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Six digital transformation trends to watch in 2021

12 Jan 2021

Article by Cohesity head of systems engineering A/NZ Derek Cowan.

One of the biggest lessons Australia and New Zealand business leaders can take from the past 12 months is that a climate of uncertainty is now the new normal. 

The shift in customer behaviour brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with rapid information technology changes, has already presented significant challenges. As a result, many organisations have had to bring forward their digital transformation plans and complete projects in weeks or months rather than years.

During 2021, CIOs will have to work throughout their organisations and apply digital technologies and data to unlock new business opportunities. They must also work to promote a growth mindset that will help to unlock fresh innovation and agility.

Adopting such a growth mindset will require CIOs and IT teams to embrace six key trends during the coming 12 months.

Greater application of AI and ML

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have received growing attention during the past few years, and both technologies will become a vital part of successful digital transformation projects. According to research firm IDC, global spending on AI is forecast to double during the next four years, growing from $US50.1 billion in 2020 to more than $US110 billion in 2024.

Increasingly, companies will use AI and ML to help boost customer service and worker efficiency. IDC believes the top four use cases for AI – automated customer service agents, sales process recommendation and automation, automated threat intelligence and prevention, and IT automation – will represent nearly a third of all AI spending in 2021.

Improved agility

It’s going to be very difficult to change direction quickly if the organisation is limited by its applications because, all too often, applications are implemented and then left alone. Their business value is unassessed, and potential outlays, both in terms of the total cost of ownership and cybersecurity risk, are unconsidered.

CIOs must empower end-users to help developers create the tools they need. Rather than creating big development projects with a big upfront scope, CIOs should create an agile culture that allows the business to develop an iterative approach to application development.

Optimised IT spend

Gartner suggests that 25% of average IT budgets are currently spent on capital expenditure. For this reason, CIOs must optimise how their IT spend is allocated. 

Re-platforming legacy applications to the cloud can seem like an expensive proposition; however, the alternative is a reliance on staid applications that can stop an organisation changing direction quickly.

With less money to invest and more IT to do, CIOs are spending their budgets on areas that will accelerate digital business, such as infrastructure-as-a-service. By focusing on a flexible cloud and infrastructure strategy, an organisation can flex its IT requirements as business circumstances change.

A strong security foundation

While emerging technology, like AI and ML, can help companies achieve agility at scale, CIOs should only use these technologies once the right foundations are in place. These solid foundations are all about a robust approach to cybersecurity threats.

IT leaders must ensure their organisations invest in critical areas like backup and data management. Solid backup and data management provides accurate real-time data, ransomware protection, and speeds up test and development environments. Investing in these areas ensures privacy is assured, and the risk of innovation is reduced. 

Recognise the potential of emerging technologies

With budgets likely to be constrained, no one expects the CIO to take a big bet on a fast-emerging concept. However, what CIOs must do is recognise the potential of emerging technologies to bubble up and impact how their organisation operates and interacts with its customers.

From blockchain to quantum computing and onto brain-computer interfaces, CIOs should create a culture that allows their organisation to test these technologies, possibly even in a lab environment. By developing proof-of-concept studies, IT leaders can test these technologies against emerging use cases.

Adopt a standard methodology

Beneath everything else, organisations need to have a standardised methodology to create, describe and change IT systems and assets. That’s where an enterprise architecture framework comes in. It’s a way to make sure the organisation has a long-term view on how systems and services will form part of an approach to IT implementation.

With the increased use of cloud and emerging technologies, CIOs would be well advised to create a framework that allows their business to use new technologies in an open but secure manner. CIOs who want to adopt a growth mindset will need to ensure their business can embrace innovation without putting the enterprise at risk. 

Beyond stability

The clear message for CIOs is that taking a business-as-usual approach to IT is no longer sufficient. The rate of change will continue to increase during 2021, and gaining a competitive edge will depend on an organisation’s ability to embrace disruption.

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