Market Insight

Get Connected: Networking the Digital Workplace

January 19, 2017

Matthias Machowinski Matthias Machowinski Directing Analyst, Enterprise Networks and Video
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Digital Transformation Is Affecting Every Industry
Organizations are grappling with how to stay relevant in a world that sees a constant stream of new innovations and the rise of new competitors. Newcomers who are looking at business processes from a completely different perspective are disrupting industries. Many are leveraging digital technologies to transform their processes and, in some cases, fundamentally changing how industries operate. Among the best known examples are transportation networking companies Lyft and Uber, who have redefined what it means to “call a cab” by solving the ease of use, service quality, transparency, and predictability challenges associated with the taxi industry. Amazon has disrupted the retail industry once already by shifting purchases online and is now looking to shake up the brick-and-mortar experience, experimenting with stores that forego checkout lines in favor of sensors and artificial intelligence to bill customers for their purchases.

Transformation Starts with a Digital Workplace
Every company needs to be vigilant and start thinking about how they can evolve their business to stay relevant to customers’ wants and needs. The best place to start is in the physical workplaces, where companies can lay the foundation for wider technology rollouts and give employees a sense of what’s possible. A digital workplace needs to accomplish the following:

  • Make it easy to access, record, and share information from a wide range of devices, user interfaces, and locations
  • Enable portability so that employees aren’t confined to a specific location for a given task but are able to do aspects of their work from many locations

Access and portability enable flexibility and allow companies to respond quickly to changes, such as high customer demand. While it’s possible to put digital “wrappers” around existing processes, the full potential of digital transformation is realized when processes begin in the digital domain. For example, that might mean equipping doctors and nurses with smart devices to record information rather than using paper and pencil processes that are digitized at a later stage. Or it could mean outfitting store employees with smartphones so that they can give relevant help to customers, from taking mobile payments to providing stock or product information anywhere in the store. When underlying workflows continue to rely on offline processes, it’s much harder to realize the full benefits of digital transformation.

A Network for the Digital Workplace
Though many systems are needed to create digital workplaces, one critical component is the network because it is the link between all the various devices, applications, information stores, and people that allows information to flow between them. Though application or device failures are painful, their impact is usually limited to certain users. Failure of a crucial network link, on the other hand, can have widespread consequences and prevent many more users from accessing their applications. In addition, as the network expands, so does the utility of the IT applications that run on it because they can be accessed from many more places, thus enlarging the digital workplace.

What capabilities does a network need to have to enable digital workplaces? For one, it needs to support the devices with which users (or objects) connect to applications. Our ongoing research with end-user organizations has shown that the number of devices on the network is growing faster than users, as users access the network from a growing variety of devices and as companies leverage the power of IoT (Internet of Things). In IHS Markit’s October 2016 WLAN Strategies and Vendor Leadership North American Enterprise Survey, we found that mobile devices—laptops, handheld computers, tablets, smartphones, wearables, and VoWLAN handsets—account for 39% of network-connected devices today, growing to 44% by 2018. But this modest change masks a significant underlying trend: almost 2 out of 3 new devices will be mobile, which illustrates just how important mobility and wireless have become in network planning. Given the direction in device trends, many organizations are reevaluating whether it makes sense to maintain wired access for employees who do the bulk of their work on mobile devices. Increasingly, the answer is “it doesn’t,” and ~1/3 of those we talked to plan to move employees to wireless-only access.

IoT is a niche application today that is on its way to mainstream status: IoT devices (e.g., cameras, TVs, sensors, and locks) are expected to account for 15% of all network-connected devices by 2018. To implement IoT, companies need networks that support a range of wired and wireless access technologies as well as provide a mechanism of verifying that devices can be trusted (and quarantined if compromised).

IT No Longer Owns the Devices
As companies have allowed their employees to “bring your own device” (BYOD) and opened up their networks to guests, the number of user-owned (BYOD) devices on the network is rising rapidly. Our surveys indicate that BYO devices are expected to become the majority during the next 2 years.

BYOD creates uncertainty because it is impossible to accurately forecast how many devices will connect to the network on any given day, what type they will be, and what applications they will be capable of consuming. Compounding the uncertainty is a rapid technology cycle for consumer devices with new devices being released annually. This makes a BYOD access platform critical for guaranteeing reliable network access, controlling access to network and data resources, and gaining insight into network usage patterns.

Secure and Reliable Connectivity Is a Must
As more users rely on wireless access, the security and reliability of wireless networks have emerged as top challenges for network managers. Security in general is a major concern for companies as hacking has evolved from hobby into a multi-billion dollar industry. Not only do security breaches cost significant resources to remedy, but they can also lead to loss of customer confidence, lost revenue, and fines.

A second tier of challenges revolves around reliability, performance, and cost. Network outages or degradations have a widespread impact on the availability of IT applications, which in turn reduces employee productivity and can lead to lost revenue and unhappy customers—IHS Markit’s research has shown that large enterprises lose over $60M annually to ICT downtime, and the network is the biggest contributor by far. Performance builds on reliability—the network may be working, but not very well. If performance issues aren’t addressed proactively, they can turn into reliability problems when the network slows down to a crawl. Meanwhile, performance and reliability have to be balanced against the reality of budgets, which aren’t growing as fast as the demands on the network.

Bottom Line
Companies across all industries are affected by fundamental changes in customer expectations and how products and services are delivered. Digital transformation needs to start with the workplace in collaboration with employee stakeholders so that organizations can develop relevant digitally native processes and allow information to flow freely within their organizations. Special attention needs to be paid to the network because as reliance on digital processes grows, so does the need for a network that can support a wide variety of devices and reliably connect them with the users.

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Enterprise & IT
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