As businesses become more digitized, IT leaders must consider the ability of the network to transform business operations in every functional area.
Many organizations are already doing this today, demonstrating best practices in how the network can be an innovation partner in marketing, service delivery, customer service, and logistics, among many other areas.
However, those who rest on their laurels today may find themselves playing catchup in the not-so-distant future. In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, repeatable success requires a different mindset. Network innovators can level up by building a network that anticipates future trends, and with that becoming what we might call network visionaries.
Curious about where you stand on the network innovation continuum?
Check out Auvik’s Network Innovation Profiler.
Characteristics of a network visionary
There is a distinct group of organizations that actively view and leverage the network as a vector of business innovation. Of the common characteristics that these visionary organizations possess, there are three that stand out.
1. Viewing IT as a business partner
The IT department, and especially networking, has often been treated as a support function. In this case, the IT team is seen mostly through the lens of calling the help desk when there is a problem.
On the other hand, visionary organizations look to IT for more than “keeping the lights on.” These organizations inherently see themselves as tech companies, regardless of their industry classification. They understand that to stay competitive, they must look to leading edge technologies.
In network visionary companies, the CIO and the networking team work collaboratively with the leaders of the lines of business to build an integrated technology strategy focused on the bottom line.
2. Hyperfocusing on the customer experience
Visionary organizations make significant efforts to engage customers through their preferred digital channels in order to create sticky experiences that encourage loyalty. Examples of this include taking an omnichannel approach that allows customers to seamlessly transition between digital and physical interactions, providing contextual location-based services to a customer’s mobile device, and leveraging augmented and virtual reality.
This doesn’t only apply to B2C. According to ZDNet, 80% of B2B buyers expect real-time engagement from their partners and suppliers. Network innovators across all segments look beyond only providing basic connectivity to think outside of the box and see where the network can provide value for all end users.
3. Adopting a design thinking mentality
Similar to focusing on the customer experience, network visionaries take a design thinking approach to digital innovation. According to the Interactive Design Foundation, design thinking is an iterative process in which you seek to understand your users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions which you can prototype and test. In other words, instead of iterating on the status quo with your current tech stack, start with your user’s desired outcomes in mind.
But first, you’ll have to spend time with your end-users to understand where pain and friction exist in your business. For example, you could discover that your colleagues want the productivity gains associated with enterprise mobility, but the current network architecture doesn’t allow for sufficient Wi-Fi coverage. Or, you could discover that the current checkout process in your retail establishment is fraught with long wait times and friction, and that allowing for mobile point-of-sale could improve customer experience.
Even on the network operations side, design thinking can be helpful—how do we enable a network management experience that empowers remote managers to be effective from any location and is easy to learn for network technicians starting their careers?
Design thinking isn’t just about the front facing end-user experience; it can transform usability in every corner of the organization.
3 ways to become a network visionary
Much of what it takes to become a network visionary hinges on a viewpoint that the network is much more than a basic utility.
In practice, however, it takes more than optimism and imagination to raise the network to this level. Here are a few recommendations for how to set yourself up to be successful as a network visionary.
1. Gain a deep understanding of the state of your network today
You can’t understand where your network can go if you don’t know where it is today. Having ongoing visibility through an automatically updating map of every network device is necessary for operating a future-driven network that can handle the twists and turns that innovation can bring to a network topology. Auvik helps organizations of all levels of network maturity understand the full picture of what’s on their network through automatically discovering all network devices and generating an auto-updating map that shows how each device is connected.
Aside from helping to ensure that the network remains compliant and performant, a dynamic network topology provides a canvas upon which to thoughtfully plan every next iteration of your network.
2. Align network technologies to business needs
One factor that can hold organizations back from properly investing in their networks is a lack of clear understanding around what business functions the network supports. As internet connectivity is often taken for granted, network visionaries need to go beyond discovering new ways in which connected technologies can improve revenues, profits, and operational efficiency. They need to also be constantly vocal in advocating for these innovations to key stakeholders across the organization.
When building a business case for greater network investment, be sure to quantify how the consequent innovations affect the bottom line. Consider the following examples:
- Upgrading the network infrastructure helps a credit union complete its transition to paperless system as the network can now accommodate new lending applications
- A law firm can now adopt SaaS applications for expense reporting and client invoicing, increasing the productivity of its administrative workers
- Adopting RFID-based inventory tracking systems helps a warehouse optimize its just-in-time inventory system
- Implementing location-based services through a mobile app helps a retail store increase customer satisfaction compared to peer organizations
In short, helping non-IT stakeholders understand the tangible benefits across the business will help increase the number of advocates for network innovation across your organization.
3. Embody an agile mentality
Innovators believe in agile iteration and “failing fast”. While network technology is evolving quickly, the average lifespan for a router or a wireless AP is 3 to 5 years. It is tempting not to think about making changes to the network outside of these refresh cycles.
However, network equipment lifecycles shouldn’t be driving network innovation. Network innovation should be an evergreen discussion, with network business outcomes driving the action. This is not to say that you should replace your gear more often, but to stay vigilant about how the network is performing against longer term goals.
Network visionaries should also be careful not to become complacent. Being a sustaining partner to the lines of business requires a “next play” mentality that keeps its ear to the ground for emerging trends. Moreover, visionaries “fail fast,” quickly moving on from experiments that don’t bear results. They don’t tolerate inertia, as digital business is always on and always moving. What they do adopt are management strategies and tools that embody this ethos and evolve alongside them. Auvik Network Management is a great partner for organizations with an agile mentality as it helps visualize changes to the network and reflects them in real-time.
Ready to be a visionary?
Is your organization ready to take the jump into network innovation?
User our Network Innovation Profiler to understand where your network is at today and how to level up.
After you determine where you stand on your network innovation journey, explore how Auvik Network Management can propel your organization as you move forward with digital transformation.