If data is the lifeblood of a company, bandwidth is the diameter of the veins through which this data travels. Cheesy medical analogies aside, a blockage or high-pressure bandwidth usage results in issues that compromise the integrity of your office wall to wall.
To take this analogy a step further, the Spotify playlists open on a dozen machines office-wide are nothing more than melodic chunks of cholesterol that interfere with an otherwise smooth flow of data. What can companies do to achieve maximum bandwidth capacity and ensure continuity without hijacking a laissez-faire work culture?
One App at a Time
When network planning, it is essential to determine how much bandwidth is needed to ensure all users can perform their assigned roles effectively.
Knowing which applications are being used on links, be it Internet or WAN, is an important aspect of your department, according to Tom Freer, managing director at Australia-based IT support service Wyntec. "Without understanding the type of applications, the business requirements or, more importantly, the customer experience," he says, "incorrectly allocated bandwidth will cause issues for the business." When these issues extend from employee to customer, they affect satisfaction and your bottom line.
Cause and Effect
In most cases, companies have sufficient bandwidth capacity — at least enough for all their business-related functions to run smoothly. And like most fires, the fault lies in the negligent practices of the person — not so much user error as user ignorance. When often paying a premium for their own mobile data packages, employees can perceive company facilities as free bandwidth, a chance to catch up on the latest cat video or that talent-show finalist who eerily sounds just like Freddie Mercury.
"Typically," says Freer, "this will be related to streaming of audio and video content, which not only consumes large amounts of data but will have an impact on the utilization of [external customer or supplier] links." The least you can do? Let employees know. Having it in the back of their heads is better than not at all when they notice the same latency.
When the network goes down, support must find the root cause quickly and restore it with minimal workflow interruption for the employee — and ideally, none for the client. If the network is slow, the same team finds a solution. How? With leading-edge network monitoring tools and the "power" to control bandwidth allocation for each user. If you can't, it'll cost you. And adding bandwidth — which also costs money — is not recommended unless absolutely needed for new business.
"Throwing more bandwidth at a problem will, in most cases, not address the underlying issue of what is actually running on the network," says Freer.
The Business Outcomes
Complaints about slow networks and lack of bandwidth capacity is nothing new, but in a company environment it's the business functions that take priority. Employees who employ persistent video or music streaming are unlikely to pay the piper for their crimes against the helpdesk, but they can certainly be subject to additional controls that limit Internet access or prevent a certain degree of streaming.
In practical terms, Freer points out, "the biggest issue seen due to lack of bandwidth is significantly reduced productivity for staff, which leads to frustration and ultimately affects profitability. This lack of bandwidth is really focused on internal application delivery to staff or the ability to access external business-critical applications." Sigh...if only they knew.
In a company environment, it's the company functions that matter, even though users may have more bandwidth at home, consumed just by the few users within. You're not obligated to provide unnecessary bandwidth capacity per user as long as there's enough to fulfill client processes. Downloading or streaming are obviously not company functions, and IT pros — always the bad guy in this situation — must enforce data-usage policies that prevent workflow interruption in the best interests of the bottom line.
A failure to do so will lead to a lack of productivity at a staff level. Less productivity means it takes longer to complete tasks, which costs the company money. Especially, external online links such as online stores or support functions must never experience downtime. Customers are fickle and savvy enough to switch to a competitor if your company frequently cannot be contacted.