By Ravi Padmanabhan\nIn the last few years, organizations have begun to focus more on digital transformation \u2013 moving workloads to the cloud, deploying the Internet of Things (IoT), experimenting with artificial intelligence and data analytics, and embracing a myriad of other technologies \u2013 all to become more efficient, deliver a better customer experience and, ultimately, drive more revenue.\nThe pandemic kicked this gradual transformation into high gear, forcing CIOs to re-examine their IT infrastructure. Smart CIOs looked at expensive on-premise and dated data centers, saw them as large, chunky pieces of real estate that don\u2019t deliver enough value, and moved to cloud hyper-scalers to make their IT infrastructure more dynamic and to reduce costs.\nFor some reason, however, businesses haven\u2019t been getting to a key piece of the puzzle as soon as they should \u2013 their networks.\nA modern network is crucial\nA modern enterprise network, which can include software-defined networking (SDN), managed network services, and other features and functionalities, has an Internet-centric architecture, uses software to manage traffic flow, and places a premium on secure transactions. It\u2019s the foundation to any successful digital transformation.\nThe network is rarely among the first things IT leaders think about, but as the pandemic pushed CIOs to migrate to the cloud, it created a need for better cloud networking. Network modernization gives an organization a flexible and cloud-optimized network and should be one of the first steps a company takes in its digital transformation efforts.\nHere\u2019s why:\n\nCloud adoption: Many companies now have distributed workforces with multiple worksites needing fast, reliable, and secure connectivity to a cloud infrastructure that now hosts critical enterprise applications. With enterprises hosting their application workloads on hyper-scaler, SaaS, or private cloud infrastructure, the network is the glue to enable secure and reliable connectivity.\n\n\nMore endpoints: Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the distributed workforce may also include employee homes, vacation rentals, cafes, and other endpoints, and employees may be accessing the network using a variety of devices including smartphones, tablets, and PCs. Employees who are working remotely need secure and high-performance connectivity to access enterprise applications, no matter where and how they connect to the network.\n\n\nData in transit: Many organizations are relying on advanced analytics and IoT data that\u2019s captured in data clouds housed across multiple countries. A flexible, reliable, and easily configurable network makes it easier to manage that data across national boundaries.\n\n\nCloud computing optimization: Application teams are rushing to move their workloads to the cloud and transition infrastructure from the data center to a more optimal cloud environment leveraging SaaS applications. The ease of configurability in a software-defined networking environment makes it easier for organizations to allocate the network resources they need to optimize cloud computing.\n\n\nReducing technical debt: A modernized network also helps eliminate technical debt by driving down the cost of maintaining or replacing expensive on-premises appliances. By moving to a software-based networking approach and leveraging cloud-based network and security functions, organizations can significantly reduce technology maintenance costs.\n\nThese are just a few good reasons. I could go on and on. While IT leadership doesn\u2019t often think about network modernization as the first step in their digital transformation, the transition works much, much better with a reliable, easily scalable network.\nIs it all or nothing?\nCompanies don\u2019t need to modernize their entire network at once. There are multiple layers of the network that can be modernized, and they can be managed one at a time. Think of network modernization like renovating a house \u2013 instead of tearing the whole building down and starting over, a homeowner can renovate the bathroom, then the kitchen, then replace the windows and so on, as budget permits.\nIf you\u2019re a CIO looking to take on a network modernization project, you can start with the proverbial low-hanging fruit. Maybe your organization has multiple worksites across the globe, for example, and is paying for a security appliance at each of those sites. Your first step may be to replace that security hardware with a managed network security service or to move to SDN-based services on a location-by-location basis. You don\u2019t have to throw out your entire MPLS-based network and switch to the Internet overnight.\nBottom line\nEach organization will have its own entry point to network modernization. Even if an enterprise has begun its digital transformation process, it can still achieve many benefits by starting a network transformation effort now as well.\nBut for CIOs considering embarking on their digital transformation, or are in the midst of one, the time to think about transforming their networks is now.