The CIO’s New Mandate: Deliver Digital Agility Now

Nov 12, 2020, 00:00 AM by Michele Blankemeyer
How a reshuffled world is changing business needs and accelerating digital transformation

How a reshuffled world is changing business needs and accelerating digital transformation


Forward-thinking businesses around the globe had already taken steps toward digital transformation (DX) before the pandemic hit. But the impact of this crisis has made the digital shift—and the digital agility that comes along with it—more of an immediate priority.

“Companies that had a decent level of business agility pre-Covid were able to respond and move quickly, while those that did not are really struggling,” says Zeus Kerravala, a principal with ZK Research. “From an IT leadership perspective, you need to have the capability to change the way the company operates, almost overnight. Everyone’s in the office, and then no one is. In retail, everyone is in the store and then no one is—and every combination in between.”

We talked to Zeus Kerravala and Amit Verma, VP Solution Engineering & Technology for Comcast Business, about the solutions that CIOs and business decision makers need to deliver digital agility.

How has Covid-19 reshaped business needs and accelerated the trend toward digital transformation?

Amit Verma: Companies that had already begun the journey toward digital transformation fared much better than those businesses that hadn’t yet begun the process before the pandemic.

Having a digital business or a plan for digital transformation allowed those companies to adapt to changes very quickly. Another driver of digital transformation is gaining the ability to learn from their customers and make changes very quickly to adapt to their changing needs. The digital business model allows for that much more quickly than a traditional work process or workflow-driven business model.

Zeus Kerravala: Industry transformation used to take decades, but the rise of digital technologies has allowed business disruption to happen a lot more quickly. Look at the rise of e-commerce, or ridesharing. Covid really put an exclamation point on that. It’s Darwinism: It’s not the strongest company that survives, it’s the one that is the most adaptable to change.

Graph - Retail e-commerce


What are the networking implications of long-term remote working that CIOs and business decision makers need to think about?

ZK: If you look at the building blocks of digital transformation—things like IoT, cloud, mobility, AI—they’re all network-centric paradigms. You can’t have access to the cloud or have a mobile app without a network. I’ve worked with many organizations on digital transformation projects, and the ones that fail invariably fail because the network is not ready.

AV: Companies need to look at both the network infrastructure and security. If you don’t have the virtual private network (VPN) infrastructure to support increased traffic, then you could hinder hundreds or thousands of employees working remotely by back-hauling all that traffic to a data center or to a head office location and then going out over the internet.

Because of remote working, the network perimeter has either significantly expanded or completely disappeared.

VPN appliances to extend the office network into someone’s home can help extend the secured perimeter. They allow you to control how the traffic and information can traverse to the internet directly from remote locations.

colorful 3-d shapes

Also, in this “new normal” world, businesses are realizing that they don’t need employees to work from an office location. They can work from anywhere, so you will have largely distributed talent pools that need to collaborate, access applications, and share content and files securely.

But if you have all the data, content and the company’s resources in a central location, it increases latency. To help increase productivity and prevent a negative employee experience, it is imperative to move some of the latency-sensitive applications and content to the edge of the network. However, most of the traditional VPN infrastructures are built for 10% to 20% of employees working remotely—it doesn’t scale well when you move to 100% remote. So remote working has significantly increased the need for security and changed how organizations think about their security.

Companies are increasing digital investments due to Covid-19

Percentage of companies increasing spend on DX efforts


Digital infrastucture


Number of planned digital initiatives


Automation of IT operations


Innovating digital products and services


IT training and staffing


Operational resilience and disaster recovery


Application development


Supply chain resilience

Source: IDG


How do companies that have successfully transitioned to an agile digital business model gain a competitive advantage over their peers?

Graphic - 52% 

ZK: I think it’s possible to achieve market leadership without being agile for a brief moment, but if you want to sustain that leadership, you need to have the necessary digital agility to constantly disrupt not only your own industry, but disrupt your own business. You see that in the rise of virtual interactions, and how important customer service is.

From a CIO perspective, the network has never been more important. You need the ability to move resources to and from the cloud; you need automation; you need integrated security.

AV: Organizations that are moving to cloud applications and those with a managed services provider can be more agile. More agile organizations can quickly add resources and adapt their network to changing needs.

That might look like a restaurant that has moved everything to a drive-through and has people with tablets taking orders outside, or perhaps they’re adding other line-busting applications like mobile ordering. Now, they need Wi-Fi infrastructure outdoors to handle that and speed up order processing.

Or a manufacturer that shifts to remotely monitoring machines and production lines, suddenly needs powerful Wi-Fi networks or other connectivity in the warehouse or on the production floor. Healthcare organizations need more bandwidth to serve patients through telemedicine or exchange data-heavy medical imaging files.

This "new normal" requires more data-intensive content delivery, as companies move toward things like online learning and collaboration, and remote showrooming. What impact does that have on network needs and achitecture?

AV: The networks will need the ability to ramp up or ramp down bandwidth as demand changes. Or they need to reorganize connection points and re-prioritize locations and applications.

That’s where your broadband Internet and Ethernet-based connections provide the ability for you to increase bandwidth. We’ve had a lot of customer requests to increase their bandwidth., and we’ve been able to do it quickly and, if possible, without even having to send somebody to the site. In addition to bandwidth needs, companies need the agility of software-defined, application-aware networks to execute those new processes.

Three-quarters of companies say that IT has earned a seat at the executive table due to the crisis, according to an IDG MarketPulse study. Looking ahead, what will successful CIOs need to keep in mind as they help lead their companies through the next year?


of companies have given IT a much more strategic voice at the company as a result of the crisis.

Source: IDG

ZK: Having the right network is really important. We’re in a world where we’re connecting more things in more places. We’re connecting more things to the cloud, and we have edge computing coming in. You can do so much more with a network now, but it needs to have security, and it needs to be more resilient.

AV: The role of IT has become even more important. Previously, IT was an enabler, but now IT is one of the most critical pieces of any business operation. So, without forward-looking IT leadership, without agile infrastructure and networks that can handle the new demands, without the ability to quickly connect new applications and processes to employees and customers, a lot of businesses will struggle. Many companies are hectically looking for solutions, and they need agile partners that can enable them to meet these new challenges.

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