Networking after COVID: looking out as well as in. The KONE experience

Short of time? This article in one minute:

  • KONE has rolled out SD-WAN to 800 locations and is now looking to a SASE approach as the next step
  • External factors are now just as important as internal factors when transforming a network
  • Strategies need to move from harmonisation to being able to constantly transform – agility is more important than ever

 

The huge shift in enterprise networking over the past two years focused on the fact that, in many cases, COVID lockdowns evicted entire workforces out of their offices and into their living rooms. But the work of some companies was too important to make remote. Most of these were in healthcare, policing, and other emergency services, but there are plenty more ‘key workers’ who had no choice but to stay in position.

One such company designated as an essential service was Finnish elevator maker KONE, who by way of maintaining elevators in hospitals and other high-rise facilities, were able to continue production and services both in their offices and their production facilities. This meant that although support staff working from home posed a challenge, the company’s three-year SD-WAN rollout plan continued – and it’s ready to move to the next step, Lassi Hokkanen, KONE’s Head of Connectivity, told the WAN Summit team.

“Right now we have finalised the full SD-WAN rollout for all of our 800 locations worldwide,” said Lassi, ahead of his speaking slot at the WAN Summit Düsseldorf on 8 May. The rollout has been a big one - with 10 core factory production sites among these 800 locations, this plan has needed to consider varying models of connectivity and use cases that a purely office-based company would not have to think about.  “What we have to do next is focus on the security side, preparing the capabilities for a SASE environment and applying lifecycle management for the hardware we have.”

 

Up next – security and Industry 4.0

KONE went for something of an iterative approach to the rollout, taking care of SD-WAN first and leaving tweaks for later. With SASE solutions growing in availability in the intervening period, this has proven to be a wise decision. “When we did our last three-year plan in 2018-2019, we focused on SD-WAN. As part of this network strategy, we said there were certain security items that we would focus on later on. This work started last year. Of course, with our transformation we had already implemented lots of cloud capability and next-gen firewalls, but now we are taking it forward by taking into account SASE and zero-touch thinking,” Lassi told us.

Also, as an equipment and machinery producer, KONE is a prime candidate for applying Industry 4.0 to its connectivity planning. This means that their network transformation plan is also taking into account campus LAN and production facility connectivity – including what kind of blend to go for between 5G, WiFi, and other factory floor options.

 

External drivers are just as important as internal drivers

But as more and more companies move to cloud-based systems, this brings a new version of an old problem – dealing with regional requirements.

It’s always been the case that certain regions need certain strategies, but this is more vital than ever with the ease and swiftness a cloud service could become unavailable in a certain market – not to mention a geopolitical and legislative landscape that is prone to rapid, unpredictable changes.

This has had an important effect on strategy. Network managers’ main strategy headaches tend to come from internal factors – keeping the board happy, managing team structure, nailing down all use cases before rollout, and so on. These are still important, but now external factors are playing a much more vital role. Network managers can’t afford to ignore what’s happening outside their organisation.

What does this mean? Flexible planning is needed, both looking forwards and looking back, according to Lassi. “When we started, we had a large transformation programme that was all about harmonisation. Now, due to the different tech options available or from a compliance point of view (certain tech not being available in certain markets, for example), we will be in constant transformation. External drivers will play just as big a role as internal drivers. The cloud you are using might not be available in certain countries. Your encryption might not be available in certain countries.”

 

Clarity in the market?

Such a changing situation requires clear offerings from vendors. But right now, many have leapt from an SD-WAN focus to a SASE focus wholesale. “Two years ago, suppliers were calling and saying ‘We have this new SD-WAN model’. Now, they are saying ‘We have this new SASE model’. Where do you trust? When you look as SD-WAN, it’s not fully ready from a technology point of view, ” said Lassi.

What this means is that even if a SASE approach is the right one for their organisation, WAN managers need to be sure of exactly what they want before taking decisions – and as the KONE experience shows, this could well include having to expand their horizons far beyond the classic remit of a network manager. Do we now have to become experts on global affairs as well as global networks?

 

Lassi Hokkanen will go into more detail about KONE’s SD-WAN rollout at the WAN Summit Düsseldorf this May – see the website for how you can be a part of it.