COVID-19 drives uptick in BT's visibility-as-a-service offering

Now that some employees have moved back to their office spaces on a full or part-time basis, they want to take some of the work-from-home applications and services with them, according to BT's Adrian Comley.

Comley, senior manager for BT's managed network services portfolio, said the COVID-19 crisis has led to increased use of his company's visibility-as-a-service (VaaS) offering. In addition to dispersing employees, the coronavirus pandemic switched the corporate network environment from the office to the cloud and home office

BT's VaaS tools provide visibility into users' applications as well as their end user experiences. VaaS can show IT departments how their baseline apps are performing in WFH settings versus office settings. It can identify the root causes of experience issues across employees' devices, applications and networks, and focus remediation efforts on the applications' performance for critical employees such as CTOs. It works across iOS, Android and Linux operating systems.

"What we're seeing is a lot of interest from our MNCs (multinational corporation) customers in what we call visibility-as-a-service, which is all about how can I look at the application performance for my employee whether at home or in the office?'" Comley said. "It doesn't really matter which, but home is quite an important use case today. How can I track use of their applications from their laptop, from their mobile device, or whatever device they're using, across their local ISP network, into a corporate environment and out to the cloud?

"How can I can I look at the applications performance and identify things such as an employee's using the wrong headset, which means that they could have a poor experience, or that some of the software on their laptops might be out of date, or not very compatible with the latest tools they need to use. So it's (VaaS) about having that visibility into application performance, and across those different delivery domains."

With remote employees, Comley said the network domains have switched from corporate delivery domains to local delivery domains. The VaaS tools allow enterprises to look at their application performances and end user experiences in order to make better decisions in regards to changing their networks or services.

For VaaS, BT uses Riverbed App Response and Aternity. For its managed services portfolio, it also offers the resale of Cisco's AppDynamics and Thousand Eyes, the latter of which Cisco is in the process of acquiring.

BT's managed service includes design, set up, configuration, installation, a 24/7 helpdesk and in –life management with a monthly review by BT's consultants who proactively recommend improvements for application performance. They also includes sa web portal that was designed to give customers all the information they need in one location.  

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"Our BT Consulting teams use VaaS in support of application discovery assignments for customers’ projects such as SD-WAN transformation," Comley said. "However, COVID-19 has added extra emphasis on looking at the apps performance and end user experience for home working across a dispersed geographic base.

"In places like Hong Kong, where you started to get employees getting back into the office environment, they're taking with them the desire to carry on using video calling. They're taking with them some of the practices they've used in the last few months back into the office."

Moving more video conferencing tools back into corporate office environments brings a fresh set of problems for enterprises, Comley said.

"Then you've got an issue with how does the office LAN and the WAN handle an increase in video traffic? Perhaps it was just on Skype before or some sort of VoIP bridge," Comley said. "Now it's video. If there's going to be contention for how the application is performing, what's the employees' experience? Being able to diagnose networking problems for these now more popular applications is becoming increasingly a point of discussions with customers."

Comley said the other aspect related to the coronavirus pandemic is BT's customers are now evaluating how much to invest in their corporate infrastructures versus how much to invest in home networking infrastructures. Instead of long-term contracts, customers want more flexible contractual arrangements that use pay as you go models based on consumption or the number of employees that are using a product or service.

"They're looking to balance out how much to invest in their corporate network infrastructure where they have a lot of people now working at home, versus how much to invest in improving home working infrastructure where these guys might be coming back into the office in six months time," Comley said. "So we very much see that being a hot topic of conversation, where to place your kind of investment bets going forwards, but with minimal commitments."