Tackling the growing network divide

Today's digital divide is about whether your network is designed to be a growth engine for your business or whether it’s holding it back, writes Brocade’s Jason Baden

Today's digital divide is about whether your network is designed to be a growth engine for your business or whether it’s holding it back.

As we move to digitise everything from retail and services, to cities and healthcare, networks are no longer just critical infrastructure. They’re the foundations of our modern economy and the centre of new business models. They can be the difference between a company winning big or becoming irrelevant.

Networks are more than just the hidden magic that keeps us connected to each other and to all of our devices. They’re also at the heart of competitive advantage and the source of disruptions that are transforming every industry, social movement, government and our everyday lives today.

But not every business puts a network at the centre of its business model. In fact, most old business models are hub and spoke. The value is exchanged between the company and the customer, which means that these businesses scale linearly. As digital transformation sweeps through different industries, it’s important to question how to get a network effect working within your business.

As your business moves to digitise, you need to rethink the way you build networks and deliver value. You need to do for networks what Agile did for software – that means moving from hierarchical, slow and closed systems to those that are agile, programmable and open.

Platform for innovation

It’s important to go from being in the business of saying “no” to that of saying “yes” to your line of business colleagues. The network needs to be made a platform for innovation that accelerates business value and growth, rather than hinders it.

Businesses need underlying network architecture, including automation, which supports business agility. This New IP architecture enables the network to become a platform for innovation and for developing, delivering and securing new applications.

According to a 2015 global CIO survey by Vanson Bourne, 75 percent of respondents stated that the network is impacting their organisations’ ability to achieve business goals. The lack of network automation and integration of the network with other IT operations and tool chains is the single biggest inhibitor to capitalising on digitisation.

The stakes have never been higher for businesses today. The rate of change has never been faster. The stress, perhaps, has never been greater.

Avoiding the silent killer

As we move further into the network age, we’re seeing the emergence of the network haves and have-nots.

This isn’t like the “Digital Divide” of the early days of the internet where you either had internet access or you did not. Today, the divide is about whether your network is designed to be a growth engine for your business or whether it’s holding your business back.

Before that gap gets so large it can’t be bridged, you need to decide which side your company will be on—and which side you’ll pick for yourself and your career. Modern networks, and the network effects they deliver, will ultimately decide which companies thrive and which go by the wayside.

There are career implications that are at least as important as the business ones. We can learn from recent history about what happens to companies and people that miss paradigm shifts in technology: they disappear into irrelevance.

Approximately 60 percent of the companies on Fortune’s list of the 500 largest companies in the mid-1990s are no longer on that list today. These were some of the largest companies in the world, yet many couldn’t retain their status because they missed the transition to the internet.

For many, their systems proved to be the silent killer of their business, while several of the companies that filled the open slots—think Google, Amazon, Facebook—were born from the internet movement.

Surviving the new wave

There’s a new wave of technology change, perhaps even more disruptive, as we embrace cloud services, the Internet of Things (IoT), mobility, data analytics and more. These business models can’t thrive on the old IP infrastructure that was designed two decades ago. Today’s world of computing and connecting is dramatically different and requires a different kind of network architecture: New IP networks that unleash new and rapid business innovation.

Networks have power. While some companies will struggle to survive the transition to digital business models, those that harness the power of the network to transform business models and create exponential value are the new power players in every company and every industry.

Jason Baden is senior director for Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) for Brocade, where he is responsible for driving the company’s business in the region. Based in Sydney, Jason has more than 15 years of technology management and business development experience.