The 21st century ushered in a new era of business opportunities and challenges. Proliferation of the internet has connected consumers with businesses in ways never thought possible before the end of the millennium. Now, more than ever, businesses are selling on one front and fighting off competitors on the other.
Your brand and SD-WAN
Interconnectedness has given companies the ability to expand operations, drive customer experience and have a greater social presence. While this level of exposure is critical to operating a successful company in this current digital era, it is also a risk to something each business has been cultivating since its inception: their brand.
A brand is an embodiment of not just the products and services a company sells, but its people, culture, history and place in the world. The brand is something that connects business and consumers at a much deeper level than a simple buyer and seller relationship. Strong brands survive the trials of time and continue to win new business and retain customers long into the future.
The challenge is that there is no objective and fair mechanism for placing a value on your company’s brand or to quantify the impact a damaged brand has to your business. For most, it makes more sense to consider your brand an invaluable asset rather than trying to assess an exact dollar figure.
By now, you may be wondering what software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) has to do with your company’s brand. This rapidly growing technology is proving itself to be a valuable tool businesses need to continue their growth, drive consumer experience and build their social awareness; in a sense, “protect the brand.”
Abating growing pains
Technology can cut both ways. One minute it can be spurring unprecedented growth within your organization and the next it is bringing your operation to its knees. Until more recently, businesses had to wait on service providers to provision high quality circuits before beginning their operations. The justification for waiting for these circuits is they are often more secure than internet-based connectivity and offer a service level agreement (SLA) that protects other aspects of the brand. Meanwhile, a delay in delivering goods or services gives competitors an opportunity to win your business.
The reason for this is that the markets are more competitive than ever and competition can pop up anywhere. This is not to dismiss brand loyalty, but if there is a need for a service or product and your business is not available to fill it, then a competitor will gladly do it for you.
One of the core concepts of SD-WAN is circuit independence. To put it directly, the expensive and often "slow to setup" circuits businesses once required to operate effectively are no longer needed. Access to cheaper, faster to deploy, alternatives using broadband or Long-Term Evolution (LTE) internet-based circuits is made viable by SD-WAN.
While Internet-based connectivity is a natively less secure medium than the private networks, SD-WAN addresses this by employing Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) based encryption technologies for all traffic that traverses the network, thus giving you a secure path for your traffic.
Link security is not the only consideration however. Private networks have traditionally had better reliability and performance than internet based connectivity. There are several proprietary features that SD-WAN providers use to improve link quality, however, each leading solution can condition traffic so that the effects of using a lower quality circuit are ameliorated. Together, this means your company can deploy new operations in days instead of weeks without having to sacrifice security or performance.
You can leave anytime
The hotel in Hotel California by the Eagles may have had a "no leave" policy, but your customers are free to come and go as they please. What makes them stay, and hopefully never leave, is the loyalty your brand instills within your customer base.
Whether your operation is in-store, online or a mixture of both, each time someone interacts with your company you are working diligently to retain their business. A single bad experience, possibly due to something out of your direct control, can push that consumer to a competitor temporarily or if the offense is bad enough, permanently.
Briefly consider retail stores in your neighborhood and why you choose to shop where you do. For most of us, we choose our stores based on a lot of different reasons, but one that is commonly top of mind is the speed of service. If, for whatever reason, you were unable to checkout or issues with payment terminals were causing long lines, would you be inclined to go elsewhere? Depending on the need and the ability for a competitor to fill it, the answer could be yes.
The concept of an SLA was briefly mentioned in the previous section, but why does an SLA matter? An SLA establishes an expectation of service availability around your critical circuits and identifies financial consequences for the provider should that service expectation not be met. While an SLA incentivizes better availability and performance from your provider it is not a guarantee of either.
It is ultimately the responsibility of your organization to build an infrastructure that is fault tolerant and highly available to prevent service disruptions, regardless of circuit availability. SD-WAN solutions enable the use of multiple diverse circuits which provide automatic failover when a service impacting event is detected. This is accomplished by constantly probing your circuits so that SD-WAN knows the optimal path to send your business-critical traffic at a given time.
SD-WAN can also use more advanced techniques to reassemble lost information, so your business does not stop even though there is a problem outside of your control. Making sure your critical services are always up and available may be as close as your company can get to making sure your customers never leave.
Bad security, bad press
Someone once opined, “there is no such thing as bad press.” We are all familiar with this saying, and may have our own thoughts about it, but the one thing it does is downplay the financial consequences associated with a negative public event, not to mention the loss of consumer confidence.
The next time you are on Google (or your favorite search engine) go on over to the news section and type in “data breach.” All the press these companies are receiving certainly raises their brand awareness, but it is the wrong kind and at a high price. For publicly traded companies, stock prices almost certainly dip and the resulting fees, lawsuits and costs associated with a breach can reach the $100s of millions.
When we work tirelessly to build our brand, we are contributing to a legacy. While mistakes can and will be made, those of us with the luxury of hindsight have an opportunity to learn from others' errors and correct them, so that the brand we build and the legacy we leave behind is a positive one.
Having touched on accelerating time to market and ensuring your operations go uninterrupted, the last item we will discuss is securing your business. The SD-WAN devices that are responsible for delivering service have unparalleled visibility into your network traffic.
Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) engines classify traffic against an extensive database giving your operations teams new insights into their network. Visibility ultimately leads to discovering anomalies on the network that may be indicative of malicious behavior.
This information can then be turned into actionable security policy on the SD-WAN fabric. More and more these technologies are incorporating an enterprise firewall and Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) so that you can protect your most valuable asset: your customers. A strong brand may be able to weather bad press, but the exercise in doing so is not worth the impact to your organization.
SD-WAN is the answer
SD-WAN is proving itself to be an invaluable technology, whether it is enabling business growth, improving customer experience or safeguarding your customers and your organization. In this article we explored just how this technology can be applied under different use cases.
The next time your business is doing a retrospective on your brand, consider how SD-WAN ties into your strategy around awareness, attitudes and usage (AAU) metrics. WWT is always here to help with your infrastructure modernization efforts; with our team of experts and capabilities in the Advanced Technology Center (ATC), we turn ideas into outcomes!