The networked enterprise: what it is and how it can be achieved?


The rise of cloud technology has changed the game for enterprise collaboration. Cloud platforms have reached critical mass by gaining the trust of participants from multiple industries, including banking, retail and logistics.

Today, it is possible for any organisation, large or small, to tap into an existing collaboration platform and to leverage the established integrations.

The networked enterprise is the next evolutionary step, allowing organisations to transition from an inward-facing single company viewto a holistic view of the enterprise as part of a wider ecosystem of interconnected partners.

‘The cloud has levelled the playing field and enables even smaller suppliers with little to no IT capabilities to tap into platform capabilities that were out of reach only a few years ago,’ says Boris Felgendreher, senior director of marketing EMEA at GT Nexus.

Businesses generate data with every transaction they make, both internally and externally, but on its own, the vast majority of this data is left untapped.

Being a networked enterprise means collecting all of these otherwise disparate pieces of information from across the organisation to calculate, simulate, course-correct and generate insight from a single source of truth.

‘Traditionally a challenge left to Excel, businesses of all shapes and sizes are increasingly turning to the cloud to harness data and connect their data dots to enable advanced decision-making,’ says Karen Clarke, regional VP, Northern Europe at Anaplan.

>See also: The most disruptive enterprise technology trends of 2017

With the wide range of software and tools available, the collaboration marketplace has vastly improved in comparison to where it was five years ago.

Working from home, on-the-go, in a different city or even country has become the norm. This flexibility allows workers not only to keep in contact with their colleagues and clients, but to have instant remote access to files.

Various applications and devices, including Skype, Slack and video-conferencing solutions, have vastly improved communication, while secure cloud-based software has opened teams up to working more collaboratively.

If organisations opt for the right tools, they can have an integrated secure file sync-and-share strategy that will boost collaboration.

‘Many storage and FSS solutions exist for individual requirements, which businesses will typically cobble together in a costly and inefficient way, but organisations can opt for a solution that will intertwine storage with file sync and share,’ says Geoff Barrall, COO at Nexsan.

Risks in the cloud

Employees expect instant access to data, anywhere at anytime, and the cloud has enabled users to collaborate in a far more efficient way. But the public cloud can pose a risk for enterprises that are storing and sharing critical information.

The public cloud is simple and easy to use but can leave data vulnerable to hacks and shadow IT. Enterprises need to have a collaboration strategy in place that can safeguard data while providing users with the instant access they require.

With instances such as the Dropbox hack, enterprises should be cautious of the security risks involved with storing critical data in the public cloud.

‘In order to combat this challenge, companies can turn to private cloud appliances that keep data stored on their premises,’ says Barrall. ‘They can enjoy the full flexibility of the cloud while keeping data secure and privately stored.’

The shift to cloud applications and services means that it is far easier to work while on the move. However, while applications such as email are easy to consume, there are challenges when it comes to other collaborative activities.

For example, work involving analytics is difficult to share. Most tools today rely on people having the physical data on their desktops, then sending the results out as PDFs or spreadsheets. These results are then hard to automatically update and collaborate on.

If you want to work on someone else’s data or analytics results, you don’t have these in the PDFs or spreadsheets. Guiding people to better decisions – whether that is through more automated and connected data preparation or through more in-depth predictive analytics recommendations – should be one of the key aims for networked enterprises.

Similarly, companies have to share more data with their partners, suppliers and customers. Companies are using data as a competitive advantage and to build out services that are more ‘sticky’ for customers.

‘Just sharing a PDF report or emailing some statistics is not enough,’ says Richard Neale, director of EMEA marketing at Birst. ‘Giving them secure and governed access to data and analytics tools that they can use is a big selling point. Building out this approach can help networked enterprises monetise their data.’

>See also: How the Internet of Things is impacting enterprise networks

State of disconnect

Most businesses operate in a state of disconnect, unable to join the dots between related functions. With uncertainty set to be a defining element of 2017, organisations should review whether they have any isolated teams and siloed data.

By doing so, an open conversation is started, allowing information to flow freely across a business and providing the agility that is so symptomatic of success in today’s world.

While every business has characteristics that make it unique, combining these with a culture that encourages an understanding of the work that other functions are doing is key to breaking down departmental barriers.

As many younger workers now expect this ‘cross-pollination’ style, adopting a connected culture also has a pivotal role to play in securing the best talent.

‘Factors such as lack of leadership endorsement or absence of incentive for employees to buy into a new culture can hold back success,’ says Clarke. ‘However, when it comes to embracing change across an entire company, a bottom-up approach will simply not work. Encouraging the workforce to think beyond their immediate teams is only half the battle.

‘To do so, it’s essential to motivate employees by providing tools that are intuitive and easy to access. From a more technological perspective, being able to integrate collaborative aids with legacy systems is likely to make the CIO very happy by avoiding unnecessary costs and disruption.’

A truly networked enterprise can overcome the massive fragmentation problems that exist today, by bringing tools – and the people using them – into the fold.

Studies show that organisations with high collaboration maturity achieve better outcomes such as increased individual productivity, enhanced customer experience and accelerated innovation.

With the rise of non-routine work, employees need the freedom to choose the right tools, in order to deal with increasingly complex problems that haven’t been solved before. A recent study found that 81% of employees feel that the freedom to try new tools impacts their job satisfaction.

‘By providing out-of-the box and custom integrations with the tools employees are already familiar with, collaboration hubs meet the needs of the workforce today and tomorrow,’ says John Schneider, VP of product strategy at Jive Software.

Big business

Big data means big opportunities for businesses in the future. Machine learning technologies are poised to unleash powerful innovations the likes of which the world has never seen.

In the meantime, for most companies, all that information is just sitting there – an untapped resource waiting to be discovered and utilised.

According to Schneider, nearly 40% of organisations don’t have a defined collaboration strategy. ‘This is a tremendous missed opportunity for many companies who still haven’t made the move to become a networked company,’ he says. ‘A hub breaks that data out of its silos, making it visible and searchable so you can begin to understand it and use it for competitive advantage today.’

>See also: Enterprise networks are proving to be blockers to digital transformation

In 2017, the most impactful collaborations will not only take place within organisations, but between them. Digital disruption means that businesses are facing rapidly changing markets, with both competitors and new entrants ready to change entire sectors quickly.

Recent research by Fujitsu found that over half of global business leaders believe their organisation won’t exist in its current form by 2021, as a direct result of digital disruption.

To survive, businesses must develop visionary ideas at speed by connecting new areas of expertise. This means co-creating with other companies to rapidly develop and scale new solutions.

Technology will be vital in developing strong and productive relationships between companies, from providing messaging and meeting tools to using new systems like augmented reality to help businesses to share their expertise.

‘This is why we’re investing in the digital infrastructure that will help businesses to change the way they work for the better,’ says Conway Kosi, head of managed infrastructure services at Fujitsu EMEIA. ‘By using collaborative tools, businesses can create strong partnerships across sectors and geographies to secure their success for the future.’

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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