Following on from in-depth research with leading analyst houses, it will come as no surprise that topics such as ‘bring-your-own’ technology; context-aware computing; budgeting to do ‘more with the same’; new technologies such as Microsoft Lync; and big data are all under the spotlight as businesses look to gain a competitive edge in the coming 12 months.

Over and above this the much hyped technology of recent years, cloud computing, remains a major focus for businesses as its adoption becomes universal.

To understand the real impact of these topics my company recently surveyed its customer base to discover the key areas that they felt would shape and evolve their IT strategy in 2012. The results of this survey have clearly shown that organisations are focussed on transforming their business and creating smarter systems in order to compete effectively, locally and globally.

Smart networks

Over 90% of customers surveyed stated that the explosion of data will be one of the biggest challenges their businesses will face this year. This is supported by research from McKinsey, which has forecast a 40% growth in global data generated per year vs. 5% growth in global IT spending. The group of customers surveyed went on to tell us that their attention is on understanding the minutiae of how applications flow across their network regardless of whether it is housed in a private, public or hybrid cloud environment.

There is no doubt, therefore, that in 2012 switched on businesses will demand intelligent tools from their network provider to provide them with a transparent view of what is being trafficked across their network. Without this layer of intelligence an organisation risks overloading the corporate network, which will ultimately have a serious knock-on effect on the realisation of their IT business strategy.

Smart people

Nearly two thirds of customers confirmed that new cloud-based collaboration services, such as Microsoft Lync, are scheduled for deployment in 2012 in order to bind their workforces together into a single cohesive team irrespective of geographical location.

This is not surprising given the prediction by Gartner that by 2015, 40% of the world’s users will utilise contextually aware systems to track their activities, ensuring their needs are anticipated and that they are proactively served the most appropriate and customised content, product or service.

I see this demand for workforce flexibility being driven by two factors: existing employees bringing in their own personal smartphones to further augment their ability to respond efficiently regardless of their location; and the new generation of employees entering their workplace to whom a desktop PC and phone is an alien concept.

However it should be noted that the organisations surveyed stated that they are mindful that these innovative services come complete with significant security, regulatory and bandwidth demands, all of which necessitate a fundamental shift in how the requirements placed on the corporate network are managed.

When presented with these findings, Bola Rotibi, Research Director, Creative Intellect Consulting commented: “We see 2012 as the year that IT consumerisation will have even greater impact than before. Whether they are connecting new branch offices to enterprise clouds or equipping employees with consumer devices, CIOs will need to give fresh thought to their network infrastructure, which needs to function at optimal levels at all times. In this sense, we support the thinking that WAN will need to become more LAN-like in its behaviour, resilience and capacity.”

I fully agree with Bola’s assertions. Only an intelligent solution that is smart enough to align the performance of the network directly to the demands of both the application and the end user will deliver the required results.

As companies become increasingly cloud-like in their approach to managing their global workforce, drawing further on the data that they possess and rely more heavily on smart devices, the demands that they place on the entire IT infrastructure will increase significantly. Relying on existing network management solutions is likely to lead to a catastrophic failure of service. The smart business will make sure that they mitigate these risks by ensuring that their network capability develops in parallel with their overall IT strategy.