The growing importance of the network in the digital-first economy

As companies across all industries re-orient their focus to a customer-centric view of the world, the primary enabler of digital transformation is the network in all its forms

The growing importance of the network in the digital-first economy

What happens when you have great experiences with a brand? For most people it captivates them, changes their thinking and resets their expectations.

I had the opportunity to work at Walt Disney World in the central reservations department, taking phone calls from families, travel agents and special events coordinators who all wanted to share in the trademarked Disney magic. At my core I was a salesperson, leveraging a well-structured process to guide “guests” to the highest-revenue resort rooms.

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I had the opportunity to see first hand the value of a great customer experience. People from around the globe travel thousands of miles to get a slice of the Disney “guest” experience. And somehow the theme, view or location of a hotel room most people will spend little to no waking hours in matters. It matters only because it’s part of the experience and therefore not rationalized independently.

In short: The customer experience matters. Shocking, right?

Customers drive the digital agenda

Today companies recognize customers have taken control of the interactions and are driving the agenda. Quickly fading are discussions about seamless omni-channel customer experiences, replaced by conversations on how to enable the customer journeys across touchpoints.

At the heart of digital transformation is the democratization of technology where tech-savvy consumers are demanding increased transparency, speed and value. It’s a scary new reality for many business and technology leaders who recognize prior investments in employee training and retention, long-established procedures and policies, and channel and back-office technologies are poorly aligned with a customer-centric business model. 

While new customer-centric strategies reinvent companies from the outside in, it’s important to recognize the role of networks in the evolution of the customer experience. In our highly connected, Internet of Everything, mobile, big data, digital-first world, companies increasingly don’t control the network connecting them to their customers. Instead, consumers are making the most important and impactful decisions related to the customer experience: their mobile provider and devices.

If a customer can’t access the internet at your location or the latest version of an operating system causes your application to crash, the customer doesn’t take the time to discover who’s at fault; they simply move on, often to a competitor.

As a result, leading-edge companies are looking at ways to provide customers with options. Not getting a strong 4G/LTE signal? Here’s free Wi-Fi. A backhoe cut the MPLS link? No problem, we’ll connect via SD-WAN. Device not working? Let us help you on one of our tablets. Not sure how to install or use our app? We can walk you through it.

Software-defined networks key to this customer-centric model

Underlying the connections in this new, evolving, customer-centric model is a software-defined network (SDN), which is able to make decisions in real time on how best to balance competing workloads. Working in conjunction with cloud brokerage tools, the lines of distinction that separate devices, networks, servers and applications will fade away, enabling the highly distributed cloud of the future. In essence, cloud isn't about technology, but rather by encompassing the entire technology stack, it becomes the delivery mechanism of the customer experience and thereby fosters competitive advantages.

The importance of the network, both corporate and third party, has never been more critical to the overall success of a business. Delivering a great customer experience now means taking the extra step and protecting a customer’s ability to interact digitally. And as the digital footprints of businesses continue to increase and networks evolve, connectivity will move from being nice to have to can’t operate without.

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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