Moving Network Spend from Products to People

November 04, 2016

Contributor: Christy Pettey

Companies must step outside of their comfort zones to take full advantage of a more open networking market.

Purposefully shifting network spend from products to personnel can lead to annual savings of over 25 percent in five years, while also improving network agility. However, network directors must reskill their organizations and foster a new mentality to achieve such savings.

“Most enterprises not only rely on vendors' proprietary technologies for their network solutions, but also depend on their advice for evolving their network infrastructure. While this approach made sense when networking was first introduced in the 1990s, technologies have matured and market dynamics are changing fast,” said Danilo Ciscato, research director at Gartner. “Solutions are becoming more software-centric, virtualized, based on standardized hardware and ultimately more open – that is independent from individual vendors.”

Savvy network leaders should seize this opportunity and start making changes to become less vendor-dependent. Making smart choices means adopting the most cost-effective solution that meets specific needs. It could be a commercial solution from a low-cost vendor, or it could be based on open-networking components. The aim is to avoid technology myopia, and develop the capability to use vendors as suppliers, not advisers.

“ To ensure their teams possess the right skills to select the most appropriate network components and integrate them in an automated infrastructure, organizations need to invest in their people.”

Gartner believes the biggest drawback to switching approaches will be culture. Adopting the mainstream solution from leading vendors represents the "safe choice," while embracing change requires stepping out of the comfort zone. Changing the mentality is important not just for the sake of cost savings, but to free up financial resources that can be better invested in people and innovative digital business projects.

“Making the right decisions in a rapidly changing network market requires better skills, but also different mindsets; it requires people development, rather than additional training on specific vendor protocols,” said Mr. Ciscato. The key differentiator for network teams becomes their talent to assemble and operate a customized solution that suits the needs of the organization at the lowest cost, not their ability to operate a turnkey proprietary vendor solution.

For most network teams, this will require a culture shift, similar to the one faced by other infrastructure teams when mainframes started to decline. It will be difficult and will take time, but it is worth executing to achieve sustainable improvements. To ensure their teams possess the right skills to select the most appropriate network components and integrate them in an automated infrastructure, organizations need to invest in their people. They will need less people, due to automation, but with better capabilities. An experienced staff with a broader skill set, measured on outcomes and better paid.

They need people with "T-shaped" skill sets, with deep skills on network technologies, a broader system-level understanding of IT infrastructures and applications, as well as negotiation and communication soft skills. The ability to understand and communicate the business value of technology is essential for employees who want to thrive in digital business. Network technologies are essential not only to run the business, but also to develop new businesses and manage client interactions.

Networking staff must proactively analyze new solutions, understand the applicability to the specific needs of their organizations and sell the value to the business leaders. This is the only way to remain relevant as the business relies more on technology.

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