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Top 5

Is Your Network Ready for Your Digital Future?

Rob Long-sq
by Rob Long

Top-5-100x81Digital transformation, at its essence, is the race to be faster, more innovative and more accessible to consumers. There is no question that true digital transformation can remake an enterprise, drive significant revenue growth, save considerable money and dramatically improve operations. But the manic search for the gold at the end of the digital transformation rainbow – the fabled land of endless flexibility, agility and mobility – often lures enterprises down a path toward shiny, new technology before they have secured the necessary foundation to support it.

While the bright lights of digital transformation have the attention – and the wallet – of nearly every enterprise leader today, many have downplayed or minimized the significant demands digital transformation and cloud-first initiatives place on the network. Under every organization’s hood is the ecosystem of third-party platforms and solutions, all of which run on the network. Indeed, business operations workflows and unified communications systems are what power an organization – and they are only as fast and effective as their slowest link, which is often a combination of capacity, provisioning and change management.

The trouble is that enterprises have long considered the network a cost center, not a strategic asset. They think of it as necessary – like the plumbing in a house – but not exciting. It’s more fun to invest in analytics, the Internet of Things and mobile strategies, but – also like the plumbing in a house – if the network is neglected, it can mean serious end-user experience issues, slow performance and an inability to scale. This is especially true for geographically dispersed enterprises, where network managers are finding their legacy wide area network (WAN) can't support the growing demand for connectivity. When different offices or business locations need to access cloud-based services, the network traffic must hairpin back to a centralized datacenter and then to the cloud, thwarting the very promise of increased speed the cloud offers.

To adequately respond to and support a technology stack that can thrive in the digital age, an organization must think in terms of investment rather than currency. Consider these Top 5 strategies.

  1. Add capacity and control cost. Life in the digital age demands business and IT agility – in a word, speed. Creating roadways that allow for faster traffic is essential to meeting the demand for faster, more flexible operations. A CIO charged with helping grow the customer base may make big plans to improve the infrastructure only to be stymied by an outdated network. Opening up a network path for new WAN services can take up to 90 days – or longer. But to compete at market pace, organizations need network connections up and running in a matter of hours. Look to technologies like software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) in combination with hybrid WAN (with a combination of broadband internet and dedicated services) to increase scalability all the way to the network edge AND with a lower cost per megabit.
  2. Improve visibility. Whether you need to forecast capacity to accommodate a workload shift or measure user experience to optimize business application productivity and collaboration, data is king. Strive to implement and maintain a modern toolset that will help you readily answer common “what if” questions. Don’t wait to review a historical report; make sure you can access data in real time and visualize its business implications in a few clicks. End users are more likely to open a ticket only when a service does not work, but not when a service does not work well. Measuring network performance can shed light on areas to improve without a trouble ticket even being raised. Tie visibility to capacity planning with automation so that it scales based on preset thresholds, and you will effectively short-circuit the lengthy network provisioning process.
  3. Focus on core strengths and get help with the rest. The core of your business – product development and service delivery – is typically taken care of by higher-level functions, such as architecture and engineering staff who have deep knowledge of your firm. Lower-level functions, such as device monitoring and management, troubleshooting and break/fix are fairly far removed from manufacturing a product or providing a service. Invest in the tools that support IT’s core mission. Rationalize your environment to determine what work-streams across the network landscape are closest to your business goals and what work-streams you can source to third parties.
  4. Automate now. If speed is, in fact, the goal of digital transformation, troubleshooting and provisioning across IT services requires integration and automation of ALL infrastructure (including switches, servers and providers). Though IT workflow automation has been key to simplifying and expediting changes in traffic flow and reducing time to deliver, automation efforts have bypassed the network for years. Making changes to routers and switches to open up a new network path in a hardware-centric model requires manually touching devices one by one – a process that can take days if not weeks … or even months. Without considering how to automate network-related tasks as a part of the overall transformation strategy, an enterprise will never be able to keep up with the pace of change. Effective and timely orchestration of services is the not-so-secret sauce for delivering digital solutions.  
  5. Make contracts work for you. Strategically negotiate your services, hardware, software and maintenance contracts to serve specific and defined business objectives and avoid vendor lock-in. Look to reduce contract terms that limit your flexibility. While spend commitments will most likely be required, build in flexibility through lower thresholds and term commitments. It’s difficult to ask for more funding to support an initiative mid-contract or, worse, report that you’ve squandered hard-won dollars because devices have outlived their support. Contract management is about much more than expenses; it is about developing the commercial and operational foresight to maximize investments and move the business where you want it to go.   

Let’s face it: the network has never been a high-profile IT function; it has carried the plumbing metaphor for too long. But now is the time to think differently about the network. If you do not have a comprehensive program to manage your network investment, you will need to think twice about the outcomes you expect from your digital transformation initiatives. Your plans for increased agility are riding on it.

ISG helps enterprises plan for and manage a network that will enable and support their digital transformation. Contact me to discuss further. 

About the author

Over the past seven years, Rob has led transformation, benchmark and procurement engagements. Rob has completed more than 110 projects with $800M+ in contract spend and $140M+ in cost and optimization reductions, and he has represented Fortune 500 clients in the telecommunication, travel, retail, electronics, financial, healthcare and technology industries. With more than 17 years of experience within the IT services industry, supporting state and local government, higher education, and internationally known companies, his knowledgebase and experience related to transforming costly legacy infrastructure into operationally efficient structures are highly valued by his clients.