Is your personal relevance gap growing faster than your waistline?

Staying relevant is critical to staying employed

Is your personal relevance gap growing faster than your waistline?
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In a previous series of blogs, I talked about why your network is the critical foundation of the digital transformation and of the business benefits of moving to a new IP network architecture. I talked about how networks help you control time, how the effects of Metcalfe’s and Reed’s Laws result in wealth creation, and why there is such a tension between your dumb pipes and your smart business. But it’s not just the technology that matters in this coming digital transformation; it’s also your skills and ultimately your career.

+ Also on Network World: IT departments becoming ‘obsolete’ +

If you’re within a couple of years of retirement, maybe this isn’t important. But if you’re still a few years or more away from hanging out at the beach, the golf course or the fishing pond, then this blog is for you.

Digital transformation is changing business models, disrupting industries and stretching the infrastructure that underpins everything to the breaking point. It’s also making more of us less relevant by the day, unless we transform along with it.

The relevance gap

Because IT is so often in the business of saying “no,” users are going around traditional IT and buying cloud services directly. User expectations, set by the cloud providers and hyperscale companies they use personally, are rising faster than your IT group’s ability to keep pace. And your pace is constrained by the limitations of your outdated network. We call this the relevance gap.

Adding change means adding risk. A big part of IT is about risk reduction, so change is usually viewed as bad. But once an industry goes into a digital transition, every passing day of maintaining the status quo makes your company’s relevance gap—and your personal relevance gap—grow larger. That’s a really bad place to be. In this environment, the biggest risk is to do nothing.

Carpe diem

Some of the technology needed for this transformation isn’t yet proven or pre-packaged. It’s new and evolving, and you have a choice to make: 

  1. Stay in the past, hug the nearest tree as the tsunami sweeps past you, and hope for the best
  2. Trust your future to a vendor and hope they don’t lock you in with proprietary solutions again
  3. Take control of your own destiny and make the scary leap to the new high ground, which means learning new skills to help you ride the wave

While perhaps the scarier path, option 3 is also the one that means you will create the time advantage we discussed in a previous post. In option 3, you will automate the rudimentary and repetitive tasks you probably spend a lot of time on today. That frees up time for you and your team to create meaningful business impact and new innovations. Instead of being designed out of a job, you design yourself into an invaluable position—one that takes you out of doing just the tactical so you can deliver strategic, business-oriented value. That’s a much safer place to be—and way more fun.

Staying relevant is critical to staying employed. People who have the latest skills are the first to be hired and the last to be let go. They are the first to get assigned to the transformational projects that propel your company. And they are more likely to get the bigger bonus or extra stock at the end of the year.

Where to start?

Technology is one part of the journey, and in previous blogs I’ve talked about moving to new IP architectures. Make no mistake: You will have to learn new skills. Fortunately, there is a lot of training available online, not to mention free software you can use as you build your new skills. You might want to read the book The Phoenix Project for a bit of inspiration.

I’m a big believer in learning by doing, not just reading, so here are a few places you could begin:

  • Put in a fabric architecture instead of traditional routers and switches.
  • Swap out hardware, like application accelerators and load balancers, with software networking solutions.
  • Begin to automate processes, using OpenFlow commercially available automation tools.

Get started with these types of New IP network elements within your existing environment, even as you build out new environments for the new and more agile parts of the business you support.

The courage of leadership

But the technology and the new skills that go with it aren’t enough. People, culture and processes are the other part of the journey. It’s the people, culture and processes that benefit from the speed of innovation, the efficiency of automation and the productivity of embedded intelligence that New IP infrastructure brings.

It’s also those same people, culture and ingrained processes that can impede progress if change is perceived as too intimidating. Sometimes the temptation of status quo is all too comforting. You have to bring people on the journey with you. Show them how they can move from performing manual tasks that can be automated to creating new services and new value that move the business forward. Show how they can change from being in the business of saying “No” or “not now” to being in the business of saying “Yes” and “right now.”

Which way will you go? Will you be a leader on this journey from status quo to new IP? Leaders start conversations. Leaders get noticed. Leaders have impact. Anyone can be a leader regardless of level, title or permission. But leadership takes courage and the willingness to try new things. And yes, it can mean the risk of failure and retuning until you get it right.

Just do it

It doesn’t matter so much where you start. What matters is that you get started. Give yourself the opportunity to build new skills and, equally important, built new perspective and experiences. Give yourself the opportunity to iterate in small steps with small stakes now so that as the stakes rise, you have the right foundation and competencies to rise to the new challenges. Give yourself the opportunity to build experiences with new technology, build leadership skills for change and build your resume.

In an environment that’s undergoing massive change, where businesses are moving quickly to digitize and industries are being transformed, the biggest risk—for yourself and your company—is to do nothing. Don’t let your relevance gap grow bigger by the day. Get started.

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