While no single user cares about the enterprise network per se, the enterprise network infrastructure is the vital underpinning for the connected business. In the past, the enterprise network resembled veins that delivered the necessary energy to the relevant part of the organisation. But the increased dependence on cloud solutions, the higher degree of collaboration, and the growth of Big Data through new technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) have transformed the enterprise network into the nervous system of your business.

Like the nervous system for the human body, the enterprise network represents the gateway to everything outside the enterprise, providing it with a "smart touch" (see below).

The enterprise network is the nervous system of the connected business

While many tech management leaders look at the enterprise network as a commodity, CIOs need to realise that the enterprise network is a key asset to elevate and strengthen your organisation's market position. The enterprise network forms part of the competitive advantage of the connected business against its peers.  Enterprise networks run applications more efficiently and reliably and thus boost user experience. Poor network quality of service translates into poor user experience.

Awareness, availability, and affordability of broadband connectivity are the key drivers that have an impact on the future of the enterprise network. All businesses want to run services in a secure, scalable, interoperable, and reliable fashion. The future enterprise network will be efficient and more sustainable.

Leading CIOs will ensure an enterprise network strategy that targets several focus areas, including these five:

  1. Mesh together network professionals with business professionals. As much as networking professionals try to think about the business, few understand the business and what its goals are. This means networks will ultimately be designed under the wrong assumptions. Every network project should have business perspective and representative, especially from departments or business units affected by the network.
  2. Mirror business processes. Forrester has found during client inquiries that less than 5% of networking organisations have a strategy that reflects actual business requirements. Since the network touches every part of the business, every network should have strategy that is in sync with business.
  3. Embrace open standards to build an open network ecosystem. The main challenge is to ensure interoperable systems and that all the network bits and pieces work together seamlessly. Standard APIs and open standards, such as those backed by the Open Networking Foundation, are critical for success.
  4. Integrate management of mobile network elements seamlessly. The significance of mobile moments for customer experience and employee empowerment requires a close integration by the CIO of business internal mobile network infrastructure like campus or indoor networks with the external mobile infrastructure that is managed by the traditional mobile network operators. This integration is essential for a true end-to-end experience by the end user.
  5. Ramp up integration skills for legacy network assets. Today's core network infrastructure is not yet ready for SDN. Many elements of the legacy network are still on proprietary hardware. The challenge is that if one overlays the legacy network with SDN-capable technologies, certain functions will get lost as the underlying legacy infrastructure will not support them.

High-quality enterprise networks help drive business success

Of course, the enterprise network needs to run efficiently, but this is just a basic requirement. More often than not, CIOs focus on consolidation and rationalisation of the enterprise network as their main network strategy objective. Not enough CIOs view network projects as driving true business value, yet business users and consumers will embrace more services that depend on a modern enterprise network infrastructure. Successful CIOs will ensure that their enterprise networks are up to the task of meeting and exceeding these expectations as enterprise networks.

Dan Bieler and Andre Kindness are principal analysts at Forrester Research serving CIOs