The stronger the C-suite’s understanding of the nature and role of the network, the better business outcomes will be. This is because a secure, agile network helps companies meet strategic business goals in their digital-transformation journey.
I see this kind of network as the proverbial on-ramp to the digital-transformation freeway. It’s a busy road stretching from the cloud right to the Edge, where people, their devices, and the Internet of Things all connect to the network. This Edge connectivity gives a business access to data and distributed Edge computing for real-time results versus traditional networking set-ups, where data is first funneled through a central data center.
Data drives innovation, and innovation is what businesses must harness to stay competitive. But better, more immediate access to data and Edge processing aren’t the only upsides to digital transformation. We’re all acutely aware of the growing pressure on South African businesses to speed up transformation so they can quickly deliver, constantly innovate, and do so sustainably and securely. Companies must seek out new revenue streams, weave sustainability into their operations, create bespoke data-led experiences, enable deeply immersive omnichannel customer journeys… and much more. All within tighter budgeting and time scopes.
To meet and exceed these needs, the solution is clear. Secure and fast travel on that digital-transformation freeway is only possible if businesses take the on-ramp: investing in the right networking infrastructure. Sound advice in theory, but there is a disconnect in practice, according to insights from a January survey we ran with 200 international business decision makers at organisations of over 500 employees.
Its biggest takeaway is telling: one in four respondents have only a functional or limited understanding of the enterprise network’s true potential. And that can have serious consequences for a company’s digital-transformation targets.
In my mind, we can group today’s business needs into two overarching categories. The survey offers insight into the level of significance business leaders attach to their network while trying to meet these needs, highlighting that this level must be raised.
NEED 1: Meet increasingly sophisticated customer and staff demands
Business leaders agree their business demands more of technology post-pandemic, with around 41% of South African CIOs saying that modernising their infrastructure is a top tech-driven priority and a further 60% of local leaders maintaining that their most important growth objectives over the next three years include innovation and new products. The reasons are myriad.
For one, customers want better, more integrated offline-online experiences. They want immediacy and convenience in their transactions and interactions, and bespoke offerings. Employees expect the technology they use to help not hinder delivery against customer demands, while improving their own workplace experience. In both cases, the tools needed – to tap into data for tailored engagements, drive more streamlined hybrid journeys, offer choice and personalisation, empower staff to deliver – are technology led. This means there will be more network traffic, and more strain on traditional networks.
Business leaders are also concerned around their organisation’s ability to keep up with the latest tech requirements. In fact, local business leaders cite disruptive technology as the greatest threat to their organisational growth in the next three years.
This doesn’t bode well. If strained networks buckle under pressure, businesses are likely to experience outages or downtime on critical applications used by staff, which breaks business continuity and productivity – frustrating or alienating customers and employees alike.
NEED 2: Strengthen security while driving profitable innovation
A staggering 84% of South African CEOs say they are pursuing an aggressive digital investment strategy to maintain high levels of innovation and secure a first-mover status. However, 53% of respondents to the Aruba survey remain unclear about the network’s ability to support innovation, not to mention how it can provide a strong foundation for cyber defense strategies. Clearly, there’s a need to articulate what the right type of network can help a business achieve.
Real-time data access enabled by an agile network helps businesses up their game in several ways following effective analysis. For example, I see data helping companies strengthen innovation around sustainability initiatives to achieve more energy-efficient IT infrastructure while also better managing their overall use of carbon-based resources. Meanwhile, for 50% of survey respondents, data access is viewed as fundamental to unlocking new revenue streams over the coming year.
Innovation also requires staff to be freed-up from tasks that can be easily automated or expertly outsourced, giving them time to leverage emerging tech in a proactive way that adds business value. If your IT department was supported by AI-powered automation, consider how this would dramatically reduce the time spent on finding and fixing issues.
Beyond the IT team, technology and enhanced digitalisation are now essential to all employees being able to do their jobs, according to 71% of business leaders. Yet over 60% of respondents weren’t aware of the link between the network and staff productivity, and weren’t clear on the practical application of, say, streamlining operations on a network that spans the Edge to the cloud to decrease tech downtime and boost staff productivity.
Running a successful business requires leaders to keep many balls in the air at once, some rubber, others glass. While C-suite members can’t be expected to have all the answers around networking, I think one of the glass balls they’re juggling – one that must not be dropped – is tapping into the network’s unlocked potential. To do this, leaders should be able to lean on the expertise of their IT teams and trusted third-party vendors to gain insights into how and where to leverage their network to stay competitively ahead of the curve.