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How to make sure data is going places when we cannot

How to make sure data is going places when we cannot

Editor’s ChoiceIndustry ExpertThought LeadershipTop Stories

Ravi Naik, the Senior Vice President and CIO of Seagate Technology, proposes five best practices for a displaced workforce.

At a time when many people around the globe find themselves working from home, it is every company’s job to do right by its employees and to fulfill its commitments to its customers-even if it involves some pivoting.

From laboratories to emergency rooms, grocery stores, janitorial services, through data storage companies, businesses around the world are working to introduce order and safety where chaos and harm may loom.

As the majority of employees throughout the world heed the call to work from home, the onus, more than ever, is on data to do the legwork for us. When the movement of people is restricted, the movement of data needs even more enabling.

Good data management these days, more than ever, must include attention to efficient flow of data.

Why? Smart data activation, after all, can lead to connection-even if from afar. It means using AI and the cloud to collaborate on vaccine development, finding treatment, and triaging patients. It also means schoolchildren learning virtually, employees working safely, doctors seeing their patients remotely and relatives seeing their loved ones smile in real time.

At Seagate Technology, we realize that we have a dual job to do: 1) Keep our employees safe, and, at the same time, 2) Keep enabling the critical flows of data around the world, which has been our focus for over 40 years.

Keeping our dual job in mind, we pivoted to best data management practices that enable us to meet this dual goal.

Below we share the five pillars that guided us:

  • Agility. Without a built-in flexibility in the system, pivoting in the time of crisis is difficult. Agility meant that we did not have to wait for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn. As soon as early news from China made its way to us, we realized it was not a matter of if, but when we’d need more support for WFH employees. The global IT support team began to meet daily at 7.30am. Among other things, during one such meeting toward the end of the first quarter of the year, we decided to run a workload test. We asked employees to download large files and work in them remotely. When the test succeeded, we were reassured that remote employees could continue doing their jobs.
  • Availability. Another move that helped keep data available and factories functional was setting up de facto mini edge data centers. As inputs from endpoints expand, few at-home locations have broadband or optical fiber for remote data analysis and meetings. So we provided our engineering and financial teams around the world with access to compute functions closer to their homes. Unlike with the previous, more centralized system, edge data centers allow us to bring applications closer to the users who need to process data closer to where it’s created.
  • Connectivity. Making sure that employees stay connected was an important function powered by the institutional nimbleness already in place.
    a. VPN. We ensured virtual private network (VPN) access to the employees who do not usually work from home. This extended the VPN across a public network and offers employees virtual access to the company’s assets. VPN technology provides safe paths to information not only to newly-remote employees, but also to people in places with restricted access to sources of objective data. As a result, according to Atlas VPN’s user data, VPN usage has been in great demand.
    b. Bandwidth. We reviewed and upgraded our Internet circuits throughout the world to increase bandwidth. This move, too, helped pave the way for the unimpeded movement of data, ensuring that we had enough capacity for home users to connect to the office. The number of employees connected doubled.
    c. Laptops. While most employees already had laptops, which were configured and ready to be used from home, the team sent additional loaner laptops to some employees and bought 400 new laptops for others. The laptops were imaged locally on site and overnighted to users after sanitizing and cleaning. We imaged laptops, sanitized them, sealed them, and shipped to new hires as well. Employees also had the option to take their office monitors and docking stations home.
    d. Support. We changed our support model globally to have people provide support from their homes (including our 24/7/365 Global Service Desk), while using remote tools and daily status check to ensure no impact on results and support levels. How well was this working? We checked. Customer satisfaction surveys showed an improved satisfaction. There was no impact on tickets and SLAs; no extra backlogs. During the move from standard model to WFH we registered zero downtime and service unavailability.
  • Security. In the era of distributed access, security at the periphery becomes a priority. We’ve ramped up the capacity and capabilities to deal with the increased remote user traffic.
  • Collaboration. For companies whose daily bread is innovation, working in teams is paramount. Innovation is at its best when it’s collaborative. We encouraged work meetings via WebEx and Microsoft Teams, registering an unprecedented growth in online collaborations at over 200%.
    These practices are working. We are hearing from cloud and other big tech customers that they are having to scale up, out and across core-to-edge locations in order to support the demand from work-from-home workers. Thanks to flexing our data management, our factories have been able to meet the growing demand. We hear from many managers that productivity has actually gone up since the vast majority of us began to work from home.

A smart orchestration of data’s flow and its use means we can put our data to work for us-sending it places in our stead. In doing so, we can do our small part to better support the laudable heroes on the front lines of the pandemic-sanitation workers, grocery stockers, anesthesiologists, respiratory therapists and many others.

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