The networked world

Network World 30th Anniversary: The digital nervous system of the modern enterprise is driving today’s digital transformations.

That same ubiquitous connectivity, of course, is what is enabling the corporate drive for agility and responsiveness which is taken into the field by a compute-anywhere workforce. Office boundaries are disintegrating as employees outfitted with smartphones, tablets and wearables can access the business resources they need from anywhere to engage with customers.

Social business initiatives are making companies more transparent, both to insiders and outsiders. Internally, collaboration tools can help companies bolster employee engagement and improve communication among far-flung workers. Being forthcoming with information about corporate goals and business performance helps foster a culture of trust and accountability. Externally, customers find companies that are accessible and transparent to be more trustworthy, which boosts loyalty. Some 62% of millennials surveyed by Elite Daily said that if a brand engages with them on social networks, they are more likely to become a loyal customer.

IoT, mobile, and social initiatives are changing companies yet raising a host of questions along the way: Are enterprises ready for the onslaught of data? Are their mobile forays secure? Can they balance customer feedback with corporate vision?

Enterprises won’t be able to answer questions like these in the affirmative overnight, but momentum is picking up. "These kinds of technology transitions could take as many as 10 years," Mehra says. “It's hard for people to change and evolve."

And that is requiring IT to evolve, too.

As the networked world grows bigger and more complicated, IT teams are morphing. An example: The ability to manage virtual workloads, define network architectures, and orchestrate services requires very different skills from managing routers, Kerravala says. In addition, everything today is more interdependent, meaning network, application, compute and storage teams need to work together. Siloed teams from the legacy IT world won’t cut it, he says.

Tribune Media CIO David Giambruno agrees: “It’s very different because historically the server guy is the server guy, the network guy is the network guy, etc.” But all of that went out the window when Giambruno moved to a new private cloud that is software controlled. “I don’t have server or network or storage people. I have cloud engineers. Because all of that works as a system. People still have their natural affinities, what they’re better at, but to all of them it’s just bits. It’s interesting to watch how they work together and how they communicate and how much they can get done because there aren’t those artificial silos anymore.”

He lives in a DevOps world, now, but Giambruno says “value isn’t building something every day. My engineers aren’t about building; they’re about wielding technology. It’s more about how are we going to leverage this capability and what can we do with this?”

At a higher level, enterprises also need people to determine the policies that govern a more agile, automated network infrastructure. "When I talk to companies about where they're lacking skills, it's in the areas of data sciences, analytics, even policy administration,” Kerravala says. “So if you look at the way software-defined networking changes networking, a lot of it has to do with business policies or application policies pushing down configurations and automating that. But someone's got to develop those policies. That's a skill that not a lot of people have.”

The personnel aspects of today’s mobile, cloud, big data and social endeavors will have to be addressed, agrees Mehra. "It has implications on how IT needs to organize itself,” Mehra says. “Any organization that has silos between their network, storage, application folks and their server admins -- I think their days are going to be numbered if they don't evolve pretty rapidly."

IT pros also need to be aligned with the goals of the business – a common refrain but nonetheless challenging for IT departments.

“Much of the budget that's available for the IT players today is being created by the lines of business or the CEO. You've got to not only be able to talk their language, you've got to be able to enable their goals,” Chambers says.

CEOs and CIOs expect people in IT to help the business grow and compete against a new generation of competitors operating with different business models and at tremendous speed. They don’t want to know how IT runs a data center or how it keeps the network working. “They're after: How do you use the network for competitive advantage, for agility?" Chambers says.

Cisco isn't immune to these challenges. The company overhauled its own engineering organization a few years ago, a difficult transition that included removing 24 of its 92 leaders, Chambers says. On the sales side, Cisco changed 41% of its client-interfacing executives over the last two-plus years "because they were selling routing and switching as opposed to architectures and business outcomes.”

"The easiest aspect is the technology -- the cloud, the security, the mobility, the collaboration that all comes together with digitization,” he says. "The hard part is the organization change, the cultural changes, and never losing track of what you're after, which is: How do you innovate with tremendous speed?"

Seventy-five percent of companies will be digital in five years, Chambers says, "yet the majority of them will fail because they will fail to reinvent themselves, to change their organization structure and their culture, and to focus on speed."

Fast forward 15 years from now, and there will be 500 billion devices connected to the Internet, Chambers says. “Think about that power of that. It changes everything. Every aspect of every person's life,” he says. “The network is not just front and center. It's going to experience exponential importance in a way that people are just beginning to dream about."

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