All your life experiences and business priorities are increasingly getting intertwined - from social media to cloud computing.

The emergence of new media (such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube and even the virtual world of Second Life) is spelling new challenges for businesses. They have widened the scope for consumers to air their fury against any product imperfections or service inefficiencies they experience. They have in fact become a potent weapon like no other as the damage is instantaneous and global.

Companies have to deal with them with a sense of urgency, as FedEx discovered recently. A video of a FedEx courier throwing a monitor over the fence of a customer location went viral on YouTube. FedEx reacted immediately with an apology, explaining that it went against its values.

Significantly, FedEx started circulating among its staff the video that brought it disrepute as a learning tool to improve service and win customer trust. Other actions were also initiated as the company sought to convey the message that the incident should not be taken as being representative of its 290,000 professionals worldwide. The customer who triggered it all and made FedEx react with a sense of urgency was satisfied with the response.

Consumers waste no time in blogging/tweeting about their experiences with the products they use or the services they get. Such is the power of social networking that the damage from any misadventure, perceived or real, is instantaneous.

On the brighter side, with the right social media strategies, as this FedEx example demonstrates, enterprises can turn even negative publicity to positive mileage provided they respond to it effectively and without any vacillation.

The Cloud and a Thinking Network

A new-generation network that thinks can enable businesses to catch potential minefields quickly and facilitating a prompt human, corporate intervention to stem any negative fallout with a reaction that is immediate. That is a reflection of the times where information is king and the speed with which it is delivered, with intelligent connectivity at its core, determines where you are headed.

Amid this market imperative, social networking sites have combined with cloud computing to open the floodgates for tech-savvy consumers to go online, connect with people and make communications direct and raw with a phenomenal global reach. Not just the cloud and the social Web, even Unified Communications and collaboration, along with the need for enhanced security and sustainability, give greater relevance to intelligent networking.

Businesses have generally embraced this trend and built the social media into their marketing portfolio as they are aware of the fact that this is the path to move forward and be a part of the technology evolution.

Multi-dimensional efficiencies and the Four Seasons Example: Clearly, current user demands have made the network go beyond easy connectivity and deliver multi-dimensional efficiencies with embedded intelligence.

With personal multimedia devices getting smart and everything from power grids to even entire cities turning intelligent, the network assumes a critical role in enabling it all. Traffic has to be prioritised, the quality of service enhanced and reliability ensured while factoring in scalability and providing a sturdy defence against the unleashing of malware by hackers. With a smart network, all of these translate to a good quality of experience for users.

User experience and comments can only be dismissed by companies at their own peril. Some big chains have even enhanced their corporate websites by incorporating user comments into them. The Four Seasons hotel did this earlier this year by giving space for customer reviews, with links to external content.

That is a demonstration of more than how it values the feedback of its patrons. A thinking network and a corporate culture that places greater emphasis on customer feedback in a new-generation milieu than ever before have begun to play a key role in enabling business success.

Connect, Communicate and Conquer

Connectivity and communications, driven by networking technologies and social media sites, are revolutionising the way people live, learn, play and work. Significantly, mobile innovations such as the iPad have resulted in a wave that has wound its way into the corporate domain as well.

This is evident in the exponential growth seen in the number of personal multimedia devices (smartphones, tablets, etc) being used by employees to access corporate networks even while the death knell is being sounded in some quarters for the PC.

A research reports that around one trillion devices will be connected to the network by 2013. If that crystallises, the result will be a mindboggling scenario that businesses will find it difficult to measure up to with a dumb network.

As Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) catches on in offices , the pressure on the network is bound to mount, throwing complications in its wake with a possible impact on security and performance. Throw the surging mobile video traffic into the equation and the result is a scary picture of technological intricacies and security risks.

Interestingly, countries such as India and China that were slow to embrace technology initially have leapfrogged trends and a recent BT study shows them being more open on BYOD adoption than even Singapore.

Security and Sustainability: In fact, it is an intelligent network that is at the heart of most new trends, including cloud computing. With a network that embeds intelligence, firms will be able to gauge what kind of traffic is running over it so they can use bandwidth intelligently and prioritise traffic. They can determine how secure the network is from cyber-attacks.

It also enables sustainability with focus on environment friendliness. You can even enhance business processes and be ready for emerging trends and challenges – such as IPv6. An intelligent network has the ability to let enterprises transform their businesses, without any compromise on reliability, high availability and flexibility! It will require less human intervention than ever before to deal with evolving changes or security threats.

Assess Your Network: It is important to note that significant cost savings can be realized with the right technological investments. Businesses can start with an assessment of their networks. This will equip them with a good understanding of any underlying issues and requirements to overcome them.

An independent assessment from a managed services provider can provide enterprises with a rating of the level of maturity of their network and identify a roadmap for evolution based on gaps between their current and desired future states.

Asian Century: Not just companies, even countries, including those in Asia, have entered the fray to build eco-friendly, smart cities by tapping digitized systems in totality to foster economic and environmental development. With this being billed as the Asian Century, the trend resounds across a diverse range of vertical sectors, spanning transportation, manufacturing, healthcare, logistics, sports and education. This transformation is guided by an intelligent network.

Both the cloud and social networking sites are now inextricably woven around the corporate fabric, making networks vulnerable to cyber-attacks even while giving them opportunities to grow their business. They can ill afford to turn their backs on these Web 2.0 realities. The potential can be tapped and the risks mitigated with a high IQ, intelligent, secure, resilient and high-performing network.

(The author is Managing Director – BT India)

(This article was published on August 2, 2012)
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