As another year has concluded, we have reached that time to review the IT trends of 2021. Most IT professionals could use an extra minute to catch their breath as last year continued to push many IT departments due to the pandemic's outbreak in 2020. To gain some perspective on our year-long journey, we sat down with two senior executives at WEI, David Fafel, and Greg Labrie, to get their perspectives on the relevant IT trends that came about in 2021. We also pulled data from a commissioned study we did in partnership with IDG concerning the state of digital transformation in 2021. The study involved an audience of IT decision makers (ITDMs) across multiple industries that provided insightful and surprising information concerning their IT initiatives in 2021.
Remote Work Transitions to Hybrid Work
Could anyone have predicted where we are now when it comes to workspace utilization? While so many organizations implemented remote work strategies overnight, they most likely operationalized these same strategies as a temporary stopgap. As many people return to their desk, companies are now utilizing traditional office space as more of a “touchdown” area for employees to congregate during select days of the week. Typical activities include team building, brainstorming, client interaction, departmental meetings, etc. For many in the workforce, this new concept is a welcome change, thus leading to the hybrid work model’s rising popularity. Still, it involves working remotely, which invokes change in so many other areas. For IT, it means that connectivity has now shifted to the employee’s home, wherever that may be.
In turn, companies that have adjusted to a scaled mobile workforce have also achieved a dynamic recruiting advantage over their competitors. During the current labor shortage, these forward-thinking companies are recruiting talent far outside their local area because they realize employees can be productive no matter where they reside. If you don’t have employees in your traditional building any longer, you’ve also essentially shifted some of the network and connectivity costs to the employee. It has also freed IT personnel, at least somewhat, from some of their usual support duties as employees have become more self-sufficient with their own IT needs. We use the term ‘somewhat’ because the 80/20 rule comes into play; twenty percent of a company’s personnel will always need help and that select group is consuming a lot more time to remotely support them as internal IT doesn’t have control of these remote workspaces.
Zero-Trust Networks Taking Shape
In 2021, enterprises realized that their expedient transition to remote work architectures required revaluation as remote work permeated within their culture. In an environment in which work can now be performed anywhere, the old reliance on perimeter security architectures is now outdated, and companies are rushing to adapt zero-trust networks. In a zero-trust environment, you don’t treat end users any differently when logging in at the office, or if they were to connect from home or at the local coffee shop. We are now living in a validate-first world in which trust must first be corroborated on all devices. These days, you can no longer assume that traffic originating within the LAN is legitimate because there are just too many avenues for attackers and malware to infiltrate.
We all know smoking is bad for us, yet the people we know and our favorite fictional television characters still do it. Similarly, we know that backups are the golden ticket that can save us from the brink of cybersecurity disaster, yet too many IT professionals are not applying this practice correctly. Many are using backup strategies from a decade ago, or more. Localized backups are too prone to attack and hackers are expertly taking out these systems in advance of the primary attack. Cloud backup technology has greatly advanced, and we are seeing more companies trust the cloud and embrace it because it completely segregates your backups from your on-premises environment.
To continue with the health analogy, we know that a healthy diet and regular exercise are of great benefit, but we procrastinate on practicing these good habits until a major medical event occurs. While ransomware continues to be a mounting problem, too many enterprises continue to use a reactionary approach when combatting it. Ransomware is a war that requires proactive measures. We need network intelligence and network monitoring tools at the network layer to monitor what is happening across the IT environment. For example, why is Lucy suddenly accessing the payroll system? We know she has access privileges, but the timing of this activity seems odd. These small, yet important, instances are why we need to stop threat actors from launching attacks from deep within our enterprise’s network.
IT Staff Augmentation
One of the most surprising things we discovered in the IDG commissioned study was how much companies are utilizing staff augmentation strategies. The pandemic is showing us the value in having the ability to transform quickly to implement new strategies. Having a strategic workforce plan that can attract the required talent for a project as quickly as possible is now imperative. Companies are having to contend with serious skill gaps when it comes to areas such as cybersecurity, DevOps, automation, and cloud computing within their own organization. Companies have found that the traditional approach to full-time hiring is too slow and reactionary to inject the proper talent into their organizations.
To meet this challenge, companies are turning to staff augmentation strategies. We found that a surprising 82% of survey respondents in the IDG study considered IT staff augmentation to be highly important for their organization with more than one in ten respondents ranking it as critical. Respondents also reported that nearly 40% of IT staff is considered temporary.
How Did Companies Spend Their Budgets in 2021?
Companies continued their quest to digitally transform their organizations as 60% of respondents allocated funds toward transformational directives. The top five most popular IT investment objectives are listed below:
- 64%: Improving data security
- 51%: Improving operational and process efficiency
- 38%: Improving the customer experience
- 37% Gathering and analyzing data to make better business objectives
- 34%: Driving new revenue through innovation
Respondents were also asked which technologies they considered to be the most crucial to achieving their digital technology strategies. The top five technologies are:
- 25%: Hybrid cloud (private and public)
- 24%: AI enabled technology
- 21%: IoT technology
- 18%: Hardware
- 18%: containers
Hybrid IT Architectures and Multi-cloud Strategies
The IDG study showed that hybrid IT was the preferred architectural goal of companies in 2021 with 55% of respondents describing their current environment as such. Another 37% reported that their organizations are headed in that direction, but aren’t quite there yet. These hybrid architectures are making use of multiple clouds as 46% reported as having a fully-optimized multi-cloud strategy. These multi-cloud strategies are allowing companies to match workloads to their most optimal cloud environment, giving them maximum flexibility while reducing their dependency on any one cloud service provider.
Improving data security was the top use case for cloud technology according to 59% of respondents. There is no doubt that companies are recognizing the value of utilizing cloud-based security solutions. Improving the speed of IT service delivery was mentioned by 50% of respondents, making it the second top use case.
Want More Insights into IT Trends o 2021?
Next Steps: If you would like to learn more about the IT trends that emerged in 2021 and what strategies and controls that companies within your industry used to accelerate their digital transformations and overcome the many emerging challenges, you can download our new white paper titled, "IT Leader's Digital Transformation Update." In it, you will find a lot of great information summarized from the IDG study.
You can also contact us to speak with one of our SMEs to gain additional insights related to your own unique environment and business objectives. It was another year of innovation and growth for WEI, and we look forward to helping our current and future customers achieve their IT objectives as much as possible.