadmap development effort to help customers more intelligently manage office buildings. Meraki has also led the smart camera segment with its MV family of cloud-managed smart cameras, and I believe they will play a role in a safer return to the office.  

 

Final thoughts  

If you are a “Back to the Future” fan, you remember that the flux capacitor enabled Marty to travel through time in an attempt to change events for the better. It would be nice to have a piece of technology that does the same in light of COVID-19. However, networking infrastructure providers such as Meraki have stepped up in recent months to deliver solutions to bring businesses of all sizes the networking scalability, security, and business continuity they need. To this end, I am looking forward to participating in the second episode in the series on September 9, that will include Meraki customers from Australia Post, Regions Bank, and Tandem Health, and personal stories from around the world. It should be a great discussion, and if interested, please register for the event

 

Will Townsend is Senior Analyst responsible for Networking Infrastructure and Carrier Services at Moor Insights & Strategy. He has been featured on NPR, CNBC, in the Wall Street Journal, and frequently contributes to Forbes.com, providing insights into enterprise networking and 5G. Mr. Townsend is also ranked consistently as one of the world’s top networking analysts, as measured by ARInsights.

Moor Insights & Strategy provides industry research and analysis to the high tech industry. This blog was commissioned by Cisco Meraki.  Moor Insights & Strategy disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of such information and shall have no liability for errors, omissions, or inadequacies in such information. This document consists of the opinions of Moor Insights & Strategy and should not be construed as statements of fact. The opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice. 

How to Secure Mobile Devices and Cloud Applications for the Remote Workforce

Recently, we polled viewers of our Behind the Network series. Out of 81 responses, 51 confirmed that security and compliance is what worries them the most about shifting to a more remote workforce. It’s no surprise that security is always a top priority, even as our work environment changes. While most organizations prioritize protecting employees, devices, business applications, and sensitive data from cyberattacks, the task is no easy feat. Let’s take one aspect of security and break it down into actionable steps: securing mobile devices.

When it comes to securing mobile phones, IT administrators know the importance of using endpoint management software to provision, configure, and monitor those assets. Another critical step is asking key questions like: 

  • What was the state of the device before we installed the management software? 
  • Are we certain that our corporate applications are being deployed to a secure device?
  • Are we certain the applications themselves are secure? 

There are two critical pillars in security are the device level and at the application level. When planning your mobile foundation, the combined Meraki Systems Manager and Duo’s Trusted Endpoint feature helps you address each of these areas. Meraki Systems Manager provides complete control over your mobile phones and Duo provides the best possible Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), used from those secure devices, to ensure your users access corporate applications securely and with the highest level of authentication. Duo’s Trusted Endpoint feature, integrated with Systems Manager, ensures an extra level of trust based on a Duo issued certificate unique to each mobile device.

Whether your company buys phones for your employees or whether you manage BYOD phones, you can use Meraki Systems Manager to ensure the security of those devices. Configure password requirements, enforce GeoFencing policies, automatically deploy “Sentry WiFi” profiles for secure wireless, and track inventory to ensure the OS and apps are up-to-date. Additionally, for an even stronger foundation you can deploy company-purchased phones using Apple’s DEP or Zero Touch on Android phones, so that security is turned on at the factory before the shrink wrap is opened.

Given how important Duo’s MFA capability is to a defense-in-depth strategy, and how logically it builds on top of the OS security Meraki Systems Manager provides beneath it, you would be right to ask “what is the most secure process for deploying and configuring Duo on my mobile devices?” Duo’s Trusted Endpoint feature is the exact answer to this question.

Meraki Systems Manager now integrates directly with Duo and supports the Trusted Endpoint feature for securely deploying Duo to iOS and Android devices. Configuration takes just a few minutes. You can easily set up both Meraki and Duo from your couch at home given that both systems are managed using native cloud dashboards. Upon completion, you will have laid down the ultimate secure foundation for mobile OS management and MFA application security. Using the Duo Trusted Endpoint feature, Meraki Systems Manager is able to provision Duo automatically to each device while simultaneously configuring Duo so that it is enrolled in Duo’s PKI before the MFA actions are allowed.

Fast, scalable deployment of mobile devices requires a trusted foundation, otherwise you are building a very shaky structure for your business. Meraki Systems Manager, when combined with Duo’s Trusted Endpoint capability, is a comprehensive security solution for mobile devices. The operating system is configured and secured by Meraki—with security originating at the factory if zero touch provisioning is used. Your multi-factor authentication provided by Duo ensures that access to corporate applications is gated securely. And, critically, the security foundation for the Duo application itself is laid down using Meraki System Manager’s integration with the Trusted Endpoint feature.

For more information on this enterprise security feature, please join us on an upcoming live webinar co-presented by Meraki and DUO.

Cisco Announces Acquisition of Modcam

 

At Cisco Meraki, we strive to create products that solve our customers’ problems. With our MV smart camera portfolio, we have eliminated the problems of infrastructure cost and complexity that were prevalent in legacy systems. At the same time, we have simplified day-to-day physical security operations, while raising the bar for digital security. Importantly, we have done this all while keeping an eye on the future; a future we deliver on today, with integrated analytics in every camera at no additional cost.

This evolution of security cameras to smart cameras has resonated with every customer I have spoken to. We know that less than 1 percent of the video our MV smart cameras capture is actually watched. One of the questions we ask ourselves is, how do we extract value from the 99 percent that no one ever sees? And in these challenging times, it becomes even more critical that we can offer solutions that deliver valuable outcomes for our customers.

 

 

For this reason, I am pleased to announce the acceleration of this evolution through Cisco’s acquisition of Modcam, a privately held, video analytics company headquartered in Malmӧ, Sweden. In acquiring Modcam, Cisco is investing in a team of highly talented engineers who bring a wealth of expertise in machine learning, computer vision and cloud-managed cameras.

Modcam has developed a solution that enables cameras to become even smarter. Cisco Meraki MV smart camera capabilities include motion detection and machine learning-based object detection, all of which run at the edge, in-camera. Today, these analytics are constrained to a single camera’s view of the world. With Modcam’s technology, this micro-level information can be stitched together, enabling multiple cameras to provide a macro-level view of the real world.

Modcam’s technology for precision locationing and journey pathing provides insights that inform strategic planning of physical spaces. These collaborative, cross-camera analytics can allow retailers to better understand customer behaviors — from products of interest to check out wait times. Facilities managers and office space planners can better measure occupancy and room usage, while using trend data to optimize space utilization that can create safer working practices.

The analytic functionalities of the Cisco Meraki MV smart camera portfolio allow for the protection of individual privacy, while still providing intelligent insights. These features will be maintained with the integration of the Modcam technology, allowing users to continuously monitor an individual’s path without obtaining or disclosing personal information.

We are thrilled to welcome the Modcam team to Cisco Meraki and we look forward to sharing more details on the technology integration in the future.

Five Tips for Keeping Your Distributed Workforce (Socially) Connected

We recently hosted the first of our “Beyond the Network” conversations. The topic: the workplace of the future. As our host, Will Townsend, and two Meraki leaders discussed how businesses and IT teams are adapting to a newly distributed workforce, I was surprised that one of the most popular questions in the Q&A was focused on how to keep remote workers connected, not through their corporate network, but socially. 

As the Chief Marketing Officer at Cisco Meraki, I lead a distributed team of 75+ employees around the globe. Keeping my team socially engaged is an issue I have also wrestled with over the course of these last five months. Here are some of the lessons I have learned to help keep my team engaged, productive, and social.

Establish consistency 

There have been many unknowns recently, but one thing that should not be uncertain is the cadence of communication with your team. By providing a schedule of touch points, whether through email or virtual meetings, they know when to expect updates. For us, bi-weekly meetings with agenda items contributed by the whole team have been helpful in keeping everyone up-to-speed on the happenings across the organization. I’ve set up a daily stand-up with my direct reports to replace the many hallway interactions we’d have throughout the day to update each other on need-to-knows. 

 

Use collaboration tools

Nothing will take the place of hallway chats in the office, but by utilizing tools like Webex Teams, there is no end to the amount of conversations that can take place. There’s always opportunities for private 1:1 discussion and the all-team channels can be very productive, but also consider creating spaces where everyone can share their personal interests. Within Meraki Marketing we have spaces for everything, from team members’ latest cooking adventures to daily jokes and our favorite dogs. The social connection remains, and is available to all.

 

Embrace informality

We are all making the best of what may not be the most ideal working conditions. Some of us may be working from our laundry rooms (it’s me, I’m working from my laundry room … on an ironing board no less) or using a stack of books to create a standing desk. While efforts are underway to optimize our home environments, it’s best to create a culture where that’s OK. You can create a space where everyone can laugh at the unexpected fire alarm or meeting cameo by a coworker’s child instead of having it causing frustration.

 

Make yourself available

As a leader you are most likely pulled in many directions on a given day and may not have the time you want with your team. By setting aside dedicated spots in your calendar, it breaks down the walls and keeps communication flowing. I have established three lunch or coffee breaks each week that are optional for team members to attend. These set times create another opportunity for continued social connection, as our one rule is ‘no work talk allowed.’

 

Have a little fun

It feels like we have all been working more hours in recent months than normal. But with the hard work, there should also be some play. Many of the teams within our organization have taken virtual cooking classes or participated in coffee tastings for a little break. We have also created work-from-home challenges for the marketing team. Whether it’s a TikTok video or trivia competition, those weekly events have been valuable for team-building.

I look forward to continuing this conversation about the workplace of the future—stay tuned for details on Episode 2 of the “Behind the Network” series. If there’s a specific remote-work challenge we can help you address, please let us know.

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Meraki Announces Virtual Hackathon Winners

In these turbulent times, it has never been more important to help our customers provide simple, secure, and reliable internet access from anywhere. As working conditions have changed for many organizations, new solutions are needed to help our customers adapt and optimize their services. 

This May, Meraki launched a Virtual Hackathon as a forum for partners to proactively address these challenges with custom solutions, enabled by our suite of API services 

In this two-day event, participants reviewed sample use cases in retail and hospitality, smart spaces, healthcare and manufacturing, and IT operations. Participants then submitted an app, API integration, or tool to help address these challenges. We were thrilled to see a variety of creative solutions across these industries and use cases!

This hackathon further demonstrates our platform strategy at Meraki: providing open and extensible API services that enable custom solutions and integrations to be built on top of Meraki technologies. From the developers using these services to build, to the customers adopting open source and turnkey solutions, we are thrilled to see the pace of innovation on the Meraki portfolio! 

The Meraki platform is agile and can be integrated into solutions much quicker and offers better insights than other networking providers in this space. The design and API access is accessible for networking novices, or even non-network people such as software developers.” – Insight                       

We’d like to congratulate the following winners across six unique categories:

Over Hackathon Winner: Quick Pick-up from NTT

This solution enabled contactless order pick up for restaurant patrons. Using the Meraki MV API and Purple Wi-Fi login screen (to capture personal details from drivers), the team built a dashboard that shows snapshots of vehicles in parking spaces and easily allows restaurant admins to assign orders to appropriate drivers. The solution also integrates with Webex Teams to provide notifications when parking spots are occupied, drivers are waiting, and when those spaces are then vacated (order was completed). 

Public Vote Winner: Filter Point from Impact 

In the era of COVID-19, Impact has rolled out more Umbrella+Meraki networks than ever before to keep clients safe while working on their home networks (outside of the office firewall). Their submission to this hackathon was focused on answering the simple question, “Can I push our existing Cisco Meraki configuration (for blacklists, whitelists, filtered categories) to Cisco Umbrella?”

Using the Meraki API and Umbrella API, the team at Impact developed a solution to sync configurations between different Meraki networks in one organization, between different Meraki organizations, and between Meraki and Umbrella organizations. 

Retail/Hospitality: RAPID (Retail Android Pandemic Incident Disrupter) from NTT

COVID-19 has changed the retail space drastically, prompting the need to ensure the safety of employees and customers by tracking occupancy. A second team at NTT built this solution to allow clients to keep an accurate count of people entering and exiting their store/location and feed that information into a web UI. This UI shows the store’s capacity, current count of people, and customers waiting in line for service. 

The solution also ties in with Webex Teams to notify employees as they approach, meet, or exceed capacity. On top of that, the team also developed a feature to allow customers to scan a QR code to put themselves into a queue if they prefer not to wait outside in a line.  

Manufacturing/Healthcare: Citizen Care Pod from Insight

The team at Insight focused on a problem that impacts every industry – how to safely reopen businesses. Their solution addresses what they see as the first step to reopening: providing screening and detection solutions for staff and guests. To meet this need, the team focused on hacking a solution for their Citizen Care Pods, which are portable virus testing centers to aid in detection and screening wherever you have a large group of people (ie: construction sites, retail, or entertainment venues).

The Citizen Care Pod is outfitted with a variety of Cisco Meraki technologies, including MV Cameras for people counting, networking gear to stay connected, and Webex Teams for private conversations about results. All of this technology is tracked through the Insight Connected Platform for easy management of the pod. Through this solution, admins can receive alerts if people are gathering at pod locations and easily communicate with onsite and relevant stakeholders to address the situation. 

Operations: NORRIS from WWT

Malware and ransomware are becoming all too common. Left unchecked, these threats can devastate corporate networks. The team at WWT built this solution to easily integrate Cisco Stealthwatch for Meraki networks. This integration allows admins to identify where clients are, how badly they are infected, and quickly isolate them with Meraki MX or MR firewall rules. This powerful, “single button quarantine” of malicious clients automates the changing of VLANS and firewall rules to isolate infected devices from the rest of the network until a technician can be dispatched to resolve the situation.

Define Your Own Challenge: Automated Network Deployment & Support Healthcare App from CAE Technology Services

Deploying sites rapidly and securely is a challenge for healthcare organizations. To address this, the team at CAE used the Meraki Dashboard API to create a single step deployment tool to set up an entire suite of Meraki solutions.

To kick off a Meraki deployment, the admin simply enters the hospital ID number and serial numbers of the Meraki devices into the app. From there, all of the configuration is completed automatically, including configuration of hostnames, network tags, IP schemas, VLAN assignment, switchport assignment, and more. This will save hours of configuration time and money!

Furthermore, this application integrates into the Webex Teams API to automatically create a new Space for the new Meraki network and adds in the on-demand CAE NOC (Network Operations Centre) support group. This will get new healthcare sites set up, running, and supported quicker than ever.

Congratulations to all of the winners above, and thank you to all participants for being a part of this special event. We were so encouraged by the rapid development, creativity, and positivity shown by all teams throughout this process. We can’t wait to see what our partners and customers come up with next! 

If your team is working on an API-related project that you’d love to share with our team, please reach out to us here!

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Three Tips to Set up Remote Work Teams for Success

Are you managing your team, a contact center, or office clients remotely? You’re not alone. Thousands of IT teams around the world deployed, shipped, and installed networks overnight, enabling hundreds to thousands of remote workers to work from home. Meraki has been working from home since March, including our customer support team. That is three months of 24/7 technical customer service for over 2.6 million active networks, supported completely from the homes of remote work employees. Ben Cho, Manager of the EMEA Support Center, knows how to manage a remote contact center and has talked to many IT teams worldwide in the past weeks. In this post, Ben shares his personal experience and biggest learnings from other companies.

When Ben first heard about the plan for Meraki to move the entire team to remote work in the beginning of March 2020, he didn’t know that three months later, his team would still not be back in the office. Ben manages a team of 75 support engineers at Meraki in London. Worldwide, 450 people work on this team and take care of Meraki 24/7 customer support in San Francisco, London, Sydney, Shanghai, and Tokyo. Different sub-departments correspond with customers via phone or email. The team is supported by a network of operations, internal software teams, and product specialists who work very closely with engineering. On a normal day, customer requests can vary from maintenance questions to project deployments or help with troubleshooting across all Meraki product lines. 

In the early weeks of this year, that ‘normal’ IT world changed within a few days. Companies around the globe shut down on-site operations and services, and apart from essential workers, transitioned their entire workforce to working remotely. Ben’s team experienced a 200-300% increase in support inquiries regarding the Meraki teleworker solution, the Meraki Z3, and security-related questions. Some companies had not used teleworker solutions in such high volumes before and were new to setting up clients for secure networking. Oftentimes, they simply didn’t have a plan for a scenario like this. Many companies needed guidance to set up VPN or client VPN access. 

“Some companies didn’t use VPN or client VPN connections that much in ‘normal times,’ therefore, many companies were not prepared for this scenario, didn’t have much experience with setting up VPNs, or hadn’t used it at all and gave us a call,” observed Ben.

At the same time, questions about optimizing security configurations moved to the top of companies’ priorities, regardless of how big their network was. Most of the cases could be solved in no time, thanks to the Meraki cloud solution, which is designed from the ground up for remote management. However, some long-term projects were paused and parked, as companies and organizations shifted their attention to fixing gaps in their IT infrastructure. 

So, what was the experience of the Meraki support team, delivering customer service from home? When talking to Ben about his team and remote work, he exudes confidence, like a pilot who just navigated his airplane safely through a thunderstorm. Surprisingly, remote work caused no major disruptions to his team. Ben embraced the situation and saw the positive in it:

 

“Not everyone dislikes working from home, especially in IT. I’m an introvert at heart, so when someone tells me to sit behind the computer all day, the first thing I think is: that’s great,” says a smiling Ben.

There’s more to it, of course. The trick is, you need to have a plan, provide the right tools, and make sure everyone is on board. While more and more organizations look into expanding their remote work situation to a permanent policy, it’s important to get it right with a bit more planning time.

 

1. Make a plan

Ben’s team usually provides customer service from our office, in the heart of London. The global pandemic forced the team to work from home, but it’s not the first time: power outages, bush fires, or office building renovation work have required Meraki teams to work from home in the past. Cases like that are pretty rare, but they require disaster recovery plans that enable the team to flow into remote work easily and quickly. Meraki provides 24/7 customer support and needs to guarantee that teams are connected at all times. Our disaster recovery plan covers the most important elements and the steps each team should follow. In the world of technical support, that can start with regulations that require each team member to take their laptop home after work each day. It defines which IT equipment each team member needs in order to do their job properly. It doesn’t matter if your business wants to be prepared for uncertainty or starts to play with the idea of permanent remote work—a good plan is needed. Many companies didn’t have that plan at the start of the pandemic, but can learn from the past few months and get prepared with guidelines that cover many different unforeseeable scenarios.

 

2. The right tools for less disruption and better customer service 

True customer service can be one of the most important experience points customers have with your brand or product, and should, therefore, always be a high priority. Especially in times of uncertainty, customers may need more or different support from a contact center. It is important to ensure your team is sensitive to these realities and equipped with the right tools. It’s best to avoid unnecessary disruption for your team where possible. A poor connection, background noise, or a delayed answer can damage your customer experience. Therefore:

  • The best remote work solution provides an in-office experience: provide noise cancelling earphones and standard IT equipment, like keyboards or another monitor. 
  • Ensure your company has a good VPN infrastructure so your staff can access all company resources or sensitive data securely remotely. That may mean a hardware VPN for certain professionals that requires added security and functional benefits over software VPNs.
  • If the team you manage needs telephony access, consider software-based telephony. “All calls are routed via VPN so you don’t need to worry about ISPs or landlines,” says Ben.
  • In the IT world, many teams work with physical labs so they can simulate their customers’ scenarios in real time. “We made sure to set up our lab to be accessible remotely and equipped our team with test devices to use at home to play around with for different scenarios,” shares Ben. Providing these tools protects you from having to troubleshoot the troubleshooting.
  • Do you have a team that works with company-owned devices? Make sure that hardware is updated and ready to use. Ideally, you use mobile device management software to identify what it’s running or access the device by remote desktop  to troubleshoot remotely.
  • Sometimes troubleshooting goes beyond the access to physical hardware or management tools. Your team may want to reach out to a colleague to get advice or simply get a second opinion on a case. In the office, your subject matter expert or manager may sit just a few steps away. Working remotely, conversations like that still need to be enabled in real-time by chat applications. Don’t forget to train your team on a communication policy and provide collaboration tools that allow them to engage and communicate, even when the customer is on the line.

3. Everybody in

Only happy teams that are fully brought into their team’s vision can function well in unusual work environments. Ben has worked with his team on plans that allow them to swap shifts flexibly when needed. “Sometimes your team needs flexibility. Unexpected issues can come up.” Personal relationships and trust in each other plays a big role. Ben made some changes to accommodate personal challenges for parents or tricky apartment share environments, and staffed around that. The team continues to communicate often to be flexible in emergencies and cover for each other.

All in all, remote work comes with many benefits, including more flexibility and less commute and transport time for employees. At the same time, it allows companies to source from a broader and more diverse workforce, without geographic boundaries.

“This experience has definitely opened my eyes to the viability of a permanent remote workforce; some people do want this as part of their work-life balance,” says Ben.

Having a plan, the right tools, and enabling a motivated team can help you navigate towards a permanent remote work policy. However, it is important to find the right balance and ensure there are still opportunities to maintain team spirit and company culture, especially for people who didn’t have the opportunity to build relationships with colleagues in real life.

 

 

Listen to the complete interview in our Podcast

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Understanding the Evolving Security Threats to a Remote Workforce

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations around the globe rapidly took health and safety precautions by supporting a remote workforce. Over the last several months, the conversation around moving towards a remote workforce more permanently, beyond COVID-19, has been considered by some organizations. Gartner’s recent CFO study revealed that 74% of those surveyed will move at least 5% of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID-19 [1]. While it is imperative to adapt to these current trends of remote work, protecting against cyberattacks is more important than ever. Here are three security trends IT teams should be aware of when it comes to security threats in a remote workforce. 

Connecting the workforce securely

Being able to stay connected at all times from anywhere in the world is a necessity now that organizations operate with and support a remote workforce. Organizations don’t always have a way to gather live reporting on security events or have solutions that can aid in active management and protection of their users, devices, and applications. With the use of a VPN, employees can securely connect to their office’s network regardless of where they’re located. However, VPNs are highly vulnerable to cyber threats. In an evaluation of VPNs, Forbes concluded that “18% of the VPNs tested contained potential malware or viruses, 85% featured excessive permission or functions that could put a user’s privacy at risk, and 25% exposed a user’s traffic to leaks” [2]. It is essential that IT teams have a way to monitor all security events while also having remediation processes in place if a threat does occur. 

 

Protecting against increased security vulnerabilities

With a physically scattered workforce, online attackers have more opportunities to invade and harm an organization’s users and internal network. Cyber attackers are taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis and have found new ways of infiltrating an entity’s infrastructure. As a result of the remote workforce, there has been an increase in email and voice traffic. According to Netscout, there was an instant 25% to 35% increase in internet traffic since the start of COVID-19 [3]. With this in mind, cyber attackers are using creatively titled COVID-19 emails that seem to be coming from legitimate health sources or pandemic reports. Similarly, voice and SMS phishing attacks are also on the rise as remote workers use personal devices to hold conference calls or confirm multifactor authentication. It is a natural tendency for users to open an email or accept a call or text that seems harmless because indications of dangerous content are not obvious. Additionally, some IT teams may not have the resources or established processes to combat these challenges at the scale currently seen. 

 

Safeguarding business applications and sensitive data

Currently, there is an increase in dependency on remote work applications and services. Traffic from communication and collaboration applications like Office 365, WebEx, Zoom, and Slack (just to name a few) has skyrocketed. This leaves an organization’s assets to be more vulnerable. This also means there are more ways for cybercriminals to attack and jeopardize sensitive data, such as credit card data for financial institutions or patient information for healthcare entities. As evidence, T-Mobile took the action of moving 12,000 call-center employees to a remote work set-up. Employers like T-Mobile worked hard to ensure their call-center workers were provided with the relevant tools to provide their customers with the same level of service while working remotely. Many organizations’ trustworthiness and success rely on being compliant with standard regulations like HIPAA or PCI, and so it is no surprise that security is in need of immediate attention. It is therefore imperative that organizations implement more security solutions to protect all applications used to process customer transactions, such as billing and returns, which now happens in the homes of remote employees. 

With remote work, employees are now working from anywhere in the world, and IT teams face a greater security challenge to protect and keep their users, infrastructure, and customer data safe from malicious threats. Everyone expects to stay connected at all times, and have secure access to services and tools in order to be productive and successful while working remotely. Behind the scenes, IT teams have the challenge of ensuring security at every point in the network and with every customer interaction. Being cognizant of where potential threats could be coming from is the first step to a more secure remote work environment. 

To learn more about how you can manage security vulnerabilities and explore solutions, visit our remote work page for additional resources.

 

Sources:

[1] Gartner 2020 CFO Remote Work Post-COVID Survey 

[2] Too Many VPNs Put Our Privacy and Security at Risk 

[3] Network Traffic in the Age of COVID

[4] How T-Mobile Transitioned over 12,000 Care Experts out of Call Centers and into Their Homes in Less Than a Month

 

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Why Remote Work is Not the Same as Work from Home

In 2001, I started a job as a systems engineer at a small technology startup based in Santa Barbara, CA. It was the first time in my relatively young career that I would be expected to travel regularly, and work—when not traveling—from a small home office in Denver, CO. Little did I know that this would mark the beginning of a 19-year journey that would put me in a position to fully appreciate the differences between remote work and work from home.  

As we all know, there are countless benefits to working in a centralized office environment.  Over the years, me and many of my ‘work-from-home’ colleagues would regularly drop in at corporate offices to maintain relationships, tap into office culture, and engage in necessary company activities. But the recent global pandemic has vividly illustrated that working from home is not the same thing as remote work.  

Yes, it’s a nuance that requires a bit of explanation. As I’ve shared, working from home is something I’ve been doing for 19 years, but it was only recently, in the last three years, that I’ve begun a transition to remote work. My transition started with the personal preference of working on Apple products, and my employer providing security for devices like personal laptops, tablets, and smartphones. It is this focus on device security from IT leaders that shows the gaps in typical work-from-home situations.    

The home is assumed to be a predictable environment that is free from typical issues found in open, shared environments like airports, retail shops, and office environments. Homes often have relatively small numbers of devices attached to wired and wireless networks competing for bandwidth on a consumer-grade, best-effort connection. In fact, home Wi-Fi devices are typically designed for rapid set-up, enabling consumers to easily connect devices and stream content, like Netflix eliminating the complex configuration of device or network security to protect against cyber criminals. What might be most unique about home environments is that it’s typically assumed those devices and content are to be trusted. Evidence? When was the last time you updated your home Wi-Fi password or malware protection application? Enterprises run regular updates—sometimes daily—to security and management policies. 

The traditional enterprise office is much more complex, with literally hundreds or thousands of employees, devices, and shared productivity tools (printers, IP phones, etc.) competing for airtime. But what truly makes the two environments different is the IT decision maker’s focus on security, application-level performance, and predictable connectivity.  

To give you a sense of what motivates an IT planner’s thinking, consider the following in reference to small- and medium-sized businesses. According to Safety Detectives, over 60% of cyber attacks target small businesses (<1,000 employees), and when they do get attacked, 61% are out of business within six months. How’s that for motivation? Before the global pandemic, <5% of the U.S. workforce worked from home regularly. Arguably, one of the many reasons is because CIOs and IT managers believe they can administer and enforce device and network security policies easier in a traditional office environment. 

Conventional wisdom says it is easier to manage one environment of 1,000 employees, their devices, security, and performance needs than it is to manage 1,000 remote work environments. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, cloud IT technologies and the Meraki way of simplifying connectivity, security, device, and application performance management, makes scaling remote work possible for any number of work environments, irrespective of whether employees are in conventional offices or remote locations, even if that happens to be someone’s home.  

Browse the Meraki Remote Work web page and you’ll learn why remote work solutions provide greater business application performance, enterprise class security, mobility, device management, and reliable, assured connectivity that is not possible in typical work-from-home environments.

Meraki Doubles Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6™ Family

Organizations are preparing for a digital future faster than ever before. More than half a million customers, including a majority of the Fortune 100, have now modernized their networks with Cisco Meraki. Cloud-management has created a fundamental shift away from on-site controllers, time-consuming troubleshooting, and complex security to a model that can be operated 100% remotely. To help organizations on this journey, we are doubling the size of our Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6™ family by releasing three new Wi-Fi 6 access points, adding enhanced troubleshooting capabilities, and additional security features. 

The new Meraki Wi-Fi 6 Family

New Wi-Fi 6 access points

Organizations are experiencing increases in the use of bandwidth-hungry mobile video conferencing, Wi-Fi calling, and mobile device use. Wi-Fi 6 helps to deliver these mobile experiences seamlessly, and now Meraki can deliver Wi-Fi 6 both indoors and outdoors.

We are happy to announce three new Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6™ ruggedized and external antenna access points to deliver the newest Wi-Fi 6 standard to outdoor areas, and focused coverage areas. The MR46E, MR76, and MR86 join the MR36, MR46, and MR56 to offer screaming fast, high-performance Wi-Fi 6 everywhere.

MR46E, MR76, and MR86 Highlights

All three models are Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6™, supporting high-density features such as MU-MIMO, OFDMA, and power saving features such as target wake time (TWT). They all feature a quad-radio architecture with 2.4 GHz, 5GHz, security scanning, and IoT radios.

  • MR86 is an IP67 rated, rugged 4×4:4 Multigigabit access point, with a 3.5 Gbps max data rate for high-density outdoor environments 
  • MR76 is an IP67 rated, rugged outdoor 2×2:2 access point with 1.7 Gbps max data rate
  • The MR46E is a 4×4:4 Multigigabit access point, 3.5 Gbps max data rate, with automatically-detectable external antennas. MR46E can re-use the same external antennas as MR53E.

The new outdoor access points enable organizations to extend Wi-Fi beyond current dense indoor areas. Retail shops or schools may be wanting to offer more Wi-Fi outdoors to accommodate social distancing. MR46E is able to offer focused wireless coverage, using directional antennas, for warehouses or manufacturing plants with high ceilings, or hospitals and schools with long hallways.

Simplifying wireless troubleshooting

As discussed in a recent blog post, Meraki dramatically simplifies the ability to troubleshoot a network from end-to-end. We are now excited to release deeper insights and analytics into wireless performance metrics. With historical color-coded performance metrics for signal quality and wireless latency, identifying and correlating problems has never been easier.

Want to know how your CEO’s Wi-Fi was performing today, yesterday, or even weeks ago? Want to know the impact a configuration change had on wireless latency or signal quality at one of your remote locations? It’s now all at your fingertips with expanded Meraki Health statistics.

Client Health Signal Quality

Simplifying security

By delivering Cisco security technologies from the cloud, Meraki helps organizations get back to what they do best. The newest wireless firmware release includes security capabilities to help secure their networks.

  • Adaptive Policy is now available on Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 access points, to help simplify policy administration using SGTs (Secure Group Tags). Profiling users, devices, services, and setting time of access has never been easier.
  • Identity PSK is now available without the need for a RADIUS server. IoT devices can be authenticated using the Meraki cloud.
  • WPA3 is now available across Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 access points, which enables higher levels of encryption and more robust password-based authentication. This will be a welcome upgrade for organizations with sensitive data such as financial services and healthcare organizations.

New firmware upgrade option

To help simplify firmware upgrades, Meraki has released a new upgrade strategy to minimize client downtime. The network never has to go offline during a firmware upgrade, minimizing impact on end-users and devices are minimized during the upgrade. This new upgrade strategy option helps minimize disruption to mission critical wireless networks such as manufacturing, healthcare, warehouses, and airports. 

Learn more

To learn more about these new capabilities and Wi-Fi 6 access points, join our upcoming Introduction to Cloud-Managed Wireless webinar or join our upcoming remote sessions at Cisco Live.

Additional resources: 

Meraki access point firmware upgrade strategy

Identity PSK without RADIUS

Meraki WPA3 Encryption and Configuration Guide