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Avoiding Potholes on Road to Network Transformation

by Emmanuel Moss

A smooth journey requires extensive preparation and planning and flawless execution, as well as ongoing communication.

Moving from legacy platforms to cloud, SIP, and unified communications offers a wide range of benefits -- cost savings, business agility, scalability, and alignment of technology solutions to business requirements. The journey, however, can be surprisingly painful and can include unexpected complications and obstacles. Even a successful project involves a great deal of behind-the-scenes heavy lifting in terms of planning, preparation, and implementation.

One specific issue is aligning the technology to business requirements. In many cases, that alignment is lacking, as solutions are often designed with a narrow technology focus that is either not tied to business needs or is too expensive for the business to afford. Moreover, vendors often craft their proposals more by their capabilities and preferences rather than customer needs. Business context, meanwhile, is critical, as network transformation is not a one-size-fits-all proposition but rather varies dramatically by industry sector.

Addressing this gap requires effective communication between business and IT stakeholders (both in-house and vendors) so that all parties understand requirements and potential benefits of the solution, as well as potential pitfalls. Through this dialogue, the initiative can clearly map IT goals to business goals and ensure that the solution aligns to the customer rather than the vendor, producing greater satisfaction with the effort for all involved. This alignment also allows for more effective tracking of benefits and milestones.

A second common challenge to transformation is building a long-term technology roadmap that identifies and anticipates risks associated with infrastructure and its ability to support the new operating model. The specific problem here is becoming mired in details and losing sight of the long-term goal on the one hand or, on the other hand, overlooking the critical details, which leads to disruption and negative impact on services during the transition.

A big-picture perspective -- one that projects a three- to five-year horizon -- should complement a focus on detail and consideration of how specific changes will impact existing services and other projects. A multi-faceted approach that breaks down the long-term goal into specific milestones, impacts to funding, and required steps can strike the required balance. Decomposing the project into discrete components can demystify the concept of "strategy" and link progress to concrete, trackable events. The simple act of committing the strategy and roadmap to paper, and providing opportunities for dialogue with staff, vendors, and business stakeholders ensures clarity as well as improved understanding of the direction.

A third area of struggle is building an effective business case that articulates the investment required for the initiative and sets expectations regarding potential problems and obstacles. When calculating return on investment, businesses must factor in anticipated dollar savings and benefits such as revenue creation, speed to market, and the cost of obsolescence. What's often missing is insight into the downstream impact of transformation in terms of revenue creation, lost revenue avoidance, or other opportunity costs.

Other soft dollar costs not typically considered include second-year operating costs, cost savings generated outside of the typical budgets or costs centers, and impact to managed services or outsourcing relationships such as additional resource charges and reduced resource charges. When a sponsor fails to consider the positive impacts, it weakens its business case. Meanwhile, if a sponsor understates negative impacts, it will lose credibility with the executives who signed off on the project's funding.

Another key challenge is assessing organizational readiness, and ensuring that the necessary characteristics for a successful transformation are in place. Since the future state involves new technologies and requires new skill sets, identifying key partners for build-and-run functions is essential.

Additionally, the transformational future state may require a retooled organization. As solutions such as hosted or virtualized platforms and outsourced and managed services become larger and larger portions of an IT shop, an IT organization needs to develop and refine skills such as governance, vendor management, and business relationship management. Maturity levels in these areas are as important, if not more so, than technical skills. Businesses must carefully consider the direction of their organizations and talent as they lay out their strategies and roadmaps.

The final area of struggle is developing an effective sourcing strategy that aligns the transformational journey with procurement best practices. Identifying future requirements in terms of specific services -- such as mobility, cloud, and SIP -- is essential. The challenge here is that the sourcing partners best-suited to execute the transition and manage the desired end state are not necessarily those delivering services prior to the initiative.

Developing the sourcing strategy for a transformation presents an opportunity to address end-state requirements, transition challenges, and suitable organizational fit. Specifically, effective negotiations can identify savings to invest in and fund new technology. That said, cultural fit is essential, and, in the long run, often trumps up-front cost. A sourcing event that takes a holistic perspective and considers factors such as technology direction, business needs, and organizational trajectory ensures proper cost as well as cultural alignment.

Underestimating the complexities of a network transformation is a risky proposition. The journey requires extensive preparation and planning and flawless execution, as well as ongoing communication with key stakeholders. By focusing on the key stages of aligning the project with business needs, defining a strategy and roadmap, creating a valid, vetted business case, ensuring organizational readiness, and developing a sourcing approach, executives not only can avoid the pitfalls but also deliver and exceed business expectations.

This article orginally appeared in www.NoJitter.com

About the author

Manny Moss has more than 20 years of practitioner experience in IT outsourcing, with areas of expertise that include data center, network and telecom and services procurement.He has led transformation initiatives in the retail, healthcare and finance sectors.