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A CEO’s View Of How The Network Saved Us During The Coronavirus

The network that enables the digital world is its backbone. While most humanmade systems around the world were failing during the coronavirus, digital business systems have been delivering us through it.  

The network is the unsung hero of the digital present and our future. It’s the network that makes everything else possible. The network has a critical role to play in delivering every digital value proposition and in protecting that value.

While most of our systems around the world failed as the impacts of the coronavirus spread far and wide, the network and our digital ones didn’t. They excelled when all else was failing—keeping us connected, communicating, and functioning as communities and as businesses. 

No CEO ever thought they’d live in a world where their only channel to market was a digital one. Or that the only way that they could engage with their employees would be online. But here we are. Our digital systems saved us, and the performance and reliability of the network and the tools that are on it were vital to this salvation. 

I recently talked with Dion Joannou, CEO of Accedian, to understand his experience during the height of the crisis. Accedian has a front-row seat to what’s happening in our digital systems as they assure and secure networks for over 2 billion users globally. They just released some insightful research with the Centre for Economics and Business Research on the economic value of improved network and application performance. 

Like how an automobile gets more power, mileage, and reliability through powertrain innovations, their extensive research indicates that investments in network and application effectiveness will add US$ 32.7 billion in direct economic uplift to the U.S. economy in 2024. These direct benefits primarily come from reduced network downtime and improved labor productivity.

Zukis: You’re leading a company through these challenging times, but your business has also played a vital role in helping your customers stay connected through it as well. What stands out from your vantage point during the past several months?

Joannou:  As a business leader, understanding the psychology of people has never been more vital.  In normal times, you hope people aspire to your vision, but now there’s this convergence of professional and personal fears. Leadership communications have been critical, and it’s a lot of the little things too. The details can help or hurt much more so than usual and really get exposed during disruptive times.  

We can’t just be directional as leaders. People need specifics during times like these. Plans need to be well thought out and detailed from business continuity to what happens next.  And simple things that we emphasized, as many did, such as using video for communications, have had a significant impact. People want to see your body language when fear is running rampant; establishing confidence is critical. 

Executives have had to step beyond their comfort zones with technology and the use of these online tools in many cases. Being authentic, sincere, and empathizing throughout the chaos was an unparalleled challenge for many. There isn’t any blueprint for this, and the recovery will be just as challenging as the chaos of the last several months, and it will go on longer.  

With a direct line of sight into what’s happening on the network, has anything surprised you? 

Strangely, the explosion in voice traffic alongside the data traffic surprised us.  That exploded 4X, a much higher rate than what we expected. But I think it just reinforces the panic of the time, and the necessity and the importance of communications through all channels. Just hearing another person’s voice, that kind of basic communication maybe matters more than we’ve come to give them credit for recently. 

Were we communicating enough before as business leaders, in the right ways that people value? 

And the content of the communications is also changing. I think we’re seeing a significant shift in the corporation’s role in the employee social contract. As things return to whatever the new normal will be, employees won’t forget the experience they had during the height of the crisis and what was said and done. 

What have your observations been on the boardroom during this, and any thoughts on moving forward? 

There has been a noticeable trend over the last several decades for financial/accounting competencies in the boardroom. That has served a purpose, but having CIOs on boards is now essential. A lot of CIOs offer a strong customer/commercial aptitude and a strategic perspective. And of course, they understand the world of information technology. Those are all vital competencies that are needed to understand the forces of change impacting companies because of Covid. 

Business continuity has been front and center of the boardroom agenda, but that agenda also needs to consider flexibility and agility in operations right alongside a business model that can adapt to new client needs. 

You mentioned the external forces of change that companies must respond to because of Covid, what does that mean to you as someone focused on the network? 

The virus has introduced new external forces of change for every company that they have to understand and get ahead of.  Market forces, value propositions, competitive advantages, changing economics, customer needs, and wants all are shifting and have to be understood. Combine this with what is happening with 5G, and there’s a fantastic recipe for digital innovation that exists right now, but one that also has a lot of new risks.  

We see first-hand what has been happening in anticipation of 5G. Data from the Network Management Megatrends 2020 survey indicates that 74% of enterprises are connecting IoT devices to corporate networks. Leaders aren’t paying enough attention to this. 

The convergence of operational technology that runs a production process, for example, with the corporate network ups the stakes in terms of what companies can do, but also their cybersecurity risk profile. 

Layer on the external forces of change with this kind of potential for a business model and operational innovation, and it’s a perfect storm of game-changing opportunity and risk.  The impact of the virus on companies will be felt long after the biological threat is under control because of these external forces and the network innovations that are starting to roll out.     

Corporate boards and leadership teams really can’t be thinking about these strategic and operational issues enough.

The network is a vital part of every digital business system—the pandemic has proven that.

Speed and reach are extending the network in new ways, but AI, new approaches to cybersecurity, and other innovations will introduce new capabilities into the network that can power a new generation of social, economic, business, and even environmental innovations.

As the network goes, so goes the digital world and so goes our digital future.

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