by Mark Casey, CEO, Apcela

CEOs and other c-level executives are hearing a lot about digital transformation from their peers, from consultancies, and in the media. Executives might be tempted to equate the use of cloud infrastructure or SaaS applications with digital transformation, but that would be missing the larger point. Digital transformation means leveraging technology to reinvent business processes and improve the customer’s experience with a product or service. And an agile network is a key ingredient to fully enabling this transformation — yet, one which many enterprises do not possess.

The use of cloud has certainly enabled new efficiencies for many businesses and provided a measure of agility as the dollar outlay for IT has shifted to the opex side of the balance sheet. And, industry leaders are feeling excited about the opportunity to go further and create entirely new products and services by leveraging IT. According to Gartner’s 2017 CEO Survey:

  • Forty-four percent of CEOs interviewed say they are now tilted towards a “digital first” for new initiatives (22%) or moving to an all-digital strategy (22%), meaning they are changing their core business with IT.
  • Interestingly, 57% of respondents say that they are building up in-house IT and digital capabilities, compared to 29% who are talking about outsourcing these capabilities.

However, executives need to ask, “Is there a strategic advantage to owning and managing a network?” In many cases, traditional approaches will only serve as bottleneck for digital transformation efforts. At a time when enterprises are moving deploying applications across both owned and third-party facilities, building a WAN with MPLS links between headquarters and branches is equivalent to building your own freeway in order to drive your car around: it’s expensive and inflexible.

MPLS links can sometimes take months to procure and provision (especially in regions such as Asia-Pacific), and you are tied in to using a paying for bandwidth, whether it’s used or not. And all too frequently, network managers are finding that they don’t have enough bandwidth for some applications (like disaster recovery), while also still not finding the performance they needed for SaaS applications (like Office 365 or Salesforce).

As with other elements of a digital transformation strategy, executives need to take an application and business-centric approach that will help define IT requirements. What executives will find, is that SD-WAN is a key ingredient to enabling a more agile, cloud-ready WAN. At the same time, they can move forward with network transformation at their own pace with no ‘big-bang’ replacement of MPLS required. Ultimately, the freedom that SD-WAN and a distributed network architecture provides might be the key that fully unlocks a successful digital transformation.