Networking

What will your next network look like? Here's five tips for building it

Creating a network that's smart enough to deal with the evolving needs of staff and customers requires serious thought.

Network and infrastructure must be part of a digital strategy that supports mobile devices and the cloud. Photo: Shutterstock

It's one thing giving your employees access to information on the move, but it is quite another to create the type of network that can cope with the continuing demand for data and devices, both now and in the future.

How can CIOs create an information network that can deal with the evolving requirements of internal and external customers? TechRepublic speaks to five IT experts who demonstrate how the next-generation network needs to be flexible, responsive and ready for changing business demands.

1. Go flexible

Analyst Ovum estimates 70 percent of large companies have extensive networking requirements, with CIOs at such firms recognising that increased complexity in business applications is pushing the demand for a more sophisticated management approach.

"Apps are cascading through the organisation in every way, from workflow and testing through to e-commerce and billing," says David Molony, principal analyst at Ovum. "CIOs now have to deal with the interconnectedness of machines. And it means IT leaders are looking for more flexibility and responsiveness in the networks that their businesses use."

Some IT leaders have already made steps towards the creation of next-generation networking. Ovum estimates 30 per cent of CIOs have deployed high-definition video-conferencing, while 47 per cent now offer voice over internet protocol (VoIP) across the network.

Molony says most corporate networks are managing to cope with the strain associated with digital transformation but smart CIOs are looking beyond the present and searching for future flexibility. A third of IT leaders would like to vary bandwidth on-demand and 17 per cent of CIOs want the ability to prioritise performance in relation to core business applications. "CIOs must provide flexible IT to support business growth," says Molony.

2. Size up future requirements

Mike Mann, head of technology strategy and planning at savings and investment firm Standard Life, encourages his peers to act with care during the tendering process. All external options should be considered and the views of line-of-business experts sought at all times.

"Don't think you have to do everything inhouse," says Mann. "You'll know when you can't compete with the technology offered by external specialists and outsourcing is sometimes the right thing to do. Many types of network services are now like commodities and can be provided more effectively if you work alongside a provider."

Mann is eager to ensure any selected networks can support IT innovation. An exercise in network procurement, he says, must make sure selected systems and infrastructures can be integrated into a digital strategy that supports mobile devices and the cloud.

"Go to the business before you go to tender," advises Mann. "The network is vital in terms of supporting the modern requirements of the end-user, and CIOs must get the likely future requirements right from the outset."

3. Stay open so staff can use multiple devices

Kurt Frary, ICT architecture manager at Norfolk County Council, is concerned that the traditional approach to networking can be a little too hands-off. CIOs will sometimes select a provider and sit back once the infrastructure is installed and working.

"Have an open mind," he says. "Don't close your eyes to the wave of end-user devices that are coming into firms. If you don't adapt, and put the mechanisms for change in place, it will happen to you anyway and create more problems. You must be proactive and give people the opportunity to work the way that they want to."

Frary says it can be difficult to use video-conferencing with partner organisations because of integration issues, and bandwidth limitations can create performance problems for certain education apps at peak times. He has worked with telecoms giant BT on ways the council can flex its performance on demand. Such network adaptability would also allow senior employees in council offices and schools to use their own devices, such as Apple iPhones and iPads.

"We're seeing the future now and it's about being able to provide services more flexibly to our customers. We need to deliver what employees and citizens require. We have to change to allow the organisation to move forwards," he says.

4. Don't hammer down on costs

Access to on-demand resources means organisations will potentially spend less on networks and IT in the future, says Evan Kirchheimer, practice leader at analyst Ovum. But the chance to control expenditure more closely should not be the only consideration for IT leaders.

"Cost is always a priority for CIOs, but a relentless focus on cost can restrict innovation. People need to think about how the network will enable new types of business," he says.

Kirchheimer says automation will create new opportunities for IT leaders to look for more from suppliers. And rather than trying to hammer down on costs, CIOs should identify how an intelligent approach to networking will rely on partnerships that help identify new areas of innovation and growth.

"What's required is a seed of hope that will lead CIOs to recognise that beating up suppliers is not the only option. Good suppliers will be partners and IT leaders must work alongside vendors to think about how they will help the business more forward in the future," he says.

5. Prioritise governance at the top of the organisation

Information flowing across the network can only make a difference to the organisation if knowledge is organised and consistent. Achieving such aims helps explain why Bill Limond, CIO at the City of London, is helping to create an IT and networks strategy that allows his organisation to focus on business engagement.

"We want to move up the value chain, and use IT to create information systems that carefully manage our information assets," he says. "The CIO needs to be in charge of the information end-point and ensure that knowledge assets are well-managed and valuable."

Limond has helped create an information management governance board at his organisation, which has been crucial in ensuring consistency. The establishment of common data definitions enables the right type of information flows across the organisational network.

"Organisations tend to lose control if they don't put the right types of information governance in place," he says. "Put senior executives in charge of knowledge management and make sure the policies you create a right for your business."

About

Mark Samuels is a business journalist and editor at IT leadership organisation CIO Connect. He has written for various organisations, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, Guardian Government Computing and Times Higher Education.

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