Digital transformation and the era of the agile network

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As more or less anyone will testify, the speed of change in digital transformation is increasing rapidly. More so than ever, there are brand new ways to engage with customers, both new and old. This is bolstered by further innovation in the workforce, along with even more opportunities to capture and capitalise on data insights -- and this is just a small selection of the benefits that digital transformation brings.

It’s no secret that exemplary digital transformation initiatives are a pivotal component of any business success. Across the world, by the end of 2017, spending on digital transformation technologies looks set to grow to more than $1.2 trillion. What’s more, according to market intelligence firm IDC, this spend will sustain its current annual growth rate of 18 per cent until 2020 at the very least.

At the same time, what we can count on is that IT leaders will play a crucial role in the developmental process, with analyst firm Gartner suggesting 46 per cent of European CIOs are considered accountable for digital transformation in their organisations.

However, this doesn’t mean that driving such dramatic change is straightforward. Returning to the amount being spent on digital transformation, it’s important to note where specifically this spend is being directed. When combined, connectivity services, IT services, and application development and deployment (AD&D) encompass almost half of all spending in digital transformation.

This mirrors a technology landscape that’s increasingly democratic, decentralised, and disruptive. In the modern world, both flexibility and agility are absolutely paramount for the likes of CIOs. This is because our contemporary app-driven social culture, fused with digitally-native millennials -- who comprise a significant chunk of all customer bases as well as the workforce -- conjures enormous volumes of data. Increasingly, in turn, this demands swift, responsive IT infrastructure as a whole.

Still, irrespective of this new digital culture, the basics of solid IT management remain the same. While the short-term goal may be richer API integration, robust security measures and a global compliance strategy remain essential.

An organisation may have a quarterly target to deploy a strategy to implement a DevOps culture, yet it’s vital to include a reliable infrastructure within such a strategy that can accommodate new services and solutions as needed. It’s easy to focus on competitive and financial advantage as an immediate concern, taking the form of ‘fail fast’ micro-projects, but CIOs must instead retain a long-term view of their budget, including where to spend it.

Essentially, CIOs find themselves functioning in a contradictory culture: on the one hand, pioneering digital transformation; on the other, ensuring responsibility for business continuity and stability. For this purpose, company knowledge in terms of its structure, products, vision and strategy is vital. To support this, an in-depth understanding of the technologies available to achieve this is also key - for one thing, it helps fend off competition.

Agile solutions

When seeking to manage such a frenetic environment, two distinct trends emerge. First of all, there’s a demand for more agile infrastructure that adapts according to business needs. It’s only recently that such fluidity has even begun to be considered synonymous with IT infrastructure. At the same time, software-defined (SD) technology has added a unique agility to the networking layer, which in the past was completely unheard of.

Secondly, there’s a need to engage more with consultants specialising in network development and deployment; previously, this was an area seen as the bread and butter of internal IT departments, and so a renaissance would certainly be wise.

By applying the foundations of software-defined networking to historically fixed infrastructure, it becomes possible to achieve a much more agile solution. Administrators are able to use central controls in order to regulate data transfers and to deliver services anywhere they are required in the network, irrespective of the device, server, or other hardware components. Subsequently, the business can centrally design, assign, and manage application-conscious policies; in turn, this secures and controls all network traffic.

Fundamentally, this means that applications are always available to employees and customers alike. Smart routing and application-aware service quality enhances productivity by diverting data traffic down optimal pathways. Consequently, IT teams can control access, traffic, identity management, and Bring-Your-Own-Device security with much greater ease. What all of this means is that the infrastructure becomes the enabler of applications and solutions. Thanks to plug-and-play SD technology, new services, networks, sites and clouds can be implemented within hours.

As such, SD-WANs are a critical component of any digital transformation strategy. However, the virtualisation of the network layer requires planning. To this end, syncing up services, developing the relevant QoS controls and pathways, while integrating countless services and optimising workflow is far more complex than any traditional network implementation -- hence the need for expert consultation.

By transitioning to an SD infrastructure layer, an ecosystem of trusted partners is required who can consolidate their expertise on this particular area -- in contrast to, say, the myriad distractions found within an internal IT department. However, once all in place, the enhanced autonomy and fluidity within a network establishes the firm foundations for digital transformation.

Ultimately, IT leaders in all forms would do well to remember that when it comes to optimising digital transformation for any enterprise, a two-pronged approach is ideal. In the first instance: opt for increasing use of expert consultancy for digital transformation, taking the burden that was once the mainstay of the IT department off their hands. Second, SD networking and the flexibility that this brings to scaling enables the incorporation of existing systems while allowing IT far greater visibility and control across the network.

By adopting this particular approach, CIOs and other IT leaders can look to the future, free to innovate, while retaining consistency.

Jonathan Bridges, Head of Enterprise Cloud, Exponential-e
Image Credit: Konica Minolta Business Solutions UK