3 essential skills for network professionals

When hiring or training network professionals, CIOs should focus on IT infrastructure knowledge beyond networks, cloud expertise, and inclusion in the budgeting process.

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Network professionals previously focused on network throughput, server placement and device management, security, firewalls, etc., but with more compute moving to the edge, they are taking on new roles that involve data management and IT architecture. These are the new skill sets that every network professional needs.

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  1. IT infrastructure knowledge beyond networks

IoT, mobile devices, and initiatives like Manufacturing 4.0 are all pushing more IT out to the edges of enterprises. This means that networks have to either monolithically scale out to be bigger or what is likelier be segmented into a series of smaller networks that do specialized things.

If networks are separated into functions such as a manufacturing network for a plant that is separate from the main corporate enterprise network, or if an enterprise has an engineering network that is reserved only for engineers working on new products, at what point do these networks engage with each other so they can exchange vital information? Or do they ever? And if the networks exchange data with each other, what information can be exchanged, and who has security clearance to access that information?

These are all new network-related questions that enterprises are facing. The result is that more network professionals are being asked into conference rooms to interact with application developers and DBAs at early stages of system and business process design, because with more edge computing, network architecture will surely be involved.

The net of this is network professionals now need to go beyond the traditional server, router, cable, UPS backup, and device configuration of the network. They need a more holistic understanding of enterprise systems and business processes to better prepare them to work alongside DBAs, system programmers, and others in IT infrastructure design. Few schools teach this—the network professionals who possess expanded infrastructure skills most likely learned them on the job. 

The takeaway for CIOs and IT senior managers is that skill sets in the network area have to be expanded. The best way to do this is through on the job training so that existing staff can take on a broader set of infrastructure responsibilities as they design, configure, and support networks.

2. Cloud expertise

Network knowledge also needs to be expanded beyond the walls of the enterprise and into the information exchanges and bandwidth constraints of cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-data center data exchanges and communications. Choices have to be made as to which systems to deploy on cloud and which to maintain internally. Network requirements are part of these decisions. Network backup, security, and performance are also issues that must be addressed in hybrid computing models.

This work requires network professionals to develop competence in both internal and wide area networks. They must also be capable communicators and be able to engage with outside telecommunications and cloud vendors who also have a key collaborative role in keeping networks up and running.

3. Participate in the budgeting process

Historically, network managers have been involved in budgeting when it involved internal networks or wide area networks that involved linking remote sites to a central office; but with cloud, IoT, and distributed computing at the edge, network roles in the budgeting process must also expand.

For instance, if the plan is to automate a factory, network professionals should be working alongside applications professionals in designing systems for automation that include not only software and server costs, but also network expansion costs. If the plan is to systematically expand automation at the factory over a period of five years, network professionals and system professionals must be able to scale out both their technical and budget needs.

In many cases, network professionals have grown up on a steady diet of technical deployments and hardware troubleshooting, and many have not played major roles in budgeting. They might not have the skills for laying out multi-year budgets and working with finance on equipment, software amortizations, or depreciation schedules. These are financial planning skills that CIOs should look for when they are hiring networking professionals developing in their own staff members. 

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