So I have to give credit where credit is due… a lot of this post is directly inspired by the book Network Maturity Model By William J. Bauman et al. It’s written in a very academic style, but there are a ton of little gems in there which I think are worth pointing out. I’m expanding a lot on some of these key points, so please feel free to drink from the source rather than the muddy water down river. 🙂
The first section of the actual maturity model deals with Enterprise Network Leadership. I think it’s important to say that when I’m using the word Enterprise, I’m not talking about a large organization. I’m just talking about the business. Whether you are responsible for a few switches and a router, firewall or UTM appliance, or you are responsible for a multinational organization with a global WAN, several large campus environments, and smaller branches spanning the globe. I think the same general guidelines apply.
Have a Plan
The network leaders are responsible for creating a network business plan that aligns with business strategy. Now keep in mind, that there are a LOT of very talented people in the industry who are consultants. These hired guns are often jumping from engagement to engagement, so this might not apply to them. But for those who are in an Network Operation role, it’s critically important to understand:
- What the business goals are?
- Who the LOB application stakeholders are?
- What their requirements are? What applications are important to them?
- How the LOB stakeholders directly impact the profitability of the business?
and most importantly;
- How the ability, or lack thereof, to successfully run the network can impact the business directly?
The Network Leaders are responsible for creating both the vision/strategy, and the specific policies and procedures to support the vision in the short, mid, and long term. From specific policies such as acceptable-use statements to longer term procedures such as a planned equipment refresh on a well defined rotational schedule to avoid a massive CAPEX hit, the network leader is responsible for making sure the network has the appropriate capacity, resiliency, availability, redundancy, etc.. to meet the business requirements.
To create the vision/strategy from which the policies and procedures are derived, they should also be ensuring that the requirements of those stockholders are taken into account when planning out the network and all the operational tasks around it. This is very broad and can be summed up as “understand the business requirements”.
Understanding the Business Requirements
This one gets thrown around a lot in our industry. But to be honest, I find that VERY few hardcore network professionals actually take the time to do this. It’s my opinion, obvious bias aside, that the network is one of the fundamental pillars of almost every network in the world now. I’m choosing not to use the word “foundation” because I don’t believe that’s true.
A foundation to me is something that business is built upon. Imagine if you will that a business is responsible for making hand-made clothes. Or is responsible for growing food. I think it’s obvious that the network is not the MOST important thing. In both of these examples, I don’t think any would argue that the business will be incapable of creating it’s product without the network.
But imagine if the network is down and they are unable to receive orders from their customers? What if the network is down and they are unable to use their ERP system to ship orders? Or to send invoices?
I think we can all agree that if the products sit on the shelf, it’s not a good thing. Money doesn’t come in. And soon, global economic catastrophe is created, cats sleeping with dogs, total chaos!!!
All because a network went down.
(OK… maybe I’m exaggerating a little. )
So what kind of things should be taken into account when we say “understand the business requirements”? Here’s some of the top of my list:
What governance, risk, or compliance initiatives does the company have to adhere to?
GRC? Huh? Depending on the specific industry, country, or region of the world that the company operates in, there may many legally enforced burdens that are placed on the company. The major examples everyone seems to know are SOX, Graham Leech, HIPPA, etc.. These all have different, although often complimentary, requirements that depending on the nature of the business, you need to be aware of as a network leader.
If you are a network leader and you are having trouble getting budget approval for some much needed networking upgrades. Learn about which GRC requirements apply to your organization. It’s amazing how quickly the purse strings open when the business leaders understand that the failure to do these upgrades may have a direct impact on a GRC requirement that they can be personally held liable for.
What are the different Line of Business applications and how critical are they to the success or failure of the business?
Most companies have a LOT of applications they “need” to do their business. But there is a BIG difference between their Microsoft Lync implementation which they use to increase collaboration between globally dispersed teams, and their ERP system which is responsible for making sure that orders are received, shipping requests are sent to the warehouse, and invoices are sent to the customer.
If you are a network leader and you are having trouble getting budget for some much needed networking upgrades. Learn which of the LOB applications are directly related to the business’s ability to take orders, ship product, or invoice customers. When requesting budget for the upgrade, make sure you make it clear what hourly business cost can for network downtime.
An easy way to calculate this, if you have access to the numbers, is to look at the annual report. Figure out what the revenue was last year, divide by 365. divide by 8 and you know have the hourly cost of downtime.
For me, these are two of the most important “understand the business” requirements, but I’m sure there are a ton of others ones. PLease feel free to call out more examples in the comments! I’d love to hear them!