Takeaways from 2020

Edge Computing

As 2020 draws to a close, we sat down to chat with Mike Tippets, vice president of marketing and organizational development at Hughes, to capture insights and key takeaways from the year.

Take us back for a moment to revisit the customer landscape at the beginning of the year. What were most customers focused on?

Coming out of 2019 and into 2020, there were three main areas of focus among our enterprise customers.

First, there was a lot of discussion about Software-Defined Wide Area Networking, or SD-WAN. Enterprises were needing to improve the flexibility and scalability of their networks; they were looking to connect multiple stores, offices, or gas stations, for example.

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Second, there was a shift in terms of cloud computing – moving away from the early adoption phase towards cloud applications becoming more mainstream. Many organizations had already adapted to using big applications in the cloud, like Office 365 and Salesforce, but the idea of having more customized or internally built or lower profile apps in the cloud was just starting to gain traction.

Finally, the topic of employee engagement was on many customers’ minds at the start of 2020. Of course, this was not a new conversation at the time, but many customers set out at the start of the year to make this a priority. Ironically, I recall specifically advising customers whose employees don’t come to the main office every day on the importance of staying connected to the headquarters to help keep them engaged.

And then what happened in terms of customer needs when COVID hit?

We use the word “pivot,” but really, that’s a polite way to say “disruption.”

All of a sudden, our customers didn’t just have 500 branch offices, they had 2,500 employee homes that needed to connect to the network. It’s easy to think, ‘Oh, let’s just get a VPN up and running and we’ll have secure connections.’ But in that scenario, any device on a home network is potentially connected to the VPN. That’s a security risk. It also means that if the employee is using a cable or fiber connection to access a cloud-based app, their connection goes back to the main office, adding an extra hop and unnecessary delay.

At Hughes, we experienced the same thing as our customers when our employees began to telework en masse. It just so happened that our IT team had rolled out MS Teams throughout our organization last year, and that helped ease our transition to remote work. But we had the same challenge as many of our customers, with employees thinking they needed to connect to the VPN at all times, and therefore experiencing interruptions and video transmission delays using Teams through the VPN.

Had all our employees been in the office and only a few using Teams from home or while travelling, we never would have identified that underlying issue. But with 2,000 people working remotely, we quickly felt the impact of the VPN on video calls, and we were able to address it for our employees as well as our customers.

How would you summarize the shift in enterprise demand for connectivity throughout 2020?

Connectivity has long been important. But it’s so much more critical now; it’s not just for email and timecards. Businesses need to connect with employees, customers, partners, supply chains – just to survive. Hughes is helping customers to architect, implement and operate the reliable, flexible networks they need.

All at once, the apps that provide support for everyday interactions – like shopping, or ordering dinner, or getting medical services – replaced face-to-face interactions, putting more pressure on the networks that support them. The ability to deliver services by apps became mission critical – overnight. While online ordering wasn’t anything new, its importance to a business’ ability to survive accelerated the requirement for solutions and enabling technologies.

Because of this shift in behaviors, many initiatives were accelerated, like AI [Artificial Intelligence] and ML [Machine Learning]. We’ve had AI and ML in our own operations, and they’re a big part of our service delivery. There are a lot of companies building interesting AI/ML tools, but they’re just starting to assemble their data. Whereas, we have decades of data that we put underneath our tools to help customers. We use the technologies to diagnose and solve issues before they become network problems.

What are the main takeaways from 2020 both for Hughes, and for customers?

My main takeaway is the importance of culture. Successful organizations have always had strong cultures, but in a situation where we don’t see our colleagues every day, companies have had to build connections to people through other means. Leadership town halls and video-centric information sharing are more crucial than ever before. Sending an email is nowhere near as compelling as watching a video of leadership giving me an update. All of that points to how critical connectivity is, and the elevated need for redundancy and high availability – even at small sites. We always knew it was important at large sites, but it used to be acceptable to say, “Well it’s okay if the branch is offline for a short time.” That’s no longer the case.

What’s on the horizon? What should organizations and enterprises consider or prepare for in 2021?

We’ve learned we can work in a remote environment. We’re not going to move away from ordering and shopping online, or curbside pickup. They’re here to stay and will be a differentiator for the retailer, bank branch, or restaurant. That said, at some point, we’ll go back to “normal,” but then that normal will change. I think we all need to be prepared to expect the unexpected – and build our networks and our organizations to be able to “pivot” at any time.

That’s why, when it comes to networking, the future will be about flexibility, reliability and security. Making that happen is what we do at Hughes; and it’s what we’ll continue to do in collaboration with our customers to help them succeed.

Outside of technology, though, we’ve also learned the importance of a smile and kind word. It can be hard to tell if someone’s smiling behind a mask, but we can still do or say something kind. Open a door, say “thank you.” Finding ways to have positive human interactions should be at the top of our “to do” lists into the new year.


About the Author

Mike Tippets

Mike Tippets is the Vice President for Enterprise Marketing & Organizational Development at Hughes. He leads a team that helps multi-site businesses engage, communicate, grow and make The Right Connection with their staff and their customers. Follow Mike Tippets on LinkedIn and Twitter @HughesMediaVP.