Some network operations teams are discovering that they possess a critical asset that can transform enterprises: network data.

As businesses become more digitized, networks are emerging as an ultimate source of operational insight. Finance, healthcare, and retail are just some examples of industries where nearly everything critical to a business crosses the wire. Packets and flows can reveal not only the health and performance of IT infrastructure, but business processes, too. The network can provide a record of who is connecting to the network and when, how and why they do. With the right analytical technologies, this data can provide value to the business. For instance, are sales representatives equipped with tablets generating more revenue than those who rely on smartphones?

Network operations teams have the data, but they need the right tools to gain insight into business processes. And they need to be able to present that insight to the business in a manner that is easily consumed by people who know little or nothing about networks.

Obviously, network managers have leveraged network data for years, but their focus has been on tools that support network operations. Most network analysis tools, for instance, are designed to support network planning, monitoring, and troubleshooting workflows. Advanced analytical tools based on technologies like big data and artificial intelligence should be able to push the limits on what network data can provide to a business.

Nearly half of network managers apply advanced analytics technologies to network data, according to EMA research. Their most typical uses cases for these initiatives are enhanced network security monitoring and network optimization. But the third most popular use case (27%) is business process optimization. Examples might include analysis of  financial transaction processes. Would a network upgrade make these transactions more efficient and profitable? In a retail environment, are employees underutilizing mobile point of sales devices? Would an improved Wi-FI performance drive more sales?

Network service providers will be the first industry to truly take advantage of the transformational opportunities of network analytics. In fact, most advanced network analytics vendors are focused on the service provider market. PNDA.IO, a network analytics project hosted by the Linux Foundation, is turning most of its early attention the service provider industry.

Enterprise network teams won’t be too far behind. Many network monitoring vendors are working hard to apply their analytical techniques to business processes, especially packet analysis vendors that have traditionally focused on performance management. As they advance their understanding of application payloads and improve their ability to turn packet data into transaction records, these vendors can provide critical business insights.

But network managers will need more than analytical insight. They need tools that help them present that insight to the business. Reports and dashboards that are designed for consumption by non-technical personal will be critical for impactful network analytics. Some vendors might produced canned versions of these reports and dashboards, but customization will be essential, too. Furthermore, vendors may want to consider developing professional services organizations that help close the gap between network operations and the business.

Later this calendar year, EMA will launch new end-user research on advanced network analytics in an effort to  determine how IT organizations are leveraging analytics to transform network operations and business operations. Stay tuned.