In its recent report, How the WAN is Driving Digital Transformation, market intelligence firm IDC reviewed the survey results of 300 key decision-makers for Network or Telecom services in France, Germany, and the UK.
A central theme was 89% of CEOs saying digital transformation (DX) is a major business priority. In addition, the report’s authors make the link between DX and a Wide Area Network that is reliable, flexible, and fit for purpose:
"The success of digital transformation is highly dependent on a well-functioning network that connects an organization’s employees, sites, partners, and other stakeholders, providing access to the right applications and data at the right time."
But this is where common agreement breaks down. IDC identified just 16% of its survey participants as being “WAN Leaders”, demonstrating a strong awareness of the importance of their Network with the right implementation plans in place. Next in line are WAN Generalists (41%) and then, at the tail end, WAN Followers (43%). One question demonstrates how these three groups think and behave differently very clearly:
How does senior management perceive the role of WAN for your company?
For those companies at the cutting edge, the 63% of respondents saying their Wide Area Network is of strategic importance to their business is no surprise.
Customer service excellence and employees rely on it. It is the delivery mechanism for applications, and ensuring the Network is designed to cope with increased workloads and delivers "always on" access is a must-have in today’s 24/7 economy. After all, if the Network fails the business fails.
So why are Networks often seen as a second cousin to the more "current" and "fashionable" components of business IT today? For the 89% of respondents regarded as WAN Generalists and Followers in IDC’s survey, areas such as Cloud and Cybersecurity are likely to catch the attention of the board, whereas the Network still appears to be regarded as a commodity - simply the plumbing in the system - that is not a focus for investment.
But the latest developments in Network technology means it is time to look again.
Networks shouldn't be viewed merely as a fixed piece of IT infrastructure anymore. The reality is there are dynamic, intelligent, and secure Networks out there that are optimised for cloud, mobile, and cybersecurity.
What's more, as applications continue to be more bandwidth hungry the Network they connect to needs to be capable of supporting every business process. In other words, it's no longer adequate to simply 'keep the lights on' with a commodity decision. Digitisation requires a solid Network foundation and there are many variations to serve different business needs. As IDC explains:
"Outdated infrastructure characteristics such as manual configuration and management processes, overlay security geared mainly toward external threats, and siloed network domains hinder the network’s ability to further the goals of digital business."
Five Network priorities
By putting the right mix of the latest Network technologies and services in place, it is possible to create a robust, yet fluid Network that will be the flexible foundation your entire enterprise can rely on. To be successful, Network investments need to be tied directly to the business outcomes you want to achieve.
For this to happen, Networks should be:
Networks need to be designed to provide scalability to support the growth of your business, and the increased demands on Network connections that come when application workloads are moved to the cloud.
Businesses change rapidly, so your Network needs to have the flexibility to also change quickly. This level of versatility is defining what Networking means today.
With applications and employees now being in ever-more dispersed locations, it is critical that your Network is designed to protect you against connectivity outages and Network provider offers clear SLAs stipulating how any downtime will be minimised.
Security across Networks has never been so important. Consumers and commercial partners now interrogate the level of Network security available as a key differentiator when deciding which businesses to buy from.
Cloud is driving business transformation. These changes, however, need an integrated approach that includes how a business’s Network is configured and able to scale. Cloud offers many advantages, but your business needs to ensure:
- Your Network is capable of using these services to deliver efficiency gains.
- Cost reductions are made via the implementation of flexible Network technologies such as fast cloud migration and expert set-up of MPLS and SD-WAN services.
- Security improvements to meet customer and commercial partner expectations are in place and constantly monitored and updated.
Network optimisation also has to support the ever-increasing use of mobile technologies. The benefits of developing a mobile-first Network are clear: supporting what is an increasingly decentralised workforce with high-speed Network access no matter their location, is imperative to doing profitable business today.
An infrastructure that can be deployed to take advantage of mobile working and mobile commerce is also vital. Moreover, vast improvements in customer experience feed directly into the continued expansion and sustainability of a business that understands the importance of having a mobile-ready Network.
Forging a new identity
If perceptions of the Network are going to shift from it being merely “a necessary cost” to “a strategic tool that drives competitive differentiation”, a renewed focus should be put on business outcomes when presenting new technologies to non-technical colleagues.
For example, why is MPLS or SD-WAN the right choice for customers and employees? What difference is SDN going to make to the user experience? Why is it better to invest in higher bandwidth and a more resilient connection for one particular site, but not another?
Done right and the benefits are considerable. Significant cost savings can be made as services are tailored to each use case. Application and customer experience can be vastly improved. Thanks to the right architecture the business can plan for growth, confident in the knowledge that their Network is fit for purpose and ready to scale and adapt as required.
- Businesses that understand the power of Networks are redefining their market sectors.
- Organisations need Network capability that is flexible, resilient, secure, and scalable to meet the challenges of today’s business environment.
- Investing in Network technologies now will future-proof an enterprise to deliver sustainable long-term profitability.
- Network professionals must work closely with their security and application focused colleagues to get the right result for customers.
- Many businesses still underestimate the link between digital transformation and their Network. But their WAN is a bedrock for business agility and innovation.