IT Trends for 2021: How CIOs Can Position for Success

Someone placing felt numbers onto a grey background to spell out "2021". IT Trends for 2021: How CIOs Can Position for Success

Out of the wreckage of the pandemic comes economic recovery. However, there are still many uncertainties ahead, as countries around the world enter another wave of rising cases of COVID-19. As CIOs lean into the headwinds of 2021, what are the emerging trends, and what tactical strategies are required to execute successful recovery?

“The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation,” says Pankaj Agarwal, Founder and Managing Partner of Optimus Information. “In the year ahead, CIOs will be focused on moving to cloud-centric infrastructure, elevating user experience and integration, and doing due diligence on cyber security and regulatory concerns.”

Plan to ramp up digital

The necessity of physical distancing continues to affect multitudes of organizations. Banks, gyms, movie theatres, restaurants and retail have all had to embrace creative digital solutions to remain in business.

In a recent forecast by Gartner Inc., there is a projected 7.3% decline in worldwide IT spending in 2020 when compared to 2019. With a decrease in revenues and changed revenue streams, CIOs will need to prioritize IT spending in the year ahead and become much more strategic.

A distributed workforce and changes in consumer spending will demand a reduction in the need for physical technology, such as server upgrades. “In the current climate, you’re going to see a trend towards retiring legacy infrastructure,” says Agarwal. “This shift will have businesses moving IT infrastructure to the cloud, to a public or hybrid model.”

And, with the migration to digital, comes an opportunity to move IT costs from within capital expenses to operating. This reallocation of expenditures from physical infrastructure to cloud and subscription services will also help decrease upfront costs. 

To further mitigate dwindling cashflows, CIOs will be making efforts to implement more efficient consumption models through better monitoring of usage. This provides transparency of usage, and subsequently allows some IT costs to be assigned to business units based on their consumption, rather than IT incurring all of the costs.

Focus on user experience and integration

Outside of the pandemic, younger users are increasingly more sophisticated than previous generations, and expect the same level of user experience as the consumer apps they’re using – such as Facebook and Instagram.

“Integration is key,” says Agarwal. “The younger generation expect a unified and seamless user experience through single sign-on and end-to-end business processes.” Another integration trend is the provision of low code, or no-code, tools to business users to enable them to build simple tools on top of complex systems.

Security projected to grow

Since large segments of the population will remain working from home through 2021, and students of all ages will be learning in online classrooms, cloud-based conferencing is estimated to increase 46.7%. Workloads and data will continue to shift to cloud resources, which will also require greater demand for resources allocated to cybersecurity.

According to a Spiceworks Ziff Davis ‘2021 State of IT’ report, there will be a projected increase in hardware security spending from 5% in 2019 to 7% in 2021 for SMBs, while businesses with 1,000 employees or more are planning to spend 9% or more on security appliances. The projected increase in security budgets speaks to the CIO’s need to double down on security operations and identifying threats. With so many staff working from home and remotely accessing potentially sensitive data on more of their own devices, the demand for secure systems is more critical than ever.

The organization’s systems should be set up so that individual staff members can access them in a secure and efficient manner to retain productivity. Ensure that critical data and systems are protected by situating them behind a VPN, to encrypt data traffic, and make it more difficult for hackers and online criminals to access data. All work and personal devices used by employees in service of work should integrate the most current security measures – including malware, spyware, anti-virus protection and multi-factor authentication.

Along with honing in on cyber security concerns, comes the necessity to revisit data privacy regulations as they relate to users. Government-enforced regulations may affect usage, and TikTok is a perfect example of how data sovereignty is under a microscope and facing regulatory challenges.

Radical transformation requires a committed workforce

The pandemic is challenging enterprises to transform more quickly than anticipated and, in some cases, radically, just to survive. Without buy-in from the whole workforce – not just the C-suite – organizations will fail to row together quickly, and in the same direction. A great deal of effort can be expended, yet still result in the ship foundering, unless all employees take ownership of their integral part in transformation.

Resistance to change is entirely natural; it’s harder than continuing with business-as-usual, and there may not be any precedent to light the way. However, when employees are included in the change narrative through proactive communication, there’s a much higher chance of success when employees’ labor is connected to the various aspects of change efforts.

Two sides to emerging tech adoption

Leaner budgets and uncertainties about the future will likely cause SMBs to focus on the most pressing concerns, and ease off on emerging tech projects. The emphasis will be on optimizing infrastructure that supports remote workers and productivity tools.

On the other hand, large enterprises are better able to weather the economic downturn, and are in a stronger position to adopt emerging technologies at higher rates, including IoT, AI, machine learning, IT automation tech, virtual desktop infrastructure, 5G wireless tech, edge computing, Gigabit Wi-Fi networking, container technology, converged and hyperconverged infrastructure, and serverless computing.

With remote work arrangements being extended through 2021 and the problems of cash flow constraints, CIOs are challenged with proving adaptability in the face of extreme adversity. Emerging trends point towards increasing technology that boosts productivity, retiring legacy infrastructure, bolstering cybersecurity, meeting regulatory requirements, rallying the workforce for transformation, and considering the adoption of emerging technologies depending on the size of the company.

Technology, flexibility and an entrepreneurial spirit must now be at the forefront of business strategy for companies of all sizes to create resiliency and survive the year ahead.

About the Author

Ashiq Ahamed is the Founder & Managing Partner of SolvedAF Consulting Inc., a boutique consulting firm providing IT consulting, growth advisory, and digital transformation services. As a strategic, delivery-focused leader, he works with organizations to change their thinking when it comes to technology, implementing solutions that achieve organizational efficiencies and improve the end user experience.

Known for his ability to see the big picture, Ashiq draws on his expertise to help organizations align their technology with their business goals.

Learn more about SolvedAF at www.solvedaf.com.

If you are curious to learn more, reach out to us for a chat.

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