How Your Network Can Solve Your Digital Dilemma

In the drive to successful transformation, the underpinning computer network on which that change relies is taken for granted to just magically deliver what is needed. But that’s a strategic mistake, suggests Lars Rossen of Micro Focus, who wants the network treated as a product.

Lars Rossen

October 4, 2021

7 Min Read
How Your Network Can Solve Your Digital Dilemma
(Source: Pixabay)

The transformation of your enterprise is underway. Senior management are engaged and implementing a bold strategy to ensure the organization meets future needs. But what about the network on which the business depends, both to support future innovation and keep your organization running smoothly in the short term?

For the purposes of this piece, I am going to define “the network” in our context. For software vendors like Micro Focus, it is an IT ecosystem that includes infrastructure—the hardware such as servers and storage—and not just the elements the readers of this magazine know will make the magic happen.

But it’s not magic, as Network Computing readers well know. Too often, the network lives under the CIO's radar and can be omitted from strategic decisions. While that may work today, it is a potential problem for those on the path to transformation.

Because while transformational buzzwords abound—hyperscale model, blockchains, microservices, and so on—the network won’t feature on the future-proofing checklist. That must change. But what comes next? The answer is to think of your network services with a product mindset because it is the network more than any other product that will take you where you want to be and solve your digital dilemma.

Solve what?

The digital dilemma is how Micro Focus describes the challenge of meeting tomorrow’s aspirations while paying today’s bills. It’s about ensuring your core operations remain resilient, secure, and compliant while retuning your IT to accelerate delivery, automate your processes, or whatever future success looks like for you. But without a robust network to support that change, you’re accelerating with the handbrake on.

It doesn’t have to be like this. IT companies are good at making the software they sell as tangible products or services but rarely recognize the complex array of infrastructure technology that supports this work in this context. Instead, most enterprises run the network as a complex and layered arrangement of devices and configurations because that’s exactly what it is. It is monitored and upgraded, and complaints are dealt with as they occur. Any required changes are logged as a ticket and assigned a change project.

Any cost is swallowed as a corporate expense, and network capability remains invisible until a business service fails or is degraded. Specialists running this specific area of company IT are regarded as being necessary rather than a key business enabler. Again, that’s not the right approach.

Adopting the product mindset: How it begins

The first step is to understand the “why” it’s important to adopt a product mindset. There are many perspectives. In “Project to Product: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Digital Disruption with the Flow Framework," Mik Kersten introduces the Flow Framework—a new way of seeing, measuring, and managing software delivery and an evolution from project-oriented dinosaur to a product-centric innovator that thrives in the age of software.

The second step is to map your current network services. Think of them as being like your products—once you mentally pivot from “running services” to “managing products," it is less of a quantum leap. To be specific, the term “product management” implies understanding both the cost and the value of the service that product delivers.

Product management needs a roadmap with a value-creation calculation. What we blithely call “the network” is no different. Consider what it is now and what it needs to be to support your run and transform program. Create a fully-funded roadmap that ensures your network is future-enabled to support the innovation your organization will need to succeed in a digital future.

Here’s an example

Imagine you run a web application firewall or WAF. This application protects web services hosted on the corporate data center. Pricing could be achieved by benchmarking it against an equivalent AWS service while factoring in costs such as equipment depreciation, network monitoring, and the cost of your WAF license.

By totaling those costs, you will be able to determine if it is a good business decision. If it costs more than a cloud service, are you adding value that justifies a higher price? Do you have a roadmap that will improve the value of that product to your business? And remember that without a robust supporting framework (the network), your ability to run, much less deliver on your aspirations to transform, are at risk.

When we deal with complex products, we must source components—other, more simple products—at the right price and quality to create the more complex products we want to sell. Now we are part of a digital supply chain, dedicated to the creation of something, and that demands a product mindset.

Next up, DevOps

The next transformational step is to embrace DevOps—which could mean an organizational advantage. Network people were the original DevOps teams. Typically, smaller teams “did it all” in planning, developing, deploying, and running the network. But as complexity grew and the number of incidents increased, organizations introduced formal change management, and separated the future (transform) from now (run), killing business agility.

Mapping out products and their dependencies creates product-centric teams that “do DevOps,” while embracing GitOps practices for network configurations. Everything in the network is documented and stored in a version-control system. Everything has a delivery cadence and an intrinsic value. Suddenly agility is returned, and the network is managed like any other product.

The digital dilemma—solved

By taking these steps, you position your organization for a successful digital transformation. You can create a network services factory that models or reuses the same digital manufacturing processes your organization established for business applications. Then, optimize the factory based on the essential DevOps value streams as defined in IT4IT reference architecture, namely evaluate, explore, integrate, deploy, release, consume, and operate.  

Micro Focus developed this factory approach and applied it to our own software development lifecycle. This process serves our development community of more than 5,000 DevOps specialists and addresses the classic digital dilemma. How do organizations support normal functionality today while transforming core IT—which includes the network (and everything in it)—to the next generation of IT services and structures that take advantage of tomorrow’s opportunities?

While we talk of dilemmas, it is something of a loaded question. There really is little option but to factor in change to the IT ecosystem on a large scale, on a potentially prohibitive timescale. That must happen. The business must support current, post-pandemic operations already under strain—all while being cognizant of a tomorrow that remains oblique.

The only thing the business knows is that it will need technology upgrades to address newer, smarter ways of delivery, operation, security, increasingly stringent standards of governance, and improved analytics, all supported by an increasingly complex network infrastructure. No one said running and transforming would be easy.

Fortunately for our customers, Micro Focus is in the run and transforming business, and we can help you balance today’s needs with tomorrow’s opportunities. Our broad portfolio of enterprise software products and services provide the keys you need to accelerate, simplify, strengthen, and analyze your core operations. With those solutions, you can run and transform—at the same time.

About Micro Focus

Micro Focus is one of the world’s largest enterprise software providers, focused on solving the IT dilemma—how to balance today’s needs with tomorrow’s opportunities. We deliver mission-critical technology and services that help more than 40,000 customers worldwide manage core IT elements of their business.

Strengthened by a top-10 patent portfolio and expert professional services, our broad set of technology for security, IT operations, application delivery, governance, modernization, and analytics provides the innovative solutions organizations need to run and transform—at the same time.

About the Author(s)

Lars Rossen

Lars Rossen is Chief Technology Officer at Micro Focus. He created the first version of The Open Group's IT4IT Reference Architecture, and he continues to be the lead architect for the IT4IT initiative. Lars joined the Micro Focus software portfolio architecture and strategy team in 2006 and has had many leading roles in defining and progressing the current solution portfolio.

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