In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights episode, Mike Vizard talks to Leostream CEO Karen Gondoly about why the need to digitally transform to support remote workers isn’t going away any time soon.
Mike Vizard: Hello and welcome to the latest edition of the Digital CxO Leadership Insights series. I’m your host, Mike Vizard. Today we’re with Karen Gondoly, who’s CEO for Leostream, and we are talking about, well, where is this whole issue around remote access leading to? Because we have seen in the wake of COVID, everybody working from home and now there’s a push to get everybody back in the office, but maybe we’re going to land somewhere in between in 2024. Karen, welcome to the show.
Karen Gondoly: Thanks, Mike. Thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m excited to have this conversation with you.
Mike Vizard: So what’s your take as to how this is all going to play out? Because it seems like there’s a push-pull going on and a lot of the employees know whether or not they go into the office or not. They’re going to work from home and maybe IT folks know that. So maybe there’s a difference in conversation between what the folks in the trenches know and what the folks in the executive office are thinking. But as you listen to all of these conversations, what’s going on in your mind?
Karen Gondoly: Right. It’s funny because I have conversations with friends who they do have executives who are saying, “You got to get back to the office. You got to get back to the office.” And then I say, “Oh, really? So how much are you back in the office?” And they say, “Oh, two or three days a week.” So it’s really, it’s like you said earlier, it’s going to remain this hybrid. It is good to have some face-to-face time, and there’s certain times that you want to be in the office, but there’s a lot of people out there that can be just as productive if not more, if they’re allowed to work remotely.
Because I think the thing to remember now, post COVID world, during the pandemic, obviously working remotely meant working from home, but now that’s not what it’s all about. It’s about enabling work from anywhere. Because I might be a post-production engineer who would do better if I was working on set instead of in my lab or there’s all these different use cases out there where you can allow people to do their jobs better if they’re not tethered to their seats.
Mike Vizard: I feel like immediately after COVID, everybody kind of said, well, everybody’s working from home, and they flipped a switch and rushed everybody out and they took whatever technologies were at hand and they were VPNs and RDP was the primary kind of protocol underneath that. Do we need to kind of revisit those decisions now as we come to the reality of the hybrid environment and what should people be thinking about?
Karen Gondoly: Oh, now is definitely the perfect time to be doing that. If you think about it, it’s been what? Three years now. And usually that’s the life cycle of technology, so any of those solutions you put in place to try and make people productive at the beginning of the pandemic, now is really the time to take a little time and look at what technologies would satisfy your end users the best, what gives them the best performance, what allows them to work from anywhere. And get rid of VPNs, replace them with secure gateways. There’s all these different ways that you can architect the solution. And now that you have time to think about it, you can definitely improve and optimize your system that you put in place at the beginning of the pandemic.
Mike Vizard: Cybersecurity focusing the beat up on the RDP use case a lot. I mean, what is the state of security when it comes to RDP and what should people be really thinking about?
Karen Gondoly: It’s funny, we… or so I work for a company called Leostream. We do a lot with people who design remote access solutions for their end users, but most of our customers, most of the people we talk with don’t really use RDP. There are a lot of other options out there for display protocols, which is essentially what RDP is, that have strong encryption, that are just passing pixels around, not data. So it actually can help your security posture if you leverage the correct display protocol and you secure it using your firewalls and all these sort of things.
Mike Vizard: Who’s leading the charge on kind of the architecture of the digital workforce in these organizations that you run into? Who do you guys see as the folks who are kind of figuring out, “Yeah, we need a better experience because if we don’t have the right experience, we’re not going to get the right quality of workers we’re looking for.”
Karen Gondoly: I think the end users are always running the show, even though they might not be building the architecture, but it’s the end user experience that is going to define what IT needs to put in place. And yes, the CIOs of the world, they’re going to have this mandate for maybe the hybrid workforce. They’re going to have different zero trust initiatives.
They’re going to hand down these mandates to the IT staff, but ultimately they’re the people who need to make it happen. And so they need to find the technologies that enable them to satisfy their CIOs while also making it easier for them to do their jobs. What tools can they put in place to give end users the performance they need, make the CIOs happy, but also improve their own efficiencies because they don’t want to make their lives miserable in this process.
Mike Vizard: And that does seem to be the challenge. The end users will take their frustration out on IT by filling out all the surveys with negative feedback. So how does an IT person get in front of this issue and what kind of budget is required to succeed?
Karen Gondoly: Well, to get in front of the issue, to a certain extent, you just want to give a little bit of control back to the end users, which I know is a bit scary. But simple things like this is a remote access solution, I’m sitting down at my laptop and I need to connect to something that’s far away. Well, what if it’s a Windows machine that’s frozen?
I know it never happens, right? Well, normally the user might have to contact their IT department to fix that. But if they can find a way to architect and build a remote access solution that allows the user to click a button and reboot the machine themselves and solve some of the simple problems, then that really frees up IT to focus on the harder things that they should be looking at.
And then also it’s about the performance. If they can leverage display protocols and security gateways and different technologies that allow the user’s connection to feel like they really are just logged into their laptop, then they’re going to hear a lot less from their end users as well.
Mike Vizard: How proactive can all this get? Because I think part of the issue is that IT folks are reacting when they hear about an issue or they see some sort of latency problem arises, but how can I get in front of this and say, “Oh, wait, I can see that this is going to be an issue,” before it’s an issue and then address it before any end user ever complains about it?
Karen Gondoly: Some of that is monitoring network traffic. If you are using security gateways, how many users [inaudible 00:06:44] putting through them? Making sure that you’re load balancing that traffic around, making sure you have good rules in place to automate distributing that kind of traffic around your different gateways.
There’s different ways that you can get ahead of it there. But yeah, it’s a lot of it is just making sure you always have an eye on what’s going on in your environment, how many users are logging in, what are they connecting to, where are they coming from, and then again, building rules that help you automate ways to optimize that performance based on those metrics.
Mike Vizard: Do you think AI will play a role in this as we go forward? I mean, a lot of the issues seem to be, there’s only so many IT people that go around and there’s lots of end users.
Karen Gondoly: Someone’s going to figure out all sorts of ways to leverage AI in here. Some of the ideas that have been kicking around are things like looking at the type of tasks that people are performing on their desktops and then maybe learning from that. I need to put fewer connections through gateways because this group of users is doing complex tasks. And there’s all different sorts of ways that people are going to figure that out. It won’t be me, but somebody’s going to figure that out.
Mike Vizard: So as you look into the coming year, what do you expect to see happen? I mean, are we going to have a swing back to the middle? Will rational thought prevail here in terms of who’s working where or what should we expect?
Karen Gondoly: Yeah. I think the middle ground, but again, it’s going to be industry by industry. I think when it comes right down to it, because there are different types of workers and different types of industries that are more well suited to a hybrid environment. Obviously I work at a computer, that’s an easier one to make hybrid. For people who are doing maybe medical imaging, reading the images, they could also be hybrid. So I think for places where it makes sense, and again, it improves the efficiency and improves user, not even just satisfaction, but makes the business itself better, that’s the places where it’s going to make sense and hybrid is going to stick.
Mike Vizard: The part of this conversation that always leaves me scratching my head is if you push everybody back into the office, aren’t you just basically narrowing the pool of people you can hire to anybody who can drive to that office or find a way to get there within three hours, maximum commute that anybody’s probably going to put up with and very few would go with that.
Karen Gondoly: Three hours.
Mike Vizard: Yeah. So isn’t this whole argument somewhat self-defeating and because now I’m reducing my pool of labor candidates that I can actually go hire?
Karen Gondoly: That is definitely true, and one of the things that we’ve heard some of our customers have benefited from is the fact that they can hire outside of city centers. It’s easier to find a bigger pool of people, especially in times, for example, again, the media and entertainment industry, you’ll have project-based workloads that are just bigger than some other times.
And so you need to find contractors who are just part-time. And having a remote access solution, allowing these people to work from wherever they are, it gives you ways to hire faster, hire with more flexibility and keep them just as productive because you’re not trying to necessarily remote them into your data center. You can remote them up to a cloud infrastructure that you’ve built. Obviously that secures your data center, that has all sorts of other good aspects to it as well.
Mike Vizard: So to a certain degree, is this a boomer issue? Because the management doesn’t know how to deal with a remote workforce because they’ve never managed that kind of workforce before. So is part of this conversation, we just need to go back in and retrain the managers per se, rather than forcing the employees into what is increasingly a unnatural business climate?
Karen Gondoly: There’s something to be said for that. And it’s funny because we hired a number of people right at the beginning of the pandemic. Obviously we help people build remote access solutions. We had to help a lot of people at the beginning of the pandemic. So I needed employees to do that. And we hired a lot of people right out of college, and we are a remote first organization.
Ironically, right? This particular set of employees has never worked out of an office. So for them, it’s entirely natural to just be at home and be efficient from home. And yeah, it’s up for management to learn, how do you encourage people like that and make sure that they’re doing their jobs and you’re still mentoring them appropriately.
Mike Vizard: How much is this political and frankly driven by folks who have large investments in real estate offices and major cities beating up mayors, telling them, “We got to get people back into town.” So how much of this is kind of politics at its most local level?
Karen Gondoly: That’s interesting, I try to stay out of politics to be quite honest. So I don’t know. But the real estate question is an interesting one because there is a lot of real estate out there, obviously, and people want to fill it. And so the question then becomes what’s the most effective way to fill it or and is using it as just office space, is that the most effective use of it? So those are questions outside of my pay grade.
Mike Vizard: All right. So what’s your best advice to folks who are trying to navigate all this right now? And because depending on which way the wind is blowing, you can easily be swayed. But as you look at it and we’re looking into the coming year, what do you think folks should be thinking about?
Karen Gondoly: Well, as I mentioned, I think now’s a great time to start thinking if and when I want to make sure that I have this hybrid and remote workforce and I want to make sure that they’re productive and my company is secure and my data is secure, all these different aspects, now’s a great time to be thinking about that because there’s a lot of change in the industry right now. You’ve got the changes that have gone on at Citrix, the ongoing changes at VMware.
This is really opening up the industry to look at a different suite of technologies and try to build a remote access solution instead of just necessarily taking one of these legacy vendors and plugging it into their data center or up into their cloud. So it is a great time to just think about how do I want to transform my workplace so that it is future-proofed? Because again, the younger workforce is going to want that hybrid model, and you do want to be able to hire from anywhere. So now is really a great time to implement that.
Mike Vizard: All right, folks. Well, you heard it here. People are going to need to work from everywhere, anytime, and it’s going to be incumbent upon IT folks to make that happen regardless of whether or not the boss wants them in the office full-time or not. So I guess we got to figure it out because otherwise the people are just going to rebel and blame the IT folks and eventually the business leaders will come around. So as they say in a casino, best to bet on red and black. Right? Karen, thanks for being on the show.
Karen Gondoly: Thank you so much, Mike.
Mike Vizard: All right. Thank you all for watching the latest episode of the Digital CxO Leadership Insights series. You can find this episode and others on our website and we invite you to check them all out. Until then, we’ll see you next time.