Today's network infrastructures are under attack.
Today's network infrastructures are under attack. No, we're not talking about the very real problem of bad guys trying to hack into corporate systems; rather, we're referring to the variety of new business pressures networks face. From shadow IT and bring-your-own-device policies to innovative new frontiers like the Internet of Things, networks have never been asked to do more.
Technology acquisition and network optimization—are too often treated as if they weren't connected
And yet, these two things — technology acquisition and network optimization — are too often treated as if they weren't connected. Technologies are introduced, and purchasing decisions made, by non-technical business decision makers, who then wonder why the mobile device or cloud application in question isn't functioning as hoped.
Technology acquisition and network optimization—are too often treated as if they weren't connected. Meanwhile, infrastructure teams are left in the dark as to what they're expected to support, when they could — and should — be thinking about how they can help to improve customer service, streamline product development or generate new revenue.
The time for change is now
This is a paradigm that needs to change. The days of babysitting stable, unchanging network infrastructures for years at a time are over. Today's networks are dynamic works in progress, constantly shifting beasts that face new demands every day, and thus must constantly be tweaked to ensure the best possible service levels for every application, device or process they support.
So, when a sales executive decides that his staff will benefit from a new cloud-based CRM application, the infrastructure team needs to be consulted about the potential ramifications. They need to know what the requirements of that application will look like, and work with IT leadership and the business to make the needed changes, whether that means acquiring new technologies or dialing back resources devoted to less important tools.
Similarly, when a product support executive wants to deploy an IoT engine that will let him track the performance of an expensive component critical to a customer's operations, the infrastructure team's guidance should be sought in selecting the solution which fits best into the organization's existing IT environment.
What Gartner didn't say was that future is already here, and a lot of organizations are woefully unprepared
Companies can get in front of this, ensuring that collaborative decision-making becomes a normal part of the technology acquisition process rather than a reaction to a potentially undesired outcome. In fact, in its annual CIO Agenda research report in late 2014, "Taming the Digital Dragon," Gartner suggested that companies "renovate the core of IT" in an effort to ready themselves to thrive in the era of digital business. Gartner recommended that companies make sure their IT "engine rooms" — infrastructure being one of those — are ready for a digitized future that will require more speed and scale.
What Gartner didn't say was that future is already here, and a lot of organizations are woefully unprepared. As unsupported technologies find their way into corporate settings at a dizzying pace, often outside of IT's purview, and the subsequent impact on the network is underestimated, or even completely ignored, companies are paying the price.
Preparation is everything, and we’re not prepared
The crush of new tools and access points is creating network bottlenecks, undermining application performance, and fueling employee dissatisfaction. What's more, business decision-makers sometimes even procure their own compute power so they can do things like analyze huge data sets without having to make formal IT requests, a strategy that can introduce significant security risks by placing data outside of corporate controls.
And it's all so unnecessary. Many of the issues that are raised by the introduction of new technologies can be avoided—or at least minimized—by looping in the infrastructure team from the beginning of the decision-making process.
Just ask the large, high-end retailer that wanted nothing more than to engage its customers in a new way with a mobile application. Seeing this is as a straight-forward and easy-to-address need, the retailer's mobile app team went to work, built the desired app and rolled it out to much fanfare. The only problem was, no one thought to engage the infrastructure and operations teams, and when the app went live, a network incompatibility issue prevented it from working inside any of the company's stores. The app was delayed for three years while the infrastructure was modernized, and in the meantime the retailer's competition beat it to the punch, rolling out similar apps and transforming their customers' in-store experiences.
Stories like these are not the exception—they're part of an epidemic
Stories like these are not the exception—they're part of an epidemic. So often, seemingly great technology decisions made by business leaders, decisions that bring with them significant costs and resource drains, are undermined by unforeseen infrastructure hang-ups.
Collaborative technology-acquisition processes required
The message to enterprises of all sizes is pretty clear: Organizations that are serious about meeting the needs of the business — whether that means designing better products, providing better customer service, or streamlining business processes — should consider establishing collaborative technology-acquisition processes that bring together business and IT infrastructure leaders.
Both sides need to adopt proactive roles in that process. Business decision-makers must instinctively loop in their infrastructure peers to ensure smooth adoption of their technology choices, while the infrastructure teams must do their best to constantly be aware of, and involved in, even the smallest technology decisions.
It also wouldn't hurt to remind business leaders at every opportunity that the infrastructure is there to enable their efforts, if only they'd let it.
See related story on the Implications of New IT Models