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March Madness Keeps Business on Edge of Seats in Digital Age

Mike Sargent
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It’s March Madness time again! The NCAA.com recently announced that it would expand NCAA March Madness Live, offering fans multiple ways to engage with live coverage for all 67 games with availability across 16 platforms—the most in the tournament’s history, while also introducing continuous live streaming coverage throughout the first round. Great news for hoops fans, but its also will certainly keep a few IT professionals up at night.

IT infrastructure

Time for businesses to keep an eye on the ball, to avoid issues with March Network Madness.

Business infrastructure can take a major strain throughout the NCAA Tournament, as many IT infrastructures may not be prepared. That was one of the key findings of the Riverbed March Network Madness Survey as it revealed that the vast majority of businesses more closely monitor their networks and applications during the tournament, as they expected to see more network strain as a result of March Madness basketball games taking place during business working hours.

More than 500 IT professionals participated in the survey, which focused on whether organizations  would be ready for the strain employees place on the network from live-streaming, and how IT plans to ensure network and application performance and availability does not suffer.

The survey found that 75% of companies agreed March Madness games and content puts more strain on their company’s network, and the results jumped to 86% among companies with 500+ employees. And past viewing data supported the survey findings. According to the NCAA, during a recent tournament year, over 18.1 million live hours were watched via streaming.

The good news: the majority of survey respondents were well aware of the potential impact the tournament posed to network and application performance. The vast majority of companies, 81%, reported that they were likely to more closely monitor the performance of their networks, including Wi-Fi and applications, specifically because of potential strain due to employees accessing content or games during March Madness or similar events that take place during business hours. Only 8% stated that they were very unlikely to monitor any differently during March Madness or a similar event taking place during business hours.

That’s not surprising given what history has taught them. We asked if they had experienced at least one issue with their networks, including Wi-Fi, due to employees accessing content during a popular event such as March Madness. The majority of companies responded yes (64%), with 40% of these same companies saying that they have experienced more than one episode of issues. The percentage experiencing at least one issue rose to 76% for companies with more than 500+ employees.

Overall, organizations believe they need to prepare for the significant increase in network traffic that often occurs as a result of employees accessing and streaming online content and applications, and the related increase in volatility of that network demand.

The most common step organizations take is to limit access via their networks. The survey found that the majority (76%) of companies took steps to proactively prepare for potential network or app issues during March Madness. This included:

  • 39% institute application policies to deprioritize apps/video related to March Madness content/games online, prioritizing business critical apps
  • 36% require IT staff to come in earlier or later
  • 34% limit employees from accessing March Madness content
  • 31% secure additional IT staff coverage or support from a third-party company

Some of these are great proactive steps for organizations to take, but there is no substitute for comprehensive intelligence regarding end user experience from real-time end-to-end monitoring over the entire network and all applications. That enables IT to more quickly get headlights on areas where end user experience is degrading, and identify the root cause of any issue and fix it—ideally before the phone rings. In fact, 88% of companies agreed performance management and monitoring tools are important in monitoring networks and end user experience during events such as March Madness that take place during business hours.

Additional best practices include:

  • Prioritizing and optimizing company network traffic while reserving bandwidth for business-critical applications.
  • Distinguishing between company assets and bring your own device (BYOD). Allowing BYOD doesn’t mean that employees can bring any device of their choice and be given unmitigated access to the corporate network.
  • Bringing siloed IT teams together to plan for any high-priority network events during this time.
  • Providing employees TVs for viewing in common areas to ease the load on the network.

With the right oversight and planning, organizations can continue to cheer on their favorite teams, without it having an impact on the network, business-critical applications, digital services or customer satisfaction. Time for businesses to keep an eye on the ball, to avoid issues with March Network Madness.

Originally posted on Forbes.com.

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