As a result of the pandemic, organizations are accelerating their timelines for migrating from legacy networks to cloud-based solutions.
On the long list of lessons that businesses and their tech decision-makers learned from the pandemic-related disruptions of the last year-and-a-half, perhaps none has resonated as much as the revelation about the shortcomings of using a legacy network.
From the overload of aging government systems to the security limitations of healthcare providers’ outdated networks to the inability of businesses to support remote working, the inadequacies of legacy communications systems — and the risks organizations subject themselves, their employees, and their customers to as a result — have been on full display. “As enterprises and services providers look to support the demands of ubiquitous, high-bandwidth, and low-latency connectivity to billions of devices, it’s becoming increasingly clear that legacy network architectures will not suffice in a world dominated by mobility and cloud,” Rohit Mehra, IDC vice president, Network Infrastructure, said in a recent report.
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As a result of the pandemic, I’ve seen all kinds of organizations, from healthcare to banking to public institutions, accelerate their timelines for migrating from legacy networks to cloud-based communications solutions such as SD-WAN and UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service), and not look back once they’ve made the transition. Still, there are holdovers, organizations that are primed to shift away from outdated systems and equipment to IP-based solutions, because from a competitive standpoint, standing still is no longer an option. Here are six priorities to guide their evaluation of digital network options.
Consideration #1: Future-proofing your business. Throughout the pandemic, enterprises found creative ways to thrive by quickly shifting focus to new revenue streams and models for delivering their products and services. Restaurants built out their take-out/online ordering business, healthcare providers increased their telehealth capabilities, and schools shifted to remote learning. This kind of agility is only possible with a scalable, fungible cloud architecture like UCaaS. A robust UCaaS platform makes shifts like these smooth and secure without compromising the quality of the customer experience. It enables enterprises to rapidly adapt their communications channels to prevailing business conditions and the needs of their customers.
Let’s not overlook technology future-proofing. Technological obsolescence is a very real risk with a network investment. A managed network service (such as UCaaS or managed SD-WAN) takes that worry off the table for enterprises. Responsibility for tracking, evaluating, and implementing the latest and greatest network tech rests with the managed service provider, not your IT department.
Consideration #2: Security. The surge in remote working, along with cyber threats that are increasing in volume and complexity, puts a premium on sophisticated, multi-layer security to protect the increasingly susceptible edges of a network, its data, and its users. When evaluating IP-based network solutions, look for security features like next-generation firewall (NGFW), end-to-end encryption, multi-factor authentication, and zero-trust network access (ZTNA). These layers should be available anywhere and anytime, with the ability to grant access based on the user, device, and application.
The SASE (secure access service edge) construct represents the present and future of security for cloud-first networks, with functions that are delivered as-a-service and available wherever they’re needed at a network’s edge. Gartner, the firm credited with coining SASE, expects that by 2024, 40% of enterprises will have explicit strategies to adopt SASE.
Consideration #3: Enriching the customer and employee experience. Let’s face it, organizations are judged by the quality of the digital experience they provide. A high-quality digital experience is the great equalizer, giving small and mid-sized organizations the means to distinguish themselves from much larger, more established competitors. Many legacy network systems struggle to deliver the elevated communications journey that customers and employees expect. As enterprises that lean on legacy systems know all too well, a lack of interoperability and integration can lead to a bumpy ride for network users as they move from one channel, one app, or one system to another. Ultimately, that reflects back on the enterprise. Whatever kind of digital network solution you’re considering, be sure it provides robust integrations with the apps and systems that your customers and employees use most. Remember, a poor employee experience leads to a poor customer experience. These considerations are inextricably intertwined.
Consideration #4: Visibility and control. When weighing your network options, be sure to consider the quality and cost of the overall network management experience. Trying to efficiently manage a network of patchwork legacy systems can be costly and frustrating. There’s no single source of truth on which to base decisions, little clarity about network conditions across locations, and a lack of real-time insight to troubleshoot when things go bump in the night. A good network management platform can change all that, providing a single, highly visual interface through which to view and manage every aspect of a network without having to bounce from screen to screen and portal to portal. Network management decision-making improves, enriching the user experience as a result.
Consideration #5: Keeping IT lean with managed services. IT teams and resources are as lean as we’ve seen them in a while. In addition, many organizations want their IT teams to focus more on the higher-value work of exploring strategic, revenue-generation development opportunities and less on day-to-day network maintenance, management, and troubleshooting. If your organization fits this profile, it’s worth investigating managed network services (UCaaS, for example, or a managed SD-WAN), where the service provider assumes most hands-on network-related responsibilities. At a minimum, look for a network solution that enables you to automate decision-making and tasks more than your legacy system does.
Consideration #6: A partner whose service model aligns with your business priorities. One thing we learned during the pandemic is that an IP-based network is only as good as the communications provider supporting that network. There is great value in having a network provider who treats you as a business partner by making the effort to understand your business and by responding quickly to your needs and your questions, especially during a crisis. A “solution” should be just that: It should help you solve business problems. Some network products and providers do that better than others, with guaranteed no-cost technology upgrades, 100% uptime guarantees, and the like. So, to truly make the move away from a legacy network worthwhile, do your due diligence and don’t settle for “good enough.”