Lately there isn´t a single conversation, presentation or conference (especially now that everyone is talking about digital transformation) where you don´t come across a sentence like this:
It needs to stop being a cost center and start taking an active role in the business with a significant impact on the organizational´s results.
And that´s the end of it; and, of course, of any objectives, strategies and plans of actions. Because this sentence, which is indeed indisputable and something we are all agreed upon, is extremely difficult to implement. This is particularly so given that IT and business operations have traditionally been on opposite ends of the spectrum from one another, with the work of IT departments directed towards providing basic infrastructure services to employees while meeting operational criteria (more bandwidth, more availability, more tolerance, more security, etc.). Fortunately, this is changing and new CIOs are making it their business to actively contribute to organization outcomes, as required by business line managers. And this contribution could be very important, if they adequately focus the technological resources that they master so well.
Can a communications network implementation strategy be adapted to meet business needs? The answer is certainly YES (and it couldn´t be otherwise). To do so, you simply design it taking into account the impact it may have on a number of factors relating to the business assets.
The first thing you need to do is to stop thinking of technology as the main criterion for defining network strategy. Currently most network development strategies come in two forms:
- Tactical approaches based on user requirements and prioritized according to various criteria such as costs, resources and general utility.
- Planning based on different upgrade timelines for resources and applications (which is normal), or product discontinuation and End-of-life (EOL) processes.
These strategies don´t have anything to do with business needs, so business managers need to agree on a common vision that aligns their needs with IT capabilities and resources. The way to do this is to identify three business vectors that may require a specific technology:
- Critical business needs and specifically those related to management committee and executive-level initiatives.
- Strategic corporate development or sales-related projects which are a priority for top managers in each area.
- New business activities that are going to produce an increase in income or that require the organization to be more efficient in order to achieve a minimum return.
For example: A company in the midst of an expansion program won´t need the same communications platform as a company that is already established. A company with a large number of mobile workers won´t need the same communications network as a company whose employees spend their day at the office. Manufacturing and industrial environments will have different needs to those of a company in a corporate building environment. Or with a large number of branches.
Gartner lists five factors that are important when designing a business-aligned network strategy:
IT and business objectives: these include the factors discussed above, such as business priorities, resources, CIO plans, staff situation and how it might change, and organizational structure in terms of business premises and offices.
IT platform and environment: existing architecture and infrastructure, performance, use and suppliers.
Users: A study of user needs and demands, including those within the organization, possible expansions and external collaborators and resources.
Competition and Market: New technologies, new manufacturers, partners and changes carried out by competitors that could give them a competitive advantage.
IT situation: Budgets and feasibility analysis, service-level objectives, department technology and resources.
The procedure itself would be to prepare a solid plan of action, based on these five points, stating at the outset exactly what you want to achieve. Problems such as a lack of resources and/or budget will appear in this action plan, so you´ll need to develop a set of criteria (based on the investment required, expected impact on the business and potential risks) to help you prioritize. At this point, IT managers will need to work with their business counterparts since you´ll need to choose between tactical and strategic approaches (the two are usually incompatible). By prioritizing, and once both parties are in agreement, the end result should be a detailed communications plan for the organization.
Obviously, an organizational´s objectives change from year to year, so it is absolutely essential that there is a way to update the plan to meet new business area demands. Hence the importance of having a network infrastructure that can be easily reconfigured and adapt to these changes, while protecting the investment made and with minimum additional investment. Like the SD-WAN solution that allows network managers to gradually virtualize their network infrastructure according to their organizational´s needs.