By Prakash Krishnamoorthy, Director – India, HPE Aruba Networking
Today’s enterprise network – a necessary connectivity cost, or revenue-driving asset capable of boosting multiple areas of business? For IT leaders who face the constant challenge of trying to articulate the value of the network to their line of business counterparts, that’s the million-dollar question.
And it’s one we at HPE Aruba Networking set out to answer this year—surveying over 2,100 global IT leaders to understand how they’re approaching the network and test our hypothesis that those investing in their approach are seeing faster, stronger business outcomes. The ultimate aim—to prove that the right network infrastructure can indeed be a business-boosting asset capable of delivering more than connectivity.
IT demands of a modern business
From enabling more immersive omnichannel customer journeys, to delivering flexible working, and weaving sustainability into their operations, the myriad needs business must meet to stay competitive this year are vast. And they are also technologically demanding. In fact, 89% of the IT leaders we spoke to said that their organization needs a high level of digital transformation to succeed over the next 12 months. But 66% have concerns about their ability to keep up.
To close this gap, IT leaders will need to use every tool at their disposal – not least the network, which functions as the connective tissue underpinning all digital transformation. But it has the potential to do so much more if IT leaders are able to understand its true scope – and convince the broader business of that.
The network as a tool for transformation
As it stands, when we asked IT leaders how much they understood the relationship between the network and various part of the business, the top three strongest connections they made were to IT efficiency, operational efficiency, and cybersecurity. They are also where respondents see the biggest impact of the network, and perhaps more crucially, where those who’ve invested in the network within the last two years are seeing the greatest business outcomes. Comparatively, those who haven’t been able to invest in the network during that time reported 21 percentage points less positive impact on average across all business areas.
But while these are great examples of the network’s power for digital transformation, our results also pointed to some startling missed connections in IT leaders understanding of the network’s potential business impact – particularly with regards to enhancing employee experiences and delivering data insights.
Connecting employee experiences with the network
Three quarters of IT leaders believe digitization is fundamental both for talent attraction and employees being able to do their jobs. However, with recognition of the network’s relevance to employee
attraction and retention the lowest of all the business areas listed (just 55% of IT leaders strongly understand the link to the network), it is perhaps unsurprising that this was also the area where IT leaders estimate that the network is currently having the least impact. Or the least positive impact.
The negative impact becomes apparent when you look at what today’s networks seem capable of delivering – only 43% of IT leaders say their network enables staff to work from anywhere, and just 34% agree that their network can deliver seamless connectivity.
The simple fact is that no one can do their job nowadays without the network. But in today’s flexible working environments, this requirement goes way beyond offering more intelligent connectivity (i.e., with differentiated access levels). Done properly, a seamless, efficient, and securely connected work experience (no matter where the employee is located) is an appealing perk for attracting new talent and strengthening job satisfaction for existing employees.
But the adoption of flexible work also demands a more technologically advanced workplace than ever before. And, through this lens, the requirement becomes as much about the services you can build onto the network—to make it smarter, faster, and more intuitive (i.e., location services for easier navigation or building automation for greater employee comfort)—as it is about the employee’s experience of using the network itself.
Connecting data insight delivery with the network
In his post for the World Economic Forum, Antonio Neri, CEO and President of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, explained that “When we talk about digital transformation and being a data-first organization, it starts with being connected. If you’re not connected, you’re not digitizing.”
And yet our results indicate that the network’s relevance for data-insight delivery is another area that needs greater business-wide awareness—particularly if organizations want to close the current disconnect between data needs versus capabilities.
According to 95% of IT leaders, access to data is either fundamental to or important for unlocking new revenue streams and services in the coming 12 months. Additionally, nearly all IT leaders (99%) said their organization is looking to IT to deliver these data-driven insights.
But despite this huge demand, only 67% of IT leaders who have invested in the network over the past two years expressed high confidence in their company’s ability to leverage the power of data insights. And that’s still a third higher (46%) than those who have not been able to invest over the same period—again showing the link between investment and strengthened business ability.
The picture this paints is clear – with so much data to deal with, organizations need help to deliver on its promise and boost these returns. And that relies on investment being channeled into the right network infrastructure – one that modernizes all aspects of network operations, from what data you connect to (people, places, and things), how you do so (from the edge to the cloud), and how you protect it.
Starting different C-suite conversations
Our research shows that there is a lost opportunity for IT leaders to really underscore the importance of a modern network for business outcomes that go beyond digital transformation. This kind of network
can unlock data-driven innovation that cuts costs or reveals new revenue streams. It can also strengthen the employee experience, attracting the right talent pool to move the business forward, while retaining staff for vital stability.
To release this broader transformation potential within their organization, IT leaders need to begin reframing networking discussions. To start talking in terms of business outcomes versus technical specs to highlight that the network is something every C-suite member should care about, understand better—and, crucially, invest in. As our results demonstrate, investment correlates to positive network impact that drives business value. But it must be the right investment—both in level and where it is directed.