5th February 2015

Maintaining a Competitive Advantage

I was recently asked an interesting and somewhat conflicting question: whilst it is generally accepted that information technology is increasingly being used by businesses to create competitive advantage, why is it that the network infrastructure appears to be increasingly viewed as an after-thought and all too willingly handed over to organisations who have little understanding or interest in the intended business outcome?

Can organisations regard information as strategically important, whilst paying little attention to their network infrastructure? Maybe…

There’s gold in that there (big) data. The first phase of the digital revolution was about connecting people. It brought people and businesses together for social interaction, shopping and commercial gain. The second phase of the digital revolution will reshape our world in at least as dramatic way. This phase will concern using data analytics to provide the meaningful, actionable information necessary to optimise how businesses, individuals and society make decisions. Organisations that have access to the most powerful technology in this field will have a huge competitive advantage over those that do not.

Whilst accepting that information technology is critical, what about the underlying network infrastructure? My previous blog looked into the impact the IoT and big data on data-centre infrastructure and attempted to shed some light on its strategic importance. These new architectures will present data-centre managers with significant challenges and consequently, the infrastructure will undoubtedly be critical but the vast majority of organisations will outsource this infrastructure to service providers able to support it.

With most of the organisations critical information cloud based, what will become of the enterprise network now that it’s only a means of accessing cloud-based services? It is not surprising to assume that for many businesses, their infrastructure’s importance has been somewhat downgraded.

Despite this ‘downgrade’ an area where the enterprise network infrastructure is playing an increasingly critical role is in building services. Organisations increasingly want to take advantage of the cost and management benefits associated with adopting a common IP infrastructure.

However, in doing so they often under-estimate the issues associated with creating a consolidated, robust, secure building services LAN. What’s more, this requirement is being driven by Corporate Real Estate who maybe relatively inexperienced in deploying network technologies. ICT departmental engagement is often lacking as they focus on their BAU priorities and also they have little experience in building services sub-systems.

Consequently, the issues surrounding the interoperability and security of often disparate building subsystems on a single, converged network are often overlooked. This can have serious repercussions, especially when the infrastructure maybe required to support critical ‘life’ systems. Even if ‘life’ systems are taken out of the equation, the cost associated with a building becoming uninhabitable due to a systems interoperability failure or security breach are hardly insignificant!

How we mitigate these risks whilst simultaneously minimising both capital and operational expenditure will be critical if organisations are to achieve their desired, ‘intelligent’ outcomes. This issue clearly illustrates the critical nature of an ‘intelligent’ building’s network infrastructure and any organisation paying little attention to its integrity may end up paying a very high price indeed.

Mike Hook