Circle Opinion

How to craft a network automation strategy aligned with C-suite goals: A blueprint for success

Alex Ankers

In the first blog of this two-part series, we assessed the impact of network automation on a business and ways in which a successful business case can be created. In this blog, we’ll look at strategies for keeping the C-suite interested in pursuing network automation and mistakes to avoid when developing strategies. 

How to keep C-suite interested

Long-term network automation strategies will only be successful if the C-suite has consistent buy-in on its implementation and maintenance. This can be achieved through:   

  • Providing progress updates: Sharing network automation progress updates with C-suite staff will help quantify its impact on the business and keep momentum high in terms of maintaining it. 
  • Highlighting ROI for the business: Cost reductions, increased capacity or resources and overall performance are all high interest to C-suite staff. Ensuring the C-suite is aware of how network automation affects these will be critical. 
  • Demonstrating alignment with the business’ strategic goals: Highlighting the ways in which network automation consistently aligns with the business’ strategic goals will help C-suite staff visualise the long-term business outcomes. 
  • Adapting to changes: C-suite members’ business priorities are likely to change over time. Remaining flexible and willing to re-align to changing priorities as needed will ensure long-term success of network automation within the business.   

It is often the case where organisations’ focus on network automation, while well-intended, results in them biting off more than they can chew rather than breaking down more tactical, low-hanging fruit. Despite this having an immediate impact, it can be less visible to senior executives. In general, network automation should be applied to try and achieve two key areas for immediate impact:  

  1. Improve the consistency of network deployment  
  2. Reduce noise within network operations.  

4 common mistakes to avoid when developing a network automation strategy

Some of the common mistakes we see that diverge these two key aims include:

Trying to do too much too soon 

The key with any automation in winning over detractors is incremental consistency over widespread adoption. We often find that small, tactical, lower-level automations with well-scoped outcomes for low-hanging fruit can exceptionally impact the overall consistency of deployment for this element and kickstart the incremental flywheel of trust. This is due to lower-level engineers and operations staff seeing the immediate benefit of automation and beginning to organically adopt these approaches within other higher-value, business-impacting tasks. 

Successfully adopted and maintained automation efforts nearly always look like bottom-up, grassroots endeavours, where buy-in through adoption and proven time efficiency or consistency outcomes have been recognised by low-level engineering resources closest to the network who can advocate for the approach to other peers on their level to the wider organisation. Quantifiable results which prove IT’s ability to deliver are key in achieving grassroots adoption which flows up the organisational hierarchy, rather than trying to mandate this as a top-down approach. Human psychology is as big a factor in network automation’s success in an organisation as technical prowess, given the personal friction many engineers will have to automation as something which could affect their personal wellbeing or circumstances.  

Focusing on the wrong use cases (selection bias)

Use cases which resonate with the business context faced by your organisation are pivotal in creating network automations that are immediately impactful and reap actual business rewards. Executive-led automation efforts can focus too intently on senior IT leaders’ specific issues that may be perceived as higher-affecting but are often more niche and low-scale than more commodity – but wider-scale – issues as seen by engineering and deployment resources.   

Network automation should focus on the daily toil rather than the aspirational state. For example, more dividend will be yielded by automating a firewall rule request process which several of your engineers unknowingly gatekeep as a bottleneck to your application development and implementation projects than would be from, for example, automating network configuration backups, which will likely already be catered for by a disaster recovery process, no matter how human-intensive that may be.   

Tool-led strategy adoption

Network automation is a complex area of abstractions and principles built atop chains of other abstractions or fundamentals. For this reason, it can be tempting to lean on the lowest common denominator within the field – often the “lingua franca” of the tooling and framework buzzwords such as Terraform, Ansible, IaC, YAML, YANG and so on.   

While countless types and competing network automation tools exist, this doesn’t always mean they’re developed for or relevant to your business’ specific issues. It’s also worth being mindful of “resume-driven development” here– while the “new shiny” might look great to your engineering and architecture teams, it doesn’t always mean it’s best for your business context, budget or other regulatory constraints.   

Automation in isolation of process review and improvement

There’s a reason “garbage in, garbage out” is a phrase– automating the garbage to go faster doesn’t get rid of its existence. Automation often lives in the space between process and technology, so improvements in one can feedback into the other. Automation tends to inform improvements to existing business processes through its installation than for static business processes that were perfect all along.   

The mere act of undergoing an automation journey can also be an exponential value-add when focusing on and improving business processes which would otherwise not have been explored. This ensures a double win from both optimising the business process itself and enables an extended reach of that into the network and IT plane, speeding up the process and improving its efficiency. This virtuous flywheel can often become a force-multiplier that tremendously benefits the organisation for relatively little upfront effort. 

How can CACI help?

CACI’s expert team comprises multidisciplined IT, networking infrastructure and consultant and automation engineers with extensive experience in network automation. We can support and consult on every aspect of your organisation’s network from its architecture, design and deployment through to cloud architecture adoption and deployment, as well as maintaining an optimised managed network service. 

To learn more about the impact of network automation and how to sell its value to the C-suite, please read our e-book “How to sell the value of network automation to the C-suite”. You can also get in touch with the team here. 


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Alex Ankers