How to Develop a Holistic Network Strategy and Why Your Organization Needs One Now


Technology strategies. We’ve all heard of them, we’ve all talked about them, but do we really understand the value of a holistic strategy and how to develop one? Do we really know what to do once we have developed one?

Network connectivity, unified communications (UC) and contact centers should enable the business and provide competitive advantages. These solutions generally come with a relatively high price tag and often rank as some of the largest line items in the IT budget. Any technology owner – not just network - needs to maximize the value these solutions provide to justify the expense. To do that, a team needs to set the strategic direction for these technical capabilities, including changes to the solutions provided, the features, functionality, how it is used within the organization and how it is delivered. A strategy cannot be created in a silo; it needs to be developed in conjunction with adjacent technology strategies. For example, the network strategy cannot include “migrate to 100% WLAN” if the contact center strategy includes “maintain wired telephones.”

How to Create a Holistic IT Strategy

Few organizations have fully developed strategies that are aligned to business goals and have an established governance process that ensures teams are driving toward the intended outcomes. Too often, strategy and architecture take a backseat to day-to-day operations and support. This means strategies rarely get fully developed or, once developed, get put on a shelf and forgotten about.

How do you go about developing a holistic strategy and ensuring your organization realizes the benefits of the strategy? First and foremost, organizations must be intentional in the development of the strategy and deliberate on executing toward the stated outcomes.

How to Staff a Strategy Team

As with most things in life, developing a holistic strategy and seeing it realized is about relationships and communication. It's as much about people as it is technology. An organization needs to have the right people with a dedicated focus on developing and driving strategy. The new UC analyst who is just learning the environment won't be the right pick to develop your strategy, for example, and neither will your senior network engineer who sees everything in ones and zeros. 

Who are the right people and what skills, experience and mindset do they need to have? Here are a few of the key attributes to put on the job:

  • Strong communication and relationship-building skills
  • Ability to understand and communicate both business and technology concepts, processes and strategies
  • A thought leader who is an advocate for change
  • A visionary for how technology can better enable the business
  • An influencer who has the trust of both technology and business stakeholders

Those developing a strategy need to establish relationships across the organization and create open and transparent dialogue about what is going well and what is not. They need to understand from a business lens what aspects of the technology capabilities are holding the business back, limiting productivity or failing to meet future business requirements. For example, is being tethered to an ethernet cable limiting mobility and collaboration in the office? Is the lack of a guest network impacting customer satisfaction? This business lens needs to be considered in the context of what is on the horizon in the technology industry and how it can benefit the business. Maybe your Wi-Fi 5 deployment doesn't meet performance requirements, but private 5G will. 

Like all journeys, the journey toward an IT strategy has to have a starting point and waypoints along way to ensure you are heading in the right direction. Those leading strategy work need to understand the current technology environment, how it is used by the business and where gaps between current and target states may exist. Organizations can use a strategic roadmap to plan the technology and business changes that need to happen to reach the target state. Include major waypoints that signify a shift or adoption in certain capabilities, change or impact to business operations, or delivery of business value.

Key Elements to Developing a Holistic Tech Strategy 

Organizations should be familiar with the following:

  • The current technology environment, including capabilities, solutions, lifecycle phases, status of contracts
  • The business strategy, including the organization's goals, priorities, customers, key outcomes and associated timelines
  • The industry trends in terms of vendor roadmaps, technology advancements, new capabilities, integrations and mergers
  • Strategies of other internal teams that have upstream and downstream dependencies
  • New technologies and teams that may impact the strategy

As you develop your strategy, start at the capability level. For example, you want to take your on-prem telephony solution to the cloud with unified communications as a service (UCaaS). Part of your strategy should include migrating call-handling capabilities to a cloud-based provider. While you may call out your current SBC/PBX solution, you would not identify a specific provider or solution for your target state in your strategy.

It is also helpful to segment the strategy into different time horizons. These should be ranges, not specific dates, and they should be aligned to business outcomes and value. For example, you may have a short, mid and long-term time horizon that aligns roughly to 0-12 months, 12-24 months or 24-60 months. Identify changes that need to happen in technology capabilities and the corresponding business value within these timeframes. Create a visual strategic roadmap that depicts the major waypoints along the way from the current state to the target state so teams can understand the work that needs to be done and the timeframes to accomplish it. It also helps set expectations of when the business will realize the value associated with the strategy. Consider including key events such as contract renewal or end-of-life dates on the roadmap, as these will help keep focus on the impact of sliding dates.

How to Achieve Desired Outcomes: Governance 

Okay, so you've developed a holistic strategy that is informed by the industry, aligned to business goals and harmonized with adjacent technology strategies within your organization. You've also created a strategic roadmap that outlines the progression from current state to target state, calling out the major waypoints, the business value they deliver and any critical events. So now what? How do you get teams to achieved desired outcomes? Developing a strategy is not a once-and-done activity, and it won't drive itself. Organizations need to put governance and oversight processes in place to ensure the strategy remains relevant and teams are working toward the target state.

Key objectives of the governance process include:

  • Identify stakeholders across business and technical teams
  • Socialize the strategy and roadmap
  • Formalize buy-in and agreement from key stakeholders
  • Prioritize efforts to achieve the target state
  • Report progress and status across business and technology stakeholders
  • Periodically review to determine if changes in business strategy and industry trends impact the strategy
  • Create a culture that is able to adjust when the strategy needs to change.

Driving a holistic strategy to bring real value to the business isn't easy and it won't happen on its own. It will take engagement across business and technology teams with frequent interaction and collaboration. While one team or technology vertical can start the process, to truly be effective technology teams across the organization need to develop strategies collectively and in alignment with each other.

Looking back at an earlier scenario, the network team's strategy to go 100% wireless will only be realized if it has alignment and agreement with the contact center and telephony teams to sunset wired telephones[MH12] . The timing of these transformations has to be coordinated to ensure the business is not negatively impacted. It is easy to get overwhelmed with what it will take to coordinate across the whole technology landscape (network, UC, contact center, client, server, storage, print, etc.), applications and development teams and, of course, the business requirements and dependencies. Each team has its own challenges, strategies and priorities.

4 Benefits of a Holistic IT Strategy

The following are the top benefits from creating and executing on an effective IT strategy.

  1.  IT becomes a business enabler: Aligning a holistic technology strategy to the business strategy and goals enables technical capabilities to get ahead of business needs. Technology becomes an enabler to improve business processes and offerings. Technology is no longer an inhibitor slowing down the business.  
  2. Funding gets easier: When technology teams show the business value created by their solutions, technologies are no longer considered just a cost center. Instead, technology teams can show the increases to revenue or reduction in expenses the technology delivers. This makes justifying the required funding for technology much easier.
  3. Friction/conflicts reduce: When technology teams develop strategies in collaboration with each other and the business, it ensures all stakeholders understand overall direction and drivers. This enables the technology organization to prioritize and plan efforts across verticals and more accurately identify dependencies and conflicts. Having a common understanding of the organization's strategy and priorities reduces internal conflict.
  4. Employee engagement improves: When teams and employees are aligned to the organizational strategy and understand what the goal is, they have greater buy-in and engagement to help achieve those goals.

If you are interested in learning more about how to assess the maturity of your network and UCaaS strategies and how to tie your strategy to business priorities, contact ISG to schedule time to discuss.


About the author

Marc Herren

Marc Herren

Marc Herren is a Director at ISG.