Window on WANs

May 26 2009   9:10PM GMT

Networking and IT vendors prepare for the changing face of customers

Tim Scannell Profile: TScannell

Now that the last WAN appliance has been packed away and that forgotten computer charger tucked into a drawer, never to be reunited with its owner, Interop 2009 is just a memory. 

However, one question may be lingering long after collected business cards are reviewed and sales prospects investigated: Who are the customers of tomorrow and how will their personal and business makeup impact the way communications products are bought, sold and marketed to the masses?

The answer to this question will have a huge impact on the long-term strategies of such leading networking vendors as Cisco, which believes newly empowered employees, borderless collaborative computing and green initiatives will play a significant role in the psychology and demographics of next-generation buyers, said Tom Wesselman, senior manager of software development at Interop.

The newer generation of enterprise executives and those who will make key purchase decisions over the next decade are very motivated by such things as who has control within a network, universal tele-presence, and consumer-driven technology options, he explained, noting the impact of such devices as Apple’s iPhone on their personal and work habits.

Instant messaging is just the beginning of this brave, new and pervasively connected world, Wesselman notes. “The idea is to reach anyone with a single click and with a high rate of success and affordability,” he added. This involves an “aggregation of all types of presence in an environment to deliver a holistic view of where you are on the globe at any time.”

If this sounds vaguely like religion, then so be it. From Cisco’s standpoint, it is the religion of survivability as an increasing number of competitors nip at its heels in the WAN and other communications sectors.

March of the millenials

A very healthy stone’s throw away from the Interop bustle, at the new Palazzo mega-hotel, Forrester Research held its popular IT Forum that focused a lot on reinventing business strategies, avoiding “slow death” during this tight economy, and preparing for the next wave of consumers.  It was luck, or just professional courtesy, that Forrester principal analyst Rob Koplowitz was not driven from the stage by the hotel’s staff when he blithely said the current recession was necessary and ultimately good for business. He peppered his presentation with talk about new customers –  called millenials –  and a new river of opportunity for companies smart enough to re-think their competitive stance.

Opinions aside, the facts supporting the emergence of a new generation of corporate leaders are sobering: Right now, 76 million baby boomers will be retiring and 46 million GenXers are entering the workforce. By next year, there will be approximately 31 million millenials , who do not think or act like previous generations, in the workforce.

These next-gen workers believe in collective social action and entrepreneurship, and have no intention of working for a single, monolithic company (which may be a wake-up call for Cisco, IBM and others), according to Forrester research. Roughly 45% of these millenials are likely to engage in volunteer service, and 78% will embrace innovation and new ideas.  Sixty-four percent will start a new business, 60% will support working with other countries, and 67% will make environmental protection a priority, Forrester points out.

To no one’s surprise, this new cadre of leaders and customers will also be the most plugged in and social networking-aware group ever. Right now, about 39% of these people visit FaceBook at least once a week and 10% drop by the social site several times a day. This means the leaders of tomorrow are more likely to connect and be connected via the Web and a whole raft of social networking tools and techniques.

Keeping it simple

While research continues to define and categorize this new workforce, a lot of companies aren’t waiting for the final tallies to make changes in their WAN and technology structures.  Approximately 51% of the the North American and European executives who took part in a Forrester survey report they are already making use of Web 2.0 tools for capturing and sharing knowledge.   39% said they were fostering collaboration within a division or a group.

“Tagging is very important, as are security policies, and what can be shared and with whom,” noted Cisco’s Wesselman.  “It gets almost instantly complicated” , which means collaborative tools need to be extremely open and infrastructure services have to be up to the task of making these things happen.

One way to improve the capabilities of your WAN – besides deploying optimization tools – is to take an applications approach and used agent technology to prioritize traffic, said Wesselman.   A lot of unified communications applications, for example, are software solutions designed to run across networks so applying prioritization does help speed things along.

Simplifying the basic WAN and LAN structures also helps, as an alternative to just increasing bandwidth or adding expensive communications lines.

In short, less complexity equals more flexibility and performance.

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