Whether a line of business is deploying a new IoT application, new cloud service, or new compliance policy, IT professionals need to understand what is required from the network and what their role will be so they can deliver the required network services on time and securely.
In this part of the report, we’ll examine how three key IT roles—network strategist, network practitioner, and IT leader—are changing and identify the new skill sets these professionals will need in order to oversee a rapidly evolving enterprise networking environment.
Titles: Network strategist, IT/network architect, network manager
Titles: CIO, VP IT infrastructure, director of IT
Titles: Network engineer, network administrator, network support engineer
It should come as no surprise that as the enterprise network evolves, so do the skills that are needed to build and manage it. In two recent surveys, IT leaders and network strategists reveal the skills gaps they are seeing in the usual and not-so-usual places.
Data from our IT talent survey reveals that across IT in general, advanced technologies such as cloud expertise, enterprise architecture, big data and analytics, DevOps, and cybersecurity top the list of technical skills and expertise in need.1 Incidentally, the need for expertise in the first four skills gaps topics—cloud, enterprise architecture, data analytics, and DevOps—offers strong evidence of IT’s changing roles.
In our 2019 Global Networking Trends Survey, we asked IT leaders and network strategists to rate their team’s readiness in building and maintaining a network that meets the future demands of their organization.
Overall, leaders and strategists express a fair level of confidence in their network team’s capabilities. IT leaders identified analytics and AI, together with business skills and application development skills, as needing the most attention. While network strategists also recognized analytics and AI as a gap, they identified IT/OT integration, automation, and network DevOps as the other key areas for improvement.2
Our own IT talent survey reveals that a lack of business acumen is the number-one skills gap in IT today.1 Filling this gap will be critical as organizations transition to intent-based networks. By speaking the language of the business, IT can effectively translate business objectives, or intent, into high-level IT policies, which in turn can determine infrastructure and device configurations.
In the near future, some IT roles will evolve into crossover positions that span more than one area. Network administrators, for example, who add programming or data analytics capabilities to their skill set can fill an emerging role in a way that effectively broadens their contribution and increases the value of their work.
These crossover roles will require unique and much-sought-after combinations of discrete technical areas and language-based skills. For example, practitioners might program the network via APIs and programming languages. Or NetOps and SecOps teams might collaborate to build streamlined operational workflows between the two teams.
— Susie Wee, SVP and CTO, Cisco DevNet
Undoubtedly, the most pressing job for network strategists will be to build an effective, low-risk roadmap to a more agile and business-aligned network architecture. Strategists will also need to optimize IT by creating self-service network catalogs, integrating the network into IT processes, integrating NetOps and SecOps workflows, and converging IT and operational technology (OT). Organizations will need help with designing network-enabled business innovations like location-based personalization, workplace utilization optimization, or remote expert applications.
Cisco Distinguished Engineer Joe Clarke believes that the network strategist role will increasingly encompass functions that are currently off the radar of most strategists today. Network strategists will likely evolve along one or more of the following tracks:
The business translator focused on aligning IT performance with business intent:
The translator will work to better turn the needs of the business into service-level requirements that can be applied and monitored across the network. The translator will also work to better use the network and network data for business value and innovation.
The network integration architect focused on integration of network and IT domains:
Integrators will work to integrate the network into the IT process and with external systems. The integrator will also be responsible for the integration between network domains to ensure that intent is delivered across all relevant domains.
The network guardian focused on bridging network and security architectures:
Guardians will build the distributed intelligence of the network into the security architecture and SecOps processes. The network guardian will have a critical role in the convergence of networking and security.
The network data architect focused on leveraging network analytics and AI:
The network data architect will work to better leverage the vast amounts of data traversing the network and emerging AI-enabled tools to improve IT services and inform the business.
As digital transformation becomes central to an organization’s strategy, network practitioners will need to focus less on repetitious management tasks and more on value-added services that support business goals. This will become easier to do as increasing levels of automation in advanced networks begin eliminating the IT engineers’ more time-consuming tasks.
— Joe Clarke, distinguished engineer, Cisco
As intent-based networks become more prevalent, network practitioners’ roles will evolve to support one or more network operations pillars: lifecycle, process, or assurance. In this scenario, network practitioners will need to develop skills to carry out one or more of these potential roles:
The network commander focused on network lifecycle management: The commander will take charge of the processes and practices that ensure the overall health and continuous operation of the network controller and underlying network.
The network orchestrator focused on policy translation and automation: Orchestrators need to understand how business needs translate into network policy and then manage the automation of those policies. Orchestrators will also be responsible for policy alignment with other network and IT domains.
The network detective focused on network and service assurance: Detectives will be adept at using and tuning network assurance tools that use advanced analytics and AI to ensure that the network delivers on the promised business intent. Detectives will need to integrate with IT service management processes, and they will also work closely with the SecOps team to ensure that network anomalies are flagged and potential security holes are closed.
Building technical skills now is critical for delivering successful digital transformation in the future. In our 2019 Global Networking Trends Survey, we invited IT leaders to share what they are currently doing to develop their talent. Reskilling, expanding, and rebalancing are the top approaches as shown here.
While leaders have concerns about reskilling, it continues to be the preferred approach for both IT business skills and IT technical skills.
According to Guillermo Diaz, SVP of customer transformation at Cisco, these five strategies can help leaders build a networking team equipped to power a digitally transformed business.
— Colin Seward, CIO in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Russia, Cisco
The 2020 Global Networking Trends Report gives IT leaders, strategists, and practitioners insights into current and future networking trends across the enterprise and offers essential guidance on networking technology, operations, and talent. The report is based on original Cisco research and includes new data from the 2019 Global Networking Trends Survey of 2061 IT leaders and strategists from 13 countries. In addition, Cisco leaders, fellows, and distinguished engineers provide expert analysis and recommendations for organizations transitioning to advanced networking technologies.
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“By 2025, 75% of networking teams will spend less than a third of their time maintaining the network status quo and two-thirds delivering innovation and creating value for the business.”
— Joe Clarke, distinguished engineer, Cisco