Introducing a new regular profile series on B2Bnn: Women in B2B, sponsored by SqueezeCMM. With these profiles, you’ll learn about the careers and business goals of inspiring female leaders in the B2B industry.
“Biz tech chameleon.” That’s how Sandi Jones, AVP of Global Infrastructure Systems-Network Services at Manulife Financial, describes herself.
In her current role as network leader, Jones says it’s vital that she ensures end-to-end connectivity between users, or between a user and a server, or cloud; whatever the user may need to do has to be reliably enabled.
“That could be talking, viewing files, performing transactions, running reports, or any of hundreds of different activities,” she explains in an interview.
In Jones’ role with Manulife, applications and users are spread all over the world, across 17 different countries. Jones and her team must balance performance and costs. “Where it used to be OK to just think of it all as ‘traffic’ or ‘data’ we now have to understand what is happening between endpoints so we can optimize the network for the most sensitive traffic,” she notes.
Jones was previously Director of Online Products and E-Channels at Rogers Communications; from there, she became Vice-President of Marketing and Technical Sales at Vital Communications, and later, Startup Advisor and Consultant with SqueezeCMM. In autumn 2012, Jones founded Unconventional Wisdom Group, which specializes in product monetization, startup enablement, market research, and marketing, all primarily within B2B. She started with Manulife Financial in November 2014.
The role of network, she explains, was one that was once primarily used to connect one device or site to another. Things have changed. “Now we are an integral part of delivering data, applications and services,” she explains, “so our focus has had to shift from reliability, meaning the network is up, to the network delivering the right levels of performance, speed, security, and more.”
In explaining how the network mission critical is evolving, Jones says that the networks themselves “have been mission critical for many years in some industries and roles, in that if the network doesn’t work, employees and customers can’t do business. This is more so in a financial services company than, for instance, a retail chain, since financial products and services all rely on networks whereas a store could continue selling clothes and accept cash payments during an outage.”
The need to provide connectivity at all times, everywhere, is something that has evolved, she notes. “When WiFi was introduced into office locations, it was a nice-to-have convenience, but employees were expected to rely on wired connections to do their work. Now, with the prevalence of laptops and mobile devices in business, the expectation is that WiFi will cover the entire office complex reliably and securely so that it is the primary network for many employees.”
Making changes to infrastructure becomes increasingly important when it comes to understanding the role of software-defined networking. “Connecting to a new location or application isn’t a matter of just plugging in a cable at both ends,” she states. “There are traffic management functions, security platforms, and other details to configure even when both ends of the connection are in the same data centre. When connections cross geographies there are even more details to manage.”
Such details once included hardware installation and the manual configuration to “separate, prioritize, and direct traffic. Software-defined networking lets us start to define policies in advance and lets the network self-configure to some extent.” Jones says we are really still just at the beginning of SDN, with companies working to understand where it works or doesn’t, and how to change processes to take advantage of it.
Vendor management trends
The demands of managing vendors and suppliers today contrast greatly with the situation a decade ago, too.
“Ten years ago, our expectation of vendors and suppliers was that they would be the experts in technology and we’d focus on our core business,” Jones explains. “Now, especially in financial services, technology differentiation often is our core business so we’re much more involved in the daily operations of our service providers, and we expect them to innovate with us.”
When it comes to innovation, Jones says the issues aren’t as complex as they might appear. “All the companies I‘ve dealt with say the pushback doesn’t come from the business side — the innovation is in the tech team figuring out ways to go through the hoops and do what they’ve always wanted to do anyway. We might be innovating with technology that’s been around for five years now, and it’s how we use it where the innovation comes into play.”