Digitisation has become a common goal across organisations today but achieving such is not always straightforward; in this article we take a look specifically at the impact of digitisation on enterprise networks, and how organisations can ready their networks for it.
Digitisation, at its core, refers to the conversion of analogue to digital – be this information and data, or processes and capabilities. All organisations today are engaged with digitisation, but some are naturally more advanced than others; some may still be converting their analogue records into digital formats for example, while others have far surpassed this stage and are utilising the latest digital technologies such as Cloud and the Internet of Things.
At first we saw changes such as email replacing post, mobile apps and websites replacing catalogues and physical stores, instant chat replacing phone, and so the list goes on. Today however, as technology adoption continues to accelerate rapidly, and as Millennials more heavily influence society’s expectations in this arena, digitisation is extending into more and more advanced capabilities. Ranging into virtually every element of our work and personal lives today, digitisation is no longer just about converting analogue to digital, it is about maximising digital’s true abilities as everything becomes connected and we share massive volumes of data about people, processes and things – creating new experiences and opportunities for businesses, individuals, countries and the world at large.
As a result, we rely on a real-time, global exchange of information from any number of devices in virtually any location to enable these new ways of working and living – and the enterprise networks which form the basis of this, be it to enable their employees or customers, need to be able to deliver to this demand. As time passes, and digitisation moves forward, the demand will only increase on enterprise networks and so it is not just about readying them for today’s needs, but also for tomorrow’s.
Digitisation: The Business Opportunities and Challenges
Digitisation opens up multiple business cases, but ultimately the opportunities it delivers come down to:
- Bringing companies closer to their customers by better understanding their behaviours, preferences and demographics – helping to advance and speed business decision making, as well as increase customer retention
- Improving their value offering by extending their reach and offering new products or services
- Helping to reduce costs and increase profits by optimising processes and opening up new revenue streams
- Improving employee and / or customer safety, reducing business risk
The main challenge in delivering digitisation is ensuring that it’s done right first time, and for the right reasons. Making mistakes when implementing a new digital process or service can be very expensive both in time and money, and similarly if the digitisation undertaken doesn’t ultimately deliver any value then this is highly expensive too. It’s very important therefore that organisations avoid “digital for digital’s sake”, and focus on digitising the areas of the business where it can deliver real change and value.
Another key consideration which organisations need to make as they digitise is, as noted above, their enterprise network and whether its existing infrastructure is sufficient to support the digital services being implemented.
The Impact of Digitisation on Enterprise Networking
As companies consider how Cloud, Mobility, the Internet of Things, and Big Data can improve their business models and services, their IT teams should be busy considering how their network is going to support these – after all, at its core, digitisation is driven by the generation and processing of data.
Legacy fixed line networks are inflexible and typically expensive to scale, but no doubt still have their place today in connecting permanent branch locations across a distributed enterprise. The enterprise network needs to reach far beyond fixed locations now though, as we look to connect our people in almost any location along with a myriad of “things”.
To achieve this, more flexible connectivity is essential and so organisations are starting to leverage cellular, WiFi and other wireless technologies alongside fixed line – creating a “hybrid” model that delivers a more flexible, scalable “go anywhere” network, enabling digitisation as it expands its reach.
Leveraging Software-Defined Networking
Beyond simply needing to expand enterprise networks however, for digitisation to be truly successful, businesses also need to ensure that their ultra-flexible networks can be secured and managed efficiently. For this, cloud management and software-defined networking presents a solution.
For example, Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Engine software-defined WAN enables organisations to build and deploy virtual overlay networks quickly, connecting people, places and things across any private or public cloud within minutes. Creating a virtual network perimeter which can be deployed wherever your network reaches, it ensures that all data transacted across the network is kept secure. Available as a client to run on PCs, servers and mobile devices, or as a gateway version to run on Cradlepoint routers and gateways, it can be used to secure data transactions for all of the network’s applications.
Complementing this, the NetCloud Manager can then be used to monitor and manage the network remotely, and even includes remote connect capabilities which enable the user to securely cloud-manage any LAN connected device on a Cradlepoint router or gateway, making non-cloud devices cloud-manageable too.
Combined, these Cradlepoint NetCloud services keep the expanding network edge both secure and simple to manage – just one example of the way in which cloud management and software defined networking can assist companies to ensure their networks are ready for digitisation.
The Role of Fog Computing
As well as ensuring the enterprise network is secure, flexible and scalable, organisations must also work to improve the network’s intelligence. Typically today, many businesses operate central systems which data is transacted to and from, and where processes take place – meaning, for example, that when dealing with connected things, data from these things at the edge of the network is being transmitted back to the central location before it is processed. This may work for a time, when these things are not huge in number, but the progress of digitisation towards everything being connected will soon mean the generation of huge volumes of data which is neither practical nor efficient to transmit to central systems. As such, it will be essential to create intelligence at the network edge so that this data can be processed locally, with only the most useful data then being transmitted back to central systems.
Fog computing, or fogging, enables this. Created and pushed down via the cloud, but stored and run on the device at the network edge, fog computing applications create a middle layer between the Cloud and hardware – enabling more efficient data processing, analysis and storage by ensuring that only necessary data is transported to the Cloud and beyond.
Take intelligent street lighting as an example. The street lights should only be turned on when a motion sensor detects that a vehicle is approaching, but to push all this sensor data to the cloud for processing, and for the decision to then be pushed back down, is not efficient in either data usage or time taken. As such, a fog application running at the network edge processes the sensor data and makes the decision locally instead, and then only valuable data is pushed to the Cloud for further analysis – for example, the total length of time that the lights were turned on or how often they were triggered.
Sierra Wireless and Cradlepoint networking solutions both include fog computing capabilities, enabling this intelligence to be developed in the Cloud and run on the gateway or router at the network edge – extending the network’s capabilities and ensuring maximised efficiency for digitisation projects.
It is clear that the impact of digitisation on enterprise networking is significant, and organisations need to ensure that they ready their networks as they look to extend their digital capabilities – their network and digitisation strategies must be aligned. The network is the bloodline for digitisation and only by adopting the latest networking technologies can it continue to support the ever-expanding body of digital services.
Find out more about the applications our networking solutions support to enable digital transformation in businesses by following this link to our solutions section.