Making the SD-WAN business case

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Every organisation must make its own business case for SD-WAN. But there are some fundamentals that always apply. One of them is that cost savings may not be the biggest benefit of integrating public internet bandwidth into your network infrastructure. Doing the sums can be hard for global organisations because prices between MPLS and internet circuits vary enormously from country to country.

A better case might be built around SD-WAN as an enabler for digital transformation, a way of delivering a more cost-efficient network that’s fit for the future. Once you’ve defined the type of SD-WAN you want, the size of underlay to meet the business needs in each location, and taken onboard the security requirements, you can start to look at how a well-executed SD-WAN solution cuts costs through automation and provides faster troubleshooting from better visibility.

Think of SD-WAN in terms of delivering a new network service model, where four strategic benefits will appease even the most sceptical CFO:

1.      Optimising resources – automatic device provisioning and central diagnostics means skilled engineers get to add value to more strategic initiatives than just installing hardware.

2.      Faster troubleshooting – single pane of glass monitoring makes it quicker and more effective to troubleshoot and fix problems.

3.      Improved visibility – the tools and visibility you get with SD-WAN solutions will accelerate network configuration and route optimisation.

4.      Better decision-making – access to infrastructure management data provides actionable insights for making more informed decisions, avoiding ‘blame the network’ conclusions.

Realising all of these benefits is not guaranteed and much will depend on how your SD-WAN is implemented. There may be hidden costs depending on the approach you take. If you opt to do it yourself rather that bring in a managed service provider, you may need to supplement in-house skills with new resources, which can be expensive and hard to find.

New technology and shiny new toys

Technical costs and requirements are a big focus for the network heads in organisations. In our experience, the conversation changes when you talk to CIOs. They’re under pressure to establish an agile IT model that delivers on the benefits of digital transformation. Implementing SD-WAN is one piece of the puzzle and can have a huge bearing on the strategy - providing the needed bandwidth to support cloud services, for example, that deliver market innovation and differentiation. This too should be factored into the ROI discussion.

This is part of a wider trend where ICT procurement is becoming more strategic, a joined-up approach to investment with key stakeholders involved, not just the network or IT department. The best way to get value from SD-WAN is to make sure that the implementation is business-focussed and aligned to a broader ICT strategy from the start. The temptation for technologists is playing with shiny new toys, exploring future network projects in isolation and severely limiting the benefits it brings to the wider business.

It’s about proving the value, globally

The way to avoid ‘shiny new toy’ syndrome is to establish the business parameters during the proof of concept (PoC) phase.  Here too, we urge caution. Organisations can rush into PoC too quickly, spurred on by vendors or outside parties. And they often end up with a number of sites that demonstrate some product functions but without any clue as to what an extended SD-WAN programme could deliver.

We recommend a more structured approach to PoCs, where you validate with proof of value. Proving the business case as well as the technology concept involves understanding the business need, analysing the benefits, and using a partner that you can trust to help make informed decisions on a roadmap that delivers on digital transformation goals. Because more stakeholders are involved, the criteria for success is clearly defined and funding for the project is much more likely to be approved.

This approach has been borne out through hard-earned experience here at BT. We’ve implemented SD-WAN for global multinationals where the benefits and challenges have been carefully worked through to define a strategy with a clear return on investment. As I said at the beginning, every organisation must make its own business case for SD-WAN, but you can learn a lot from other people’s experiences.

Complimentary downloads to learn more

1.      The CISO & CIO’s guide to securing networks in a digital age

2.      2019 trends to watch: network services, Ovum

Steve Coakley