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The Only Constant Is Change: 7 Trends Enterprise IT Leaders Must Watch in 2018 & Beyond

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Artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced robotics, always-on IoT devices and more: there are so many new technologies making waves throughout businesses and industries that it can be difficult to parse the short-lived from the long-lasting. The difference between winning and losing in the Digital Age depends on the ability to capitalize on these technologies, adapt to new customer expectations, and shift resources to focus on vital, differentiating applications and data.

CIOs have the immense task of driving the strategy for their organization's digital future by championing those technological initiatives that will transform the business and ensure it flourishes. But while many are content to return time and again to the same solutions to the same problems, progressive CIOs understand that the nature of technology demands new ideas and new approaches. There may have been a time when old problems could be solved by old solutions, but that time has come and gone.

Listed below are the top seven trends enterprise IT leaders and teams should be paying attention to in 2018 and beyond. It's important to note that none of these trends have taken shape in a vacuum; each is influenced by the others on the list and together comprise an overview of the forces shaping the industry.

  1. Custom Cloud Environments. Yes, we're still talking about the cloud, and no, cloud-first strategies aren't going anywhere. Enterprise-wide cloud operations are, however, continuing to evolve. According to a 2018 Right Scale survey of 997 IT professionals (53% representing enterprises with more than 1,000 employees), almost 96% of respondents now utilize some combination of private and public cloud services for operations and applications. As these enterprises endeavor to create their optimal cloud environment, the challenges IT teams face will be in aligning the local, physical infrastructure's capabilities with the demands of interfacing with the cloud and allocating resources correctly.

    After spending the better part of a decade migrating their critical business operations and applications, many enterprises are beginning to see the value in applying what they've learned to creating their own private niche, using cloud providers or subscription models as launch pads for more custom storage, development and computing environments.

    Although serverless approaches have seen a recent uptick, determining how and when to maintain the traditional components becomes a key question every CIO will need to ask when balancing the costs, benefits, and concerns associated with the shift. The cloud helped navigate new compute and storage issues, but progressive CIOs should be asking, "What about the rest of my IT?" As the intangible environment becomes more and more integral to everyday operations, as do the tangible components that enable access: routers, WAPs, IoT devices, and more. Without taking a top-to-bottom look at the practical infrastructure that powers the cloud, it will remain an expensive, inaccessible dream.

  2. Unifying & Refining Security Posture. Data is the new currency and cyber security has every consumer skeptical and every organization – from retail conglomerates to social media giants – on high alert. As cloud investment grows, the potential exposure to increasingly complex threats grows with it, to the point of inevitability. According to a recent McAfee survey of 1,400 IT professionals, one in five respondents indicated that they had experienced an advanced attack against their public cloud infrastructure.

    Cloud services boast security through single-minded focus, but they provide large, attractive targets for attackers who have repeatedly demonstrated through one massive data breach after the other that they are determined. This becomes especially disconcerting as more business-critical IP, sensitive data, and proprietary applications are hosted in this environment and each breach carries with it a greater potential cost to the organization, in the way of revenue, legal action, and reputation.

    Reports and trends indicate, however, that while an array of vulnerabilities threaten the security of cloud services, the majority of these failings are on the part of the enterprise customer. From inconsistent credential maintenance exacerbated by careless insiders to insufficient local encryption compounded by outdated physical infrastructures, many of the most common and exploitable vulnerabilities are the responsibility of the enterprise to manage. As a result, security is the most rapidly increasing IT cost associated with the cloud service spending, with global spending on cloud security expected to grow to $3.5 billion by 2021, according to analysis from Forrester. It's not enough to stay vigilant; enterprises need to find ways to embed security and reduce their surface attack areas.

    In the words of Dr. Ed Amoroso, former CISO of AT&T and CIO of TAG Cyber, "The offense only needs one way to break into your system. The defense needs to stop every possible break-in path." When thinking about enterprise cyber security, consider the joke about the two friends hiking when they encounter a hungry bear: you don't have to outrun the bear, you just have to outrun your friend (we won't judge!). The same sentiment can be applied to cyber security. Organizations don't have to—nor should they expect to be able to—stop or eliminate all attacks. They can, however, make themselves stronger and faster than the competition so they aren't eaten.

  3. Reducing Total Cost of Ownership. Shifting critical data storage and applications to cloud services is a great start to reducing TCO. By building systems that are able to easily interface and integrate with the cloud at every layer, you're able to off-set some of the day-to-day IT business that would typically consume resources. You can also more easily scale your operations to match changing business needs and reduce one of the most costly of potential issues—network down time—which is estimated to cost businesses approximately $5,600 per minute in lost revenue.

    But as the "as-a-service" model is embraced by the industry and applied to every aspect of IT infrastructure, including the physical components that comprise the network, the traditional OEM-controlled price structure is eroding. CIOs are realizing that while OEMs recommend that many components be replaced out of deference to higher performance, those OEMs aren't interested in reducing TCO as much as they are maintaining the EOSL-focused status quo. By encouraging customers to always purchase the newest equipment OEMs keep IT departments on the hamster wheel, constantly incurring new infrastructure costs.

    The true lifecycle of any given component might actually be five, possibly seven years, so the balance of power shifts from the necessity of component replacement to component maintenance. Many businesses have moved to a managed services model to address this, but does it? No, this "solution" exacerbates the issue because the managed services provider takes the same approach as the OEM: buying new equipment is the solution to every problem. By bringing on an infrastructure utility provider who shares the risk and is better positioned to perform regular maintenance and replacement of a wide array of equipment, you're able to reduce the capital expenditure and allocate resources to other parts of the budget. As William Fellows, co-founder and Vice President of Research at 451 Research, recently commented, "What 451 refers to as 'invisible infrastructure' is instantly available, operates and scales regardless of specific requirements, and is billed and metered in a manner the customer prescribes."

    Then you need to factor in all the costs associated with each vendor. Contracting with too many providers can create budgetary drag. It costs time and money to manage those relationships, and they each come with additional concerns: security risks, data management, and administrative woes. As enterprises lay the foundation for their digital services in the cloud, a single vendor with robust SLAs and trustworthy business practices will be the best way to reduce TCO going forward. But as mentioned above, a well-built cloud environment is only as good as the organization's ability to employ it. Without a thoughtfully planned physical infrastructure from an expert who is able to take a big picture view of how each aspect of your operations fits together, the cloud can't deliver on its financial benefits.

    And that's just looking at the hard costs. What about all the soft costs that aren't easy to see and you might not even know? Are you calculating things like project management, truck rolls, and sunny day administration changes? Let's face it: change happens at a rapid pace. But most providers in the industry require customers to perform the day-to-day changes, charge you for each additional cost, and worst of all they're inconsistent in how quickly they respond and offer service levels based on means and averages. Each of these obstacles make just calculating true TCO impossible, let alone reducing it.

  4. Reducing Technology Debt. Dysfunctional devices, frazzled wiring, outdated, low-capacity servers, routers, switches: when we talk about hardware employed beyond its end-of-life, we're talking about technology debt and you may not even realize the problems it's causing.

    There are numerous reasons why an organization would accrue technology debt: perhaps the business's crucial legacy systems have been endlessly patched to the point of inscrutability, or time and financial constraints are limiting the areas on which your IT team can focus, or maybe a once cutting-edge network design has become obsolete. Regardless, as business depends more on flexibility and agility, technology debt accrues "interest" that inevitably costs more in resources that just may not be available. Aging and obsolete equipment leads to leads to financial risk by way of security failures, reduced reliability, and increased costs. Remember the bear in the woods? Ignoring technology debt is like inviting the bear into your house.

    It may have made sense to put off the refurbishment of the physical infrastructure of your network and servers, but interconnected IoT technologies demand high performance and those outdated components are limiting speed. Those that have failed to upgrade in the last five to ten years are likely beyond "debt" and nearer to technical "bankruptcy," and so far behind that only a complete overhaul of their environment would fix the compounded problems.

    So how can businesses best refresh their resources? It's vital that IT leaders first identify the systems and components that are primary causes for concern. Amid the pressure of rigid deadlines, time is likely the limiting factor in any team's productivity. How can you find more of it? What systems are limiting your potential for growth? What kinds of processes and responsibilities would your team off-load to new technology if they could? How can progress be measured to see where you are and where you need to go? Once those questions are answered, the focus shifts to the practical. What kinds of technologies and new IT infrastructure business models can be employed to help achieve those goals? How can some time spent streamlining infrastructure now save resources in the future? Are there third-party providers and partners who can assist? And if so, what kinds of philosophical and cultural changes will need to be made throughout the business to accommodate this new approach?

    It's unrealistic to think an infrastructure overhaul is feasible or will answer all of these questions, but there are paths you can take that will serve you better. The only way out of technology debt is to take charge, pay it down, and never let it accrue again by adopting an approach to your IT infrastructure that addresses these risks up front, otherwise you're likely to be at the mercy of outdated technology in the near future.

  5. AI Data Analysis & Trouble Shooting. Given the value of data and digital service today, an enterprise's IT and DevOps teams are under constant pressure to keep the network running at optimal levels and create new ways of engaging and interacting with consumers. As mentioned above, the cost of IT downtime for a business can be as high as $300,000 per hour, so there is a persistent need to keep operations running optimally.

    Which is where artificial intelligence comes in. While it can be difficult for an individual to isolate a specific problem amid a sea of data, or see patterns in customer behaviors, deep learning algorithms and predictive monitoring have helped speed up the diagnosis of traditional IT problems and excel at initiating the trouble shooting process. But the near-future demand will be first, in adapting these resources to increasingly customized and complex environments; and second, in assuring that IT staff are able to work alongside the software to accurately respond to its analysis. If Luke and R2D2 weren't able to effectively communicate with one another to repair his X-Wing and travel the stars, they never would've made it to Yoda!

    Without the right on-premises response team in place, a small disconnect between cloud services, staff, and the applications that depend on them can become a big problem. And as the cybersecurity concerns mentioned above become more prevalent, if a knowledgeable expert isn't on hand to respond in real time to complex threats that exceed the AI's capabilities, the analysis provided by the software is useless. The enterprise best able to leverage AI as a means of gaining insight and speed is best positioned to succeed.

  6. Regulation Awareness & Responsiveness. With the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union and in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal at Facebook, there is more talk than ever about the future of the online regulatory environment, both abroad and in the United States. And amid ongoing debate around the future of net neutrality, the digital life of an enterprise is increasingly subject to the influence of regulatory bodies around the world.

    Regardless of the path the development of those regulations take—whether it's direct accountability of data collectors for any and all security breaches, or increased restrictions on what businesses can request—it will be on the IT infrastructure to be able to respond. The CIO best able to anticipate potential regulations and plan accordingly will be best equipped to guide their organization into the future.

    Two subjects will be the focus of most important questions when planning for future regulation: cyber security and consumer data. If a regulatory body were to audit your business's cybersecurity apparatus, how would it fare? As mentioned above, the consolidation of data within cloud services is a double-edged sword, providing a unified front, but an enormous target. What kinds of redundancies are you implementing on your end to assure the most robust security profile possible?

    And how transparent is your customer data management structure? This question is not just for Facebook, but for every business with a digital presence. Were a customer to ask you to reveal all of the data you've collected on them, with the possible intention to revoke access, would you be able to comply? As regulatory bodies respond to growing concerns, balancing this delicate relationship between security and accessibility will be key.

  7. Looming Advent of 5G. Although there is speculation that 5G won't be widely available until 2020 at the earliest, and it won't completely revolutionize network performance, the recent reveal of this technology has long-term implications for businesses. Faster-than-previously-imagined speeds will enable new innovations throughout the realm of mobile communications, but especially with connected Internet of Things devices and any type of service in which time is a critical factor, such as transportation, medical treatment, and more.

    Successful deployment of 5G-enabled operations will require an imaginative approach to not just network design, but the entire IT infrastructure, so that by the time the technology is available the applications and services that use it are as fast to market. If you think your team has it bad now, it's only going to get worse once the possibilities of lightning fast interconnected devices are unlocked with this technology.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed. At TenFour we believe each of these trends will dictate not just the future of IT, but mean the difference between businesses winning, losing, and flourishing enough to adapt to what's next.

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Copyright © 2018 TenFour | Photo by Ross Findon

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