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Taking a ‘Human-First’ Approach as Customers Swiftly Adapt

In the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, F5 quickly learned the degree of agility companies around the globe would have to demonstrate to ensure the safety of their people.

When an employee in Seattle reported being in contact with someone who had tested positive, F5 shut down the company’s global headquarters—the F5 Tower on Fifth Avenue downtown—for cleaning. A few days later, employees in Seattle and the Bay Area were encouraged to work from home, followed soon after by a complete shift to remote work for F5’s entire global workforce.

It’s a story that’s now familiar to thousands of our customers around the world. Faced with this reality, organizations have had to undertake seismic shifts in their operations. Everyone is in Agile mode, trying to develop a new way of working effectively—and grappling with the critical set of challenges that entails.

Ian Jones is the lead of F5’s global Professional Services and Training Services organizations. The role of both teams is to help customers maximize their investment in F5 technologies, whether it’s around implementation, management, or training. These experts connect F5 products with the customers who use them—and they have been at the epicenter of the disruption occurring as a result of COVID-19.

“Customers are calling us and saying, ‘I need help and I need it now,’” says Jones. “They have to shift their infrastructure to enable a complete remote workforce in a matter of hours or days.”

The difficulties in managing such an effort can be wide-ranging. Companies need to rapidly scale remote access and team collaboration solutions. Those handling sensitive information have to ensure the security of data as it travels far and wide. Applications are handling more traffic and touching more users in the field. VPN traffic is greatly increased. Formerly anomalous network activity may now be normal.

For some, the infrastructure and services are already in place to accommodate the rapid rise in demand. Jones says that F5 has been able to help customers worldwide as they navigate their unique situation and implement a new way of working.

“Some customers have already implemented parts of our Access Policy Manager product for a handful of remote workers, but a significant increase strains the environment and the implementation,” Jones says. “Sometimes it’s a configuration or other type of change. Fortunately, we can do this remotely.”

In many cases, the change has been dramatic. One major North American entertainment company moved 100,000 employees to remote work—a project that may have taken months under normal circumstances. Through a massive global effort, and the F5 team working with the customer day and night, the move was accomplished in just three days.

“This was all hands on deck, across Professional Services, Sales, and Support, as well as the customer’s own team,” Jones says. “The effort involved people from the U.S., EMEA, and APAC to create a true follow-the-sun engagement to get this done.” 

Doing whatever it takes has become the new normal for now, Jones says. Wherever customers have needed it, his team and others at F5 have found a way. In another case, a German software provider experienced a jump from 5,000 remote access points to more than 20,000 almost overnight, with expectations to ramp up to 130,000 worldwide. Partnering with F5 around the clock, the company was able to deploy upgrades every 12 to 24 hours—including new hardware and infrastructure—and double capacity within a week.

In another case, when a major midwestern medical system needed help, an F5 consultant jumped in with 15 minutes’ notice to help reroute the system’s Office 365 software from its on-premises APM to the cloud. One large retailer in Japan underwent a massive implementation over three weeks—with about 70 percent of the work performed in Japan, 15 percent from North America and 15 percent from EMEA.

“The beauty of the services we provide is that we have a global organization that can deliver just about anything from just about anywhere in the world,” says Jones. “We’re able to flex to support customers when and how they need it.”

Customers are also taking a more hands-on approach, developing their own skills and resources to pitch in. Many have been taking advantage of F5 training resources—free web videos that help customers understand their applications and product features—to upskill their own staff.

“The team has seen a big uptick in demand for that content,” Jones says. “Customers are learning more about their own operations and services. If anything, it’s highlighting the supply chain for many customers, and how they may be exposed to slowdowns and disruptions from partners around the world. Nobody has experienced a global situation like this in their lifetime, and we are all learning to adapt.”

In that adaptation, says Jones, are lessons that may apply long after the pandemic subsides. Companies have realized the importance of caring for employees first and foremost. By taking a human-first approach and prioritizing everyone’s health and well-being, they’ve learned how quickly they can move when it’s really necessary. And organizations all over the world are finding out how they can work effectively together even when their employees are separated by physical distance.

“Many of the technologies companies put in place for business processes are having a massive impact on social communication as well,” Jones says. “This tech isn’t just connecting us to our business, but also allowing us to connect to each other, to our families.”

As F5 continues to respond and support customers worldwide, Jones says he hopes the lessons we’re learning about the potential and ingenuity of human collaboration under duress will remain.

“Every day is a school day,” he says. “We’re learning every day. And I’ve been incredibly impressed with communities, customers, and our company—with how everyone is looking for solutions that will help businesses and people thrive long after we emerge from this global crisis.”

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