2020 has been nothing if not unpredictable. Certainly, no one could foresee the extent to which the global pandemic changed everything around us. But as we approach the end of the year, news of the vaccine and a resulting return to normality allows us to more readily predict where the world of IT is heading in 2021.
With January just around the corner, we got in touch with a range of industry leaders to learn their IT predictions for the next 12 months.
A lot has been made about artificial intelligence (AI) in the world of IT, but how many of us are actually benefitting from its capabilities? Laura Baldwin, President at O’Reilly, feels like 2021 will see an uptick in AI’s leverage across organisations as the technology becomes more accessible.
She said: “Much of what has happened in the past few years around AI is cloud-enabled solutions that give every company access to AI tools, like Auto ML. This democratises AI capabilities, empowering organisations to take advantage of its value”
Corresponding with this, Laura notes that with this is the price of high-level technical talent. “While new employees with new expertise are something large organisations can afford to invest in, that’s not a reality for most businesses. You can’t expect to hire new talent to take on all your technology endeavours. Rather, you must rely on your own teams to stay current”.
Indeed, as AI becomes more popular, the onus is on organisations to foster its use amongst the current workforce. As Laura says: “Providing tools, especially those that train on new technologies, and help your teams upskill and reskill, is vital to progress.”
To this end, Laura suggests encouraging organisations to know what AI features are already available and learning how to use them: “Smaller organisations cannot hire someone new every time they want to embrace a new technology, and they don’t have to.”
The increased role of automation in cyberattacks
We’ve talked before about the increase in cyberattacks this year and how it will affect things going into the new year, and Corey Nachreiner, CTO of WatchGuard Technologies echoes similar thoughts. He states that automation will only serve to make cybersecurity attacks more sophisticated:
“Traditionally, in a high-investment, high-return targeted attack, we see automation tools replacing manual techniques to help cyber criminals launch spear-phishing campaigns at record volumes, harvesting victim-specific data from social media sites and company web pages.”
Again, similar to previous predictions we’ve made, Corey believes that as COVID-19 continues, it’s likely that these attacks will prey on fears around the pandemic, politics and the economy.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Corey adds: “Automation will also help cloud-hosting providers such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google to crack down on cybercriminal groups abusing their reputation and services to launch malicious attacks.
“While threat actors commonly host website HTML files designed to mimic a legitimate website like Microsoft365 or Google Drive to steal credentials in the past, in 2021, these companies will deploy automated tools and file validation technologies that will spot spoofed authentication portals.
“Cybercriminals always look for the weak links, so the growing ranks of home workers are an obvious target and when it comes to new technologies such as automation and AI, what can work for good can also be exploited for malicious activity. It’s just a case of trying to stay one step ahead.”
The importance of IT spend
The prevalence of remote working this year has resulted in an increased focus on the importance of IT. And although IT departments across the country have always helped keep businesses of all kinds moving like a well-oiled machine, it’s perhaps only been the onset of a pandemic that has made people realise just how essential it all is in allowing organisations to function.
Martin Roberts, Managing Director at managed service provider Neuways, believes that businesses will invest more spend into their IT departments following the events of this year, breaking it down into three key areas.
Firstly, Martin believes companies need to look at tools that allow for greater productivity. He says: “Microsoft 365 and Teams have allowed businesses to work more dynamically this year, and so successfully replicating how we worked in offices makes this area a must spend.”
His second area that businesses should be spending on is cybersecurity: “Ten years ago, if you were writing a long-term plan, there’d have been a small amount of your spend allocated for cybersecurity. Going into 2021, you should be allocating a large percentage of your IT budget to it, and you need a multi-layered security approach just to survive.”
He states that in terms of security, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR) should be a priority: “It prepares a business for the consequences of a cyberattack. A robust, multi-layered continuity plan provides insurance against the effects of downtime as a result of ANY threat, not just a cyberattack.
“No one saw this pandemic coming or how it could affect the future of the economy and the way we live and work. But with a BCDR plan, the certainty is there.”
Lastly, Martin says that innovation is another area requiring spend: ”Innovation should not be forgotten about; it is one of the key elements that can differentiate a business. If you don’t invest in productivity software and security, then you run the risk of falling backwards.”
Keeping pace with technology
So, with all these predicted changes potentially coming our way, how can businesses cope with such frequent upheaval? “Technology continues to move at the speed of light and companies need to keep pace to stay relevant,” Laura says, believing that 2021 will be no different.
“The biggest change is that learning is no longer a ‘step away for a week and come back to it’-enabled exercise,” she notes. With the speed of technological change, Laura believes that teams don’t have the time to constantly step away to learn or solve a problem. So, how can they deal with the pace of new developments?
She adds: “They must be able to learn in quick bursts of knowledge that help propel their immediate projects – this is why companies must believe in learning to do, not just learning to learn.”
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