Network maturity for the digital age

Businesses have dramatically taken up digital transformation in the past few years, resulting in networks that may have been previously adequate now growing obsolete and creating bottlenecks as organisations look to leverage new and emerging technologies for growth. The introduction and use of technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud-based applications all require networks that are secure, fast and reliable. Without a network that can deliver on such demands, inefficiency can become a problem as employees become frustrated with day-to-day tasks.

Global research shows that demand on the business network is going to greatly increase in the next few years as organisations look to technology to aid their growth. It is expected that augmented and virtual reality traffic is likely to increase 12-fold by 2022, while regular business traffic will continue to grow 42 per cent annually up to 2022. [1] By 2021, around half of all workloads will happen outside the enterprise data centre. [2]

Driving processes that will improve both customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) can be difficult for organisations in normal circumstances, however, without having an adequate network it can further compound complications, which can become far-reaching throughout the organisation. Around half of respondents surveyed for The Changing Role of the CIO: Logicalis Global CIO Survey report said their main business priority in the next 12 months was driving customer experience and innovation.[3]

Businesses need to look to networks that are ready for the digital age. They need to be highly adaptive, letting the network scale with the changing needs of users, devices, applications and services. Digital age ready networks can meet the high demand for a seamless user experience and provide fast, secure access to and between workloads wherever they reside.

Cisco’s 2019 Global Networking Trends reports that only 19 per cent of network strategists believe their networks are very well aligned to meet the demands of digital business.[4]

The four key aspects of a digital-ready network are:

  1. Business alignment: the network facilitates new digital business initiatives and dynamically aligns to rapidly changing application needs.
  2. Simplification: the network simplifies IT operations and lets IT focus on creating business value.
  3. Performance assurance: the network consistently meets service performance and user experience requirements, and prevents network disruptions.
  4. Low-risk: the network prevents or contains security threats before they cause harm, and it meets compliance and regulatory requirements.

The emergence of software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WAN) and the NBN has created a perfect opportunity for businesses to enhance their networks. With organisations focusing on digital transformation, user and customer experiences, and cloud adoption, solutions like SD-WAN can offer a level of control and security that internet-based services haven’t necessarily had in the past.

However, as network operations become more automated with intent-based networks, network administrators will take on roles that align to new operational practices related to managing network lifecycle, policy, and assurance. Network strategists will also take on high-value roles that target improving business alignment, integrating IT processes, improving security, and making better use of data. This will require a different skillset to the one commonly assumed to be necessary for network operations professionals.

Currently, some of the biggest skills gaps are business acumen (42 per cent), technical skills (37 per cent), and soft skills including critical thinking, problem-solving, leadership, and negotiation (36 per cent).[5]

Addressing these skills gaps will require organisations to take a targeted and proactive approach to upskilling and reskilling workers, as well as tweaking recruitment practices to attract a different kind of candidate.

There are five key strategies that can help organisations build a networking team equipped to power a digitally-transformed business:

  1. cultivate a culture of continuous learning
  2. find the balance between reskilling and hiring
  3. invest more in training and development
  4. rotate talent to increase business acumen
  5. foster an inclusive work environment.

This can take a significant investment for organisations to arm themselves with the right resources. However, in many cases the simplest and most affordable option is to work with expert partners who can put the right controls and configurations in place to start with, then help the business manage their SD-WAN into the future.

Partnering with experts in this field will let the business be assessed objectively so that areas of opportunity for growth can be identified and the business can be supported as it prepares its network for the digital age. While the process to assess and then implement changes can take up resources, doing so effectively can deliver significant benefits. Organisations with stronger network maturity can achieve 2.4 times growth in revenue, up to three per cent growth in profit, more than five times growth in customer retention, and at least 1.6 times growth in productivity versus those at the beginning of the maturity curve.[6] Simply put, when a business’s network is ready, it will be able to digitally transform successfully, driving business growth and opportunities.

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