Network preparation allows remote work that overcomes COVID-19 barriers

Aug. 31, 2020
Jim Montague reflects on the benefits mobility technologies during the current pandemic

After starting from scratch, I managed to secure more than 20 interviews about how mobility technologies are affecting and influenced by the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic for this issue's "Must-have mobility" cover story (p 28). And as usual, when you talk to people about a topic, some common threads emerge.

This time, one of the notable themes was that end users and system integrators already using Ethernet and Internet protocol (IP) networking to run larger proportions of more accessible systems were better able to cope with COVID-19. They ramped up remote working and remote experts more quickly and securely because they already had initial applications in place, or were at least experimenting with them, which allowed them to implement widely and scale up faster.

Unfortunately, other potential users had PCs and/or rigidly dedicated software that could only be used onsite, plus little or none of the networking needed to establish the connections needed for offsite communications, interactions and collaboration. These are the ones now scrambling to catch up, and add the Ethernet, Internet and other digitalized infrastructures, software and devices required for remote work due to the pandemic.

Granted, most process applications and industries must keep some staffers onsite to maintain their operations, while regulations and safety and security requirements prevent many others from allowing the network connections that less-restrained users are free to set up without a second thought. Cybersecurity is no joke either, and has often stymied network links that could be even more helpful now.

However, even with these and other restrictions, far more users could have established Ethernet and IP-enabled networks and connections for remote work than had them in place when COVID-19 emerged and took over. The recent surges in new users frantically setting up networks, Microsoft Teams and Zoom call accounts, and collaboration software on RealWear headsets is proof of it.

So why did it take COVID-19 to get so many users to wake up, and implement the networks and remote work solutions they should have had running all along? Why do we always have to do things the hard way? Why is the ounce of prevention always skipped for the pound of cure? Why be unprepared and weak?

Like clockwork, I ask myself the same questions—often while writing stories and columns. In my case, I'd say it's sheer laziness. Love and/or money are supposed to make the world go round, but I'd bet it's indolence.

And, just moments ago relatively speaking, one source corrected his statement to take out the words "fear and inertia." Amazingly, this once-great quote was watered down to remove the two words that describe the very motivation for removing them. The irony wasn't lost on me, and they're a good answer to my earlier questions.

But again, why? We move fast and ruthlessly when we have to, so why wait? I think it may be a lack of belief and faith in our larger communities and purpose. However, it's also because we always prioritize to deal with the most immediate problem firsts. We start out with the basics required for life: air, water, food, sex, shelter, education for the kids, and after that, the local equivalent of Monday Night Football, assuming anyone's still playing this season.

The people and geographic, professional and technical communities I cover logically address an ever-widening radius of potential threats and problems to deal with—just like those identified in any process hazards analysis (PHA) or characterized by their severity and frequency in a layers of protection analysis (LOPA). Once the essentials are covered, we skip the rest, most likely because just the basics require time-and-a-half or more.

Still, there's always ways to cheat for time, and fit in a few elective activities. So, the trick may be simply moving networking, Internet and cybersecurity for remote working into a higher-priority circle. Where do you find the belief and faith to do it? You tell me.

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About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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