Battle plan essential for network success

The way one analyst tells it, trying to convince companies to implement a strategic plan for their networks is a never-ending battle.

According to Bob Hafner, vice-president and research area director at Gartner Inc. in Toronto, he makes presentations at the Gartner Symposium in Toronto every year, and every year he asks people if they have a strategic plan in place for their network. And every year, the answer is, “We’re working on it.”

In reality, network managers are managing networks based on reactive activities, he said. If there’s a problem, they fix it. The fact that forming a strategic plan doesn’t show immediate benefits means the time-consuming planning stage is never a top priority. Day-to-day problems, such as network downtime, take precedence, said Hafner, who was speaking at a session at the latest Gartner Symposium in Toronto entitled, “The Canadian Networking Scenario.”

“There always tend to be things that appear to be more important, and the strategic plan gets put to the back burner. It’s the thing that we can do tomorrow, and tomorrow never comes,” Hafner said. He added that even when companies do form a strategic plan, there are many times when they don’t put in the appropriate amount of time and effort to get it right.

Without a plan, decisions are being based on immediate needs, and many times, what a network manager does one day may have to be completed ripped out and re-designed weeks or months later. To put it in a military sense, they’re basing their manoeuvres on tactics that aren’t backed up by an overall strategy. And it’s tough to win the war without a plan of action.

Of course, even once the plan is written, the work on it is far from over.

“A strategic plan is never really done. It’s a living document. It needs to be updated…at least every 18 months,” Hafner said. He added it’s preferable that it be updated once a year.

So why is it so important to implement a strategic plan for a network? Hafner said a plan moving forward could add an extra two years to the life expectancy of a network. Not having a plan and relying on educated guesses means replacing the network two years earlier than necessary.