The role of the network in digital transformation

Digital transformation intersects with a great many business functions, processes and boundaries.

Digital Transformation can be described as the changes associated with the application of digital technologies in all aspects of business and society. However, unlike eCommerce and how it taught businesses to re-evaluate their business after the dot.com crash of 2000, Digital Transformation extends much further and far deeper into the organisation, crossing and intersecting with a great many more business functions, processes and boundaries.

And with the increase in mobile connectivity, social media, cloud computing and big data analytics, organisations need new ways of dealing with the customer experience and market opportunities.

Today’s ‘digital economy’ has therefore changed the game again. And reshaping business operations to counter the widespread disruption felt across many established markets has become a priority. A couple of years ago, just a handful of people had heard of Uber and airbnb. Now, almost everybody knows the brands - two ‘born in the cloud’ companies who have created new business models with spectacular success and in what were previously seen as very mature, straightforward and stable industries.

Supporting this new generation of services is the network that enables the ‘disruptive’ business; where everything is connected and where organisations harness the power and value of their network and use the data to drive business priorities and commercial opportunity. In fact, Juniper Networks talks about the evolution after digital disruption and transformation as ‘digital cohesion’ – where society reaches a point that has technology so deeply and ubiquitously embedded, it is actually transparent, but nonetheless fundamental to every aspect of our lives.

For an organisation to move towards this point, it’s about taking a holistic view of the organisation and making informed decisions, whether it’s rolling out new services or initiatives, driving up efficiencies or reducing costs.

Need for speed

With various reported estimates for the number of connected devices - fuelled by the Internet of Things - predicting exponential growth, there is no doubt that the digital economy represents a significant opportunity for many businesses as wireless connectivity moves beyond laptops, tablets and smartphones and into numerous other consumer and industrial devices.

Another facet of the new digital landscape, which many in business will recognise, is the speed of change at almost every level within the organisation. While business success is still driven by anticipating customer choice and demand, within this emerging economic model new value propositions are needed ever more quickly - everything is about rapid creation. Moreover, as customers are now typically global, data workflows have become ever more complex and applications increasingly more sophisticated.

The network infrastructure therefore has to prevent any disconnect throughout the organisation, especially in terms of access to data or operational processes across the business, or regional boundaries. While ‘going digital’ is a major undertaking, possessing a strong digital platform is a pre-requisite, especially one that acts as a single system and which overcomes any underlying complexity.

Technology as a strategic asset

So if fulfilling customer expectations and staying ahead of the competition are all characterised by the speed and agility of an organisation’s IT infrastructure, what can companies do? What are the challenges and constraints they face? 

While the need to innovate is paramount, not every business has a blank canvas on which to build an IT strategy, with legacy infrastructures being the norm. Equally, IT is all too frequently seen as a cost centre, rather than driving business strategy, despite the impressive and continuous ROI it can deliver. And it’s viewing technology as a strategic asset that defines the most successful businesses in the digital economy. In other words, organisations in the digital economy need their IT to operate ‘differently.’

One such approach to managing infrastructure is software defined networking (SDN) which helps overcome network complexity, while reducing the time and cost of introducing new services or applications. Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) is another key technology which is highly complementary to SDN. NFV emulates the network functions that are typically performed by stand-alone, physical devices and implements them in a software environment instead.

Keeping business open

Unlike many legacy networks, new infrastructure can be vendor neutral by adopting open architecture, meaning it’s not necessary to be tied to a single provider for network innovation. By comparison, an open, programmable network can facilitate automation through integration with a wide range of commercial, open source and custom developed toolsets.

This enhanced flexibility allows the network to become highly responsive to changing conditions, such as seasonal growth, geographic expansion or special events. Such built-in operational ‘elasticity’ is helping to dramatically change the economics of today’s digital business by continually growing and evolving with the business.

Digital business is still business

Whatever the appeal of digital transformation and what it means for different organisations, business is still business, digital or otherwise. And while change and even disruption may sometimes be required, identifying business advantage remains crucial, whether it’s overcoming barriers to entry, finding new routes to market or just providing a more rounded, accelerated and compelling customer experience.

Our vision of digital cohesion means that technology leverages intelligence from numerous relevant applications automatically and organically, to provide a customer or consumer with an enhanced service, without them having to ask for it. Organisations in a networked economy can harness the built-in business intelligence available from the network, since empowering the data-driven organisation lies at the heart of smart network technology by helping to identify business-critical data, such as performance, cost and risk.

Connecting IT to the boardroom

With no let-up in the fast-paced world of technological innovation, the convergence of business, customers and connected devices continues to drive new engagement and revenue opportunities. For the digital business, it’s about having a strategic technology platform that’s well structured, well integrated and only as complex as is absolutely necessary.

A transforming business can undoubtedly capitalise on the digital dividend, but only when the IT function isn’t just seen as an overhead, but recognised as a critical, strategic asset and growth engine. It’s an all-embracing commercial strategy where the digital business model makes connecting IT to the boardroom not so much desirable, but a business imperative.

James Morgan, Vice President, UK & Ireland, Juniper Networks

Image source: Shutterstock/ Supphachai Salaeman