Time to plan IT that’s fit for the future

UPDATED WITH NEW INFORMATION: The last 12 months have seen many carefully laid technology plans blown off course, driving IT investments in unforeseen directions. While there is still much uncertainty as we look ahead, it is time to weigh up the IT investment priorities that will drive recovery and growth.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on IT investment decisions. Its distorting effect has seen investment in some areas accelerate massively, while other plans have by necessity fallen by the wayside. So with recovery in sight, where do we go from here? What should enterprise IT plans look like, and how confident should CIOs feel about implementing them?

On the subject of confidence, some recent findings from independent research firm GlobalData reveal that over 50% of the executives it recently questioned still feel ‘very concerned’ about the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on their organisation.

“Going back to March of 2020, pessimism was high and optimism was low about company growth prospects,” explains Jeremiah Caron, Global Head of Research & Analysis with the firm. “This improved over time, but there still is some caution out there.”

So what does Caron see as the major investment areas going forwards once confidence is fully restored? “Multi-cloud evolution is huge, edge computing is gaining momentum very quickly, plus 5G monetization and what’s going to happen there,” he says. “SD WAN, certainly not a new technology, continues to drive the nature of how we’re networking going forward. AI, again something that’s been around for a long time, is moving into a practical stage with people learning how to use it to drive innovation. Security, obviously, is huge.”

He observes that the use of multiple cloud environments within businesses was already well underway pre-pandemic, but took a step acceleration in 2020: “We foresee significant growth here over the next four or five years. There are still companies who would like to focus on one cloud environment, because of the simplicity, but really everything is moving into multi-cloud. Beyond that, we see an environment where applications are driving networking with a lot of autonomous management in real time.”

GlobalData’s findings also show that 50% of the enterprises it polled plan to spend more on cybersecurity going forwards, with only 20% saying they were going to spend less.

To broaden the conversation around these areas, NetEvents pulled together a roundtable of expert names from across the industry to get an idea of how IT priorities will play out. How has COVID impacted priorities?

Chris Bedi is Chief Information Officer with ServiceNow, developer of a cloud computing platform designed to help companies manage digital workflows for enterprise operations. He has noted a rise in processes that are digitally orchestrated: “We saw for example a big increase in the use of self-service virtual agents, or chatbots, across our whole firm,” he says. “Also, as we’ve started to bring the workforce back to the office, there’s a new set of complications which arise. One is how do you make sure everyone’s healthy?  Do you need to do health verification?  What’s your company policy on vaccinations, how do you make sure everybody’s socially distant?  We built a set of apps here to enable all of that and we have over 1,000 companies using them worldwide.”

Operations that were not digitally orchestrated, he says, simply broke down during the crisis: “There’s been an awakening, across the entire C-suite, of the need to digitize. We’ve seen across our customer base that decisions which would have taken nine months are now getting implemented in weeks, so speed has massively increased. I think it’s fair to say 2020 was the first year where digital transformation spending increased while GDP was declining worldwide.” 

Gaurav Anand is a Board Member of Tata Communications, America. He reports that pre-pandemic, on a global basis, around 5% of Tata Communications employees worked from home: “When COVID hit we went to 95% working from home, overnight,” he points out. “It’s not just keeping your own business running but it’s keeping the business of the customers that you serve running. I feel like we’re thriving now with new business models coming across. I have read that globally enterprises have accelerated digital transformation by six years.”

Today’s multi-cloud environment is the sign of a healthy IT outlook, argues Amir Khan, President, Founder and CEO of network-as-a-service player Alkira: “It’s really opening up new capabilities for customers from a service perspective,” he claims. “Networking used to be very static. Now people are asking why isn’t it like any other application that they can utilize in the cloud. So for the first time, we are starting to see networks being built in the cloud, for the cloud as well as for hybrid environments. People are looking at a ubiquitous environment, not only from the branches but also remote users. They want to have one way of interconnecting all their environments whether it’s branches, or users, or data centres or clouds. And then on top of that they want to simplify the deployment of services, as well as gain end to end visibility and governance capabilities.”

Dr Seth Dobrin, Global Chief AI Officer at IBM, points out the huge difference between multi cloud and hybrid cloud, an important distinction as we move into a new cloud era: “You’ve been able to do multi-cloud for a while now, which is where you have different environments acting independently of each other, whereas hybrid cloud is all about how you integrate seamlessly across all the different clouds,” he notes. “And when we start looking at the impact of COVID, when we want to operationalize AI, we need to be able to operate in this hybrid cloud world, meaning that we need build and modernize our entire state.” 

As well as developments in cloud, cybercrime proliferated in the pandemic to the point where most people expect to get hit with something at some point, says Caron. Cybersecurity in consequence is certain to be a high post-pandemic IT spending priority.

“We certainly view cyber as super critical, as our customers trust us with an incredible amount of data in our cloud,” says Bedi of ServiceNow. “I think, looked at the right way, cyber should be seen as a strategy enabler. How are we going to enter into new markets, how are we going to grow and offer new products and services? I think the narrative around cyber needs to change from solely risk mitigation.”

Dobrin of IBM identifies trust as being a key factor for the implementation of AI: “A big part of trust is security,” he suggests. “So how do you deliver AI in a secure and compliant manner? When you’re talking about multi geography, multi clouds across multiple regions you’re having to make sure from a data privacy and ethics concern that you’re moving data in a way that’s compliant with regulations. That doesn’t even begin to touch on how do you secure AI. How do you protect your models from releasing information? How do you make sure that your models are trained in a way that prevents people from poisoning the data pool?  Then how do you make sure your models are trained in a way that doesn’t reveal private information?”

Tata’s Anand says enterprises are looking at the application, the data, the devices and the users: “Then you’ve got the network and then security comes in as a third kind of layer on the top,” he explains. “In the way that it’s done today it’s very siloed with different components that need to be brought together. And those gaps sometimes lead to some of these breaches we’re seeing.” 

Khan of Alkira believes that the industry has evolved to where cloud providers are spending so much money that service providers are not able to keep up: “You used to have MPLS with an SLA which was strong,” he points out. “It was extremely expensive and low on bandwidth, whereas on the Internet side it was insecure, featuring extremely high bandwidth with low costs but almost no SLA, so you had two extremes. Now comes the cloud which offers extreme capabilities with strong SLAs, a less expensive and highly dynamic environment. So how do we integrate that? That’s where the cloud network as a service comes in.”

AI and automation are also certainties on the list of post-COVID IT investment agendas, says Caron of Global Data. Dobrin of IBM visualises that as part of the AI and automation landscape you have software defined networks, software defined infrastructure and cloud, and now the rise of software defined storage: “The application of AI is immense in that area, but we need to be careful about where we use AI,” he opines. “There’s how we automate things versus where we use AI to augment our intelligence. In other words, where do we use AI to reduce the nearly infinite realm of possibilities? How do we use it to shorten the time frame, get the best decisions, the best options in front of a person, and let them drive those decisions based on their expertise and the insights that were given from the system?”

Bedi of ServiceNow believes enterprises need to trust algorithms more: “We need to understand in the same way as when Netflix is recommending the next movie, and we just click on it. AI must be embedded in the workflow, so it’s not some separate thing. I think that’s critical, because that’s what has been done in our consumer lives and I think that is where we will see accelerated adoption.”

NEW INFORMATION:

Gaurav Anand, Vice President, Global Enterprise Solutions, Americas, has written extensively on related topics, including thoughts on how to build a network that’s fit for the future. He says the so-called ‘democratisation of technology’ means that IT departments are no longer able to independently decide, how, where and which employees access information. Enterprises should therefore digitally transform with the following end-goals in mind:

  • Become more agile to meet customer expectations of rapid innovation and issue resolution
  • Deliver consistent performance across the globe while expanding into new markets or while bringing new products to market
  • Achieve ubiquitous access to applications and collaboration platforms among users, customers and partners to innovate and improve productivity

 

By Guy Matthews, Editor of NetReporter

 

Links to the organisations participating in the CxO roundtable are as follows:

GlobalData

https://www.globaldata.com/industries-we-cover/technology/

 

Alkira

https://www.alkira.com/blog/alkira-at-the-tipping-point-of-the-cloud-revolution/

 

IBM

https://www.ibm.com/blogs/think/author/sethdobrin/

 

ServiceNow

https://www.servicenow.com/company/executive-team.html

 

Tata Communications

https://www.tatacommunications.com/blog/author/gauravanand/

 

For further reading on these themes:

https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/cio-insider-business-insights/impact-covid-19-technology-investments-budgets-spending.html

https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252491256/Covid-19-Tech-investments-tipped-by-business-leaders-as-key-to-UK-post-pandemic-recovery

https://www.information-age.com/covid-19-drives-biggest-surge-in-technology-investment-in-history-123491671/

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Book of the Month*

The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck

By Dr Christian Busch
Serendipity is an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident. To other people it looks like “good luck”, but it is more the ability to recognise and seize an opportunity, rather than have good fortune thrust upon one. Finding a wallet stuffed with money on the conference room floor is good luck, whereas holding it up and asking if anyone has lost their wallet might be the beginning of a valuable friendship – that would be serendipity.

Chance encounters, or strokes of fortune, feature in countless stories of business success. This book looks beneath the surface, reveals and teaches the mindset that can transform pure chance into opportunity. The author is director of the Global Economy Program at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, and a lecturer at the London School of Economics.

Serendipity is an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident. To other people it looks like “good luck”, but it is more the ability to recognise and seize an opportunity, rather than have good fortune thrust upon one. Finding a wallet stuffed with money on the conference room floor is good luck, whereas holding it up and asking if anyone has lost their wallet might be the beginning of a valuable friendship – that would be serendipity.

The author says “This is a book about the interactions of coincidence, human ambition and imagination”. In the above example: finding the wallet is the coincidence; ambition is the desire to make something of the discovery; add imagination and you open up a whole menu of possibilities: from spending spree to earning a reputation for honesty – or even making a wealthy friend.

Business is typically forged on human ambition and imagination, but early success often feeds an appetite for control – and “control freaks” can be blind to the opportunities thrown up by the unexpected. They only see chance events as distractions. If plans go awry, they may blame the failure on “bad luck” rather than admit their own inflexible attitude.

The author himself admits to being “a German who is used to planning” and prone to feel anxious when something unexpected happens. That makes him an ideal teacher, because he has worked hard to discover and analyse the mindset that enables one to “connect the dots” and cultivate serendipity. He presents a goldmine of examples from science, business and life where an apparent mishap or failure lead to a breakthrough.

Indeed, studies suggest that around 50% of major scientific breakthroughs emerge as the result of accidents or coincidences. A well-known example is Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, launching the whole field of antibiotics. Other examples include X-rays, nylon, microwave ovens, rubber, Velcro, Viagra and Post-it Notes – where would we be without these!

The book goes beyond the ability to recognise and respond to opportunities in chaos, but the subtitle – The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck – is actually a bit misleading. True, he does show ways to develop better fortune, but it would be better to call it “inviting” or “encouraging” good luck. For example, he suggests better ways to start a conversation with a stranger – ways that will make it more likely to lead to chance connections or shared interests.

The publishers may have chosen the word “creating” to make the book appeal to the human desire to control – for control freaks are exactly the readership that would benefit the most from this book’s wisdom and practical advice.

For the rest of us, it offers a great way to rediscover the sense of play that is so important in life – and too often lost in business.

 

“Following the success of The Serendipity Mindset hardback, a paperback edition has also now been launched under the title “Connect the Dots”.

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