Most wouldn’t consider digital transformation itself a “mission critical” endeavor. But, what lies at the foundation of any digital transformation is the network that connects your business to critical data and applications. So if things go badly, customer support goes down. Applications that used to work now don’t. Data that customers or employees rely on are no longer accessible. The IT staff is in over their heads even though they said they could manage the transformation without network expertise or staff. Suddenly, the company finds itself in the midst of a crisis.

Today, advanced cloud-based applications and state-of-the art cloud platforms are further revolutionizing digital transformation for enterprises as the need to digitize processes and workflows for the organization to operate more efficiently and become more effective in the marketplace grows. While digital transformation means different things depending on the role in the IT ecosystem, one key element can make or break the efforts of a business to revolutionize operations: the network, an often overlooked but mission critical component to a successful digital transformation. 

Most define digital transformation as applying technology to an application or task to make it easier to use or to create better efficiencies, accuracy, or workflows. One recent trend in digital transformation has been to move applications and other digital resources to public cloud environments. Getting the most out of these platforms requires not just the network itself, but a set of technologies and managed services that ensure predictable, intelligent, secure flow of traffic — a concept collectively referred to as network as a service, or NaaS. Establishing NaaS elements to enable what the industry calls the initial “lift and shift” and then adjusting it to fit longer-term needs requires experience, expertise, and key partnerships.

By shifting applications and data to the cloud, operators believe they can deliver on the promise of digital transformation to ensure digital operations remain intact and that those operations critical to the success of the business are not interrupted. Organizations will encounter six key challenges in doing so.

  • Lack of technology and dedicated IT skills — A dedicated, highly skilled IT team is essential to the success of any digital transformation project. But building such a team is increasingly difficult and costly, especially in the area of networking. More companies are looking to partners or managed services with experience in networking to help. 
  • Data security — Prior to today’s cloud-based environments, private networks made no “contact” with the public internet and the concerns around security were minimal. As organizations move to internet-based solutions, IT leaders must be much more in tune with their organization’s ability to prevent, detect, and mitigate security risks of all kinds as “data in flight” traverses public networks. 
  • Application performance — Quite often, applications need to be rewritten to be optimized for their new home in the cloud. While a modern cloud platform can generate enormous amounts of computing power, the network must be designed to let traffic flow freely or the worker and consumer experiences and the company’s brand will suffer. 
  • Uptime and resiliency of the cloud environment — Because of the distributed nature of public cloud environments, if one data center goes down, that doesn’t mean all of the operations of a company go down. All public cloud environments are architected with multiple redundancies and failovers that prevent against costly downtime, a key benefit of leveraging the cloud. Unfortunately, if the network isn’t built with similar critical contingencies in mind, a simple internet outage could have a devastating impact on an operation. 
  • Management and support — Server maintenance, software upgrades, and security concerns are just a few of the issues IT staff must stay on top of when digital resources sit in a data center. Moving to a cloud platform eliminates much of this, but while the network elements used to access modern cloud environments are often more cost-effective, flexible, and easier to scale, the elements of a multisite network often leverage multiple underlying vendors. This can make management and maintenance exceedingly complex but critical to keeping operations going.
  • Budget concerns and constraints — Moving to a public cloud environment can be attractive to CFOs because of efficiency and productivity gains as well as potential cost savings. Also, moving from purchased servers and databases to rented space in a public cloud reduces capital expense and shifts spending to an operating expense model. But while the flexibility of accessing the cloud environment is attractive, procuring and managing individual network elements from multiple providers can be inefficient. 

There are three key things to think about when factoring the network into digital transformation:

  • Understanding the network drives the worker and the customer experiences — A well-designed network ensures reliable, predictable application performance and a better experience for employees and customers. That experience can be the difference in keeping critical operations going.
  • Expertise — Understanding the infrastructure, security, network management, and private connectivity to the cloud is where a trusted NaaS provider can deliver the crucial help to optimize network services for digital transformation.
  • Holistic support — Few IT organizations have the network support that a holistic support model can provide. A topnotch NaaS provider should be able to deliver a wider perspective to each business IT environment: network infrastructure, security, and traffic management.

As businesses expect technology to play a critical role in digitally transforming operations, IT departments need to widen their aperture to include the network as an important part of ensuring the transformation happens with no interruptions. Pairing the resiliency, agility, and reliability of a cloud-based technology platform with an intelligently designed, custom network solution will provide a solid foundation as businesses continue to be focused on successful digital transformation.