To Do Digital Transformation Right, Transform Your Network

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Career Training
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A fast-casual restaurant chain was thinking big, its C-suite poised to sign off on a digital strategy focused on reinventing the customer experience to cater to a dining public with a growing appetite for a richer mobile-enabled experience.

The company’s due diligence around the transformation effort strongly suggested that consumers want digital tools at the center of their dining experience. So adding mobile order- and pay-ahead capability was on the menu, along with the launch of a branded mobile app, self-serve kiosks, and guest WiFi. All these capabilities, their IT people assured, were viable and, in terms of impact and ROI, worth pursuing.

But before the company could begin to put its strategy in motion, there was another key factor to consider: the network. Could such an ambitious digital transformation effort succeed with the company’s legacy MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) network and related hardware as its backbone?

From restaurant chains to retailers to banking institutions, enterprises are realizing that because digital transformation is largely about network-enabled, mobile, and cloud-based tools and processes, its success is often predicated on network transformation. Ninety-nine percent of companies see the need for digital transformation, according to a new research report from Dell. Two-thirds of companies have already waded into the transformation process, while another 17 percent are researching the execution of transformation but have yet to begin the process.

For companies that are just starting down that road, this is the time for a network gut-check — an honest appraisal of your current network’s ability to support a broad digital initiative like the one being undertaken by the aforementioned restaurant chain. Here is a look at what a network transformation generally involves in laying the groundwork for a successful enterprise-wide digital transformation:

Assess your current network vis à vis your digital transformation aspirations. To what extent does the network align with your plans for elevating the customer experience and moving certain key parts of the business to the cloud (more on that in a moment)? What does the overall digital experience you envision your enterprise delivering, both customer-facing and back-office, look like? What’s the end game? In most cases, the ultimate goal for digital transformation is to bolster the bottom line by improving the customer experience and by operating your network and your business more efficiently. As currently configured, will your network accommodate the key ingredients of a robust digital customer experience — things like a unified commerce experience, “always on” availability, and mobile-forward tools for customers to engage with you and vice versa? Will the network cost-effectively supply enough bandwidth to handle the apps you plan to deploy and the significantly higher network traffic that you expect as a result of digital transformation? What about its capacity to accommodate an emerging breed of AI, machine learning and analytics tools?

Get clear about the cloud’s role. An increased reliance on cloud-based solutions — SaaS, UCaaS, PaaS, CCaas, etc. — typically goes hand in hand with digital transformation, for the scalability, flexibility, and agility the "as a service" model provides enterprises as they build out and adapt their digital presence and network capabilities in response to customer needs, competitive demands and technological advances. Which customer-facing and back-office workloads do you intend to move to the cloud?

Determine your approach to apps. Apps represent the core of digital transformation. So, as part of your digital strategy, be sure you have an application roadmap for how you will bring to life the digital user experience you envision. Does your network as currently deployed have the bandwidth to support traffic from both existing and new apps, and to carry data from Internet of Things collection points connected to the network? Also, consider the extent to which your current network provides application visibility — tools that supply insight into app performance and utilization across the enterprise. This insight can help network managers to determine how to optimize application performance and isolate problems.

Determine if your WAN is wanting. As ambitious as a digital strategy may be, a legacy WAN such as the old standby MPLS on which so many enterprises have long relied, despite its rigid hardware dependencies and traffic limitations, can stifle those ambitions, making any move to mobile-first, cloud-centric apps and solutions complicated and costly. Many of those limitations disappear with a software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN). Enterprises with branch sites (banks, restaurants, healthcare systems, retailers, etc.) are particularly strong candidates to turn to a SD-WAN network solution, for its scalability, elasticity, and cost-effectiveness compared to other hardware-focused network approaches. Relying on public and/or private Internet connections, not only is SD-WAN more flexible and scalable than traditional wide-area alternatives, but it also can cost significantly less to operate. It’s deployable as either a strictly software-based solution or as a hardware/software hybrid with WAN edge devices, providing the virtually always-on, cloud-driven network operating model that in many cases is a prerequisite to digital transformation.

Attributes like these explain why enterprises are shifting to SD-WAN in droves.

Prioritize security. With digital transformation often come new exposures — to DDoS attacks, ransomware incursions, uninvited data exfiltration, etc. To protect against threats to your digital assets, your customers and your brand, your network needs the ability to deploy multiple levels of digital security, with tools like multi-factor authentication, firewalls on-premises and in the cloud, and end-to-end encryption.

When your network is not only secure but mobile-enabled and cloud-ready, then you have a foundation for making those big digital transformation ambitions a reality.