Driving transformative experiences with software-defined networks

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Volkswagen Group, one of the world’s largest auto companies, had a problem. Its customer experience scores were suffering – an ominous portent in a fiercely competitive vehicle market. Yet, when the company found the solution to its problem, it wasn’t what they had expected. In fact, it had little direct connection with the customer at all.

The issue was not one of customer experience, but of employee experience. The company had high turnover in key sales and account roles, which meant new staff were constantly starting from scratch. And customers were feeling the impact of that learning process.

By implementing transformative technology to link employee and customer experience, the company was able to minimise churn and, consequently, drive benefits for its customers.

Transformative experiences

Volkswagen Group’s example is not uncommon. As organisations digitally transform, they are increasingly differentiating based on end user experience rather than cost or product alone, and the network is increasingly becoming critical to maintaining and improving that experience.

As enterprise apps increasingly move to the cloud and bandwidth demands boom, the key challenge for network managers is how to improve access, performance, cost and security for all employees.  

This has increased the use of Internet connectivity for non-mission critical applications and created a wider range of connectivity options. A spread of infrastructure brings a number of potential issues, however.

For example, accessing cloud-based services like Microsoft Office 365 or other Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications becomes a problem if there is bandwidth degradation, congestion, or delay. Downtime results in lost revenue, reduced productivity, frustrated workers, and a poor experience for staff, customers, and partners.

Investing in a software-defined future

One way to improve the experience you offer staff and customers is to finetune your infrastructure with a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) layer.

SD-WAN prioritises traffic and manages bandwidth to help network managers get the most out of their connections, with more visibility and the ability to make changes quickly and flexibly. 

So, what are the three most important things infrastructure managers need to know before committing to an SD-WAN implementation?

1. Set your expectations correctly

Despite some SD-WAN customers looking to digital transformation for lower network costs or the opportunity to replace MPLS, Ovum believes neither is a good long-term motivator for deploying an SD-WAN service.

Commissioned by Telstra, Ovum’s whitepaper, "The connectivity guide to successful SD-WAN", proves that customers have come to realise application performance, flexibility, and agility of their infrastructure are the major benefits of SD-WAN. In Ovum’s Enterprise Network

Services Survey, cost generally falls around fifth place.

2. Remember that SD-WAN is only as good as the network infrastructure it sits on

SD-WAN is not a shortcut to move applications onto cheaper Internet connections. Low-cost broadband doesn't suit every application, user, and location. It can lead to congestion and application performance issues at the branch for end users.

SD-WAN works best when it complements a high-quality physical underlay network. Heavy users of VoIP, video conferencing, and other latency-sensitive applications need a high-quality, uncontended business connection - not just the lowest-cost Internet connection.

3. Great experience requires network resiliency at a fundamental level

To improve user experiences, network managers must consider all aspects that impact on connection performance. 

For example, Service Level Agreements that offer 99.9 per cent service uptime guarantee mean there is still potentially more than eight hours per year that your business will experience downtime – that’s an entire working day. 

Having at least two WAN connections, based on different access technologies is recommended to improve the network resiliency. For example, using mobile access as a backup for a small branch site means that if the physical link goes down it will failover to the 4G network.

Connectivity for tomorrow

SD-WAN is a key technology as digital transformation implementations begin to move beyond cost-savings and into driving experiential benefits.

Network managers should take their digital transformation journey as an opportunity to review the range of cloud applications being used now and in the future. Only then can they ensure their network and application performance levels will meet the expectations of their employees and, ultimately, customers.