Transform or die trying
Digital transformation is driving the network automation evolution, and is key to survival.
For years, it seems, companies have been told they need to simplify their corporate infrastructures, give network managers a "common set of tools" with which to deliver a "superior quality of experience to users" via a "single pane of glass".
Today, there's a new outlook that must be overlaid on these old, yet surprisingly relevant, buzzword-laden network management mantras.
This is because business demands are constantly being revised in line with rapid organisational change. The network of the not-too-distant future will need to support a range of new business objectives in a reshaped and remodelled corporate landscape.
Change is no longer linear, it is exponential. The key to exponential change is accepting the inevitable shedding of outdated processes and the adoption of new technologies allied to the overall digital transformation of business.
Accepting the ferocity of digital transformation is forcing network managers to place increasing emphasis on tools that provide enhanced data-driven insights together with heightened visibility and control, all tightly integrated onto that ubiquitous "single pane of glass" that retains its position in networking's infinite management structure.
Sink or swim
Why should businesses have to undergo a digital transformation? According to analysts, it's because they will have to. For many, it will become a question of survival.
Change is no longer linear, it is exponential.
Digital transformation has been described as the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business, fundamentally changing how they operate and deliver value. It is also a cultural change that requires organisations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment and accept failures.
Howard King, head of Data and Analytics at a creative engagement agency, writing for The Guardian, says: "Businesses don't transform by choice, [they] go through transformation when they fail to evolve."
He says managers need to prepare for the oncoming digital transformation that is set to impact companies of all sizes across the broadest spectrum of industry sectors, bringing with it significantly raised benchmarks in terms of efficiency and productivity.
Will it be easy? John Marcante, CIO of a US-based investment consultancy, says 75% of companies, "dragged down by conflicting digital transformation imperatives, ineffective technology innovation, cloud infrastructure transition and underfunded end-of-life core systems, will fail to meet all their digital objectives".
From a practical perspective and against this dire prophecy, how should enterprise and cloud network managers, who crave fresher thinking, more innovation and automated solutions to meet the demands of the coming digital era, move forward in the hope of obviating failure?
Firstly, they should develop a digital transformation strategy that includes elements such as operational agility, leadership, workforce enablement and, most importantly, the integration of new technology through a single-user interface.
The strategy should acknowledge the objectives of digital transformation, which centre on boosting the efficiency of applications, increasing the speed of services deployment, and the provision of extremely rapid access to larger repositories of information.
In this regard, data is central to the digital transformation drive. Data must be easily accessible, ultimately secure and increasingly automated in terms of collection, delivery and execution.
Automating a network's operations and processes is also an essential element in the digital transformation process. An autonomous network, featuring open architectures, telemetry, machine learning and programming is also predictive and adaptive to its evolving environment.
Importantly, automation will allow troubleshooting and remediation to occur with significantly fewer demands on senior-level resources, and in a fraction of the non-automated time. Automation is thus viewed by many as the only way the massively complex networks of the future will be effectively managed while providing high availability.
Before initiating the essentials for its digital transformation, a company must encourage strong leadership. Thinking differently with a mindset willing to accept change is vital, particularly when it comes to locating, authenticating and applying targeted policies to users and devices as they connect to the network.
A granular view of users, devices and applications with an easy-to-understand dashboard facilitates the efficient management of inventory and the network topology. It also supports the automation of day-to-day operations through open application programming interfaces and simplified integration with third-party services, such as security and mobile device management.
Against this backdrop, it is no exaggeration to say a strong digital platform is the most fundamental technology foundation on which executable and sharable digitised network domain knowledge can be built.
Actionable insights from the network will support real-time decisions on policies, devices, applications and people. This way, the implementation of technologies such as IOT (Internet of things) can also be automated and securely executed.
Finally, managers must accept that it's a complex challenge to modernise near-end-of-life infrastructures and large proprietary legacy hardware devices. Workforce enablement is essential if the automation of the network is to succeed. Embracing the digital transformation challenge requires everyone in the company to rethink their roles and accept the impact of automation on their evolving day-to-day experiences.
Paul Stuttard is a director of specialist distributor Duxbury Networking. Currently Cape-based, he has been with the company for 29 years and has extensive experience in the IT industry, particularly within the value-added distribution arena. His focus is on the formulation of future-oriented network optimisation strategies and business development objectives in collaboration with resellers and end-users in Southern Africa.