There is simply no way to avoid discussing COVID-19 when it comes to predicting what the next 12 months will bring.

According to research firm IDC, this year's predictions are shaped by the disruptive forces of the pandemic, which will dramatically alter the global business ecosystem for the next 12–24 months and beyond.

The impacts, the research firm said, are ubiquitous and affect the many external forces that are driving change.

The extent of it all was clear during ECA’s recent webinar, Projections 2021, an insightful crystal ball gazing exercise involving Montu Chadha, founder and CEO of Nitorom Inc. and Applications on Networks (Appsonnet), Paul Lewis, global chief technology officer and ECA contributor and Tom Ward, vice president of marketing at Qnext Corp.

Chadha kicked things off by saying that “obviously there has been considerable growth in cloud adoption and the remote worker.

“We are seeing a lot more demand for infrastructure monitoring including Internet of Things because there is much more decentralization.

“The practicalities of COVID-19 have rushed companies into cloud adoption, mainly because of the need to find solutions for the remote worker.”

According to Chadha, 2021 overall will be the year to fix mistakes that were made during this time of deploying architecture and infrastructure in the rush mode, adding that “everybody had to move so fast.

“The key is managing the complexity that the cloud brings to us,” he said. “Not only complexity, but also the costs associated with that complexity. Nobody can doubt that cloud adoption right now is at an all-time high. The number of adoptions and the number of options available in the marketplace are growing as are the solutions.

“Those solutions have gone from being just simple cloud adoption to adopting cloud in the multi-cloud environment and to be able to have hybrid cloud infrastructure, multiple cloud infrastructures and span those infrastructures across the globe is something that is going to grow in 2021.”

Another area of note is the Internet of Things. “There are some amazing advancements coming in 2021 especially in areas such as medicine, monitoring and management,” he said. “We are seeing this in the marketplace – everything from logistics and shipping to things like monitoring transformers where they will be able to predict failure, before a power outage.”

Lewis, meanwhile, referenced the fact that he has had literally hundreds of conversations in the last couple of quarters with CIOs, CEOs and CSIOs and it is “clear there are people-centric trends and IT-centric trends.

“As for people-centric trends a lot of it has to do with compassion. Compassion about the health and the safety of not just your team, but the extended team and the shareholders, and the customers and members of the supply chain. Are they getting groceries and are they safe and that extended to the economy and employment – will people have jobs and a steady income moving forward – and finally collaboration and communication.

“We collaborate and communicate differently now. There are hundreds of thousands of people at home and we do not have the personal interaction. There are no more conversations in the office around the water cooler.”

On the technology side, he pointed out that it’s fair to say that most CIOs believe that 2021, 2022 and 2023 will look a “lot more like today than 2019 or even January to March of this year.

“They (IT executives) overwhelmingly believe that it has been positive. Initiatives that would have taken them three to five years to complete now get done in three to five quarters. They have had a significant increase in IT agility.

“I see work from home being a default, not an exception. More people will work at home from the start than anywhere else. It is not just home, but anywhere. It might be your beach resort, your cottage or Starbucks, it does not matter. Where I am is where work is – not in the office.”

Agile IT, he added, will be the only IT of importance.  He pointed out that executives he has talked to recall going from nine-month projects to three-week projects and that has required them to make significant technological changes.

Speaking in the first person, he said, “as an example, instead of three applications per month to the cloud I need to migrate and modernize 50 applications to the cloud. I need to consume far more SaaS versions of the product than I normally would and install and manage in-house.

“I will need automation, which is where a lot of the AI comes into play.  I will need to manage applications across a diverse infrastructure – at the edge, in the core, in the cloud, multi-cloud environments, in SaaS environments. My ability to manage and automate across those entire diverse platforms becomes important.”

Ward, meanwhile, zeroed in on security and specifically the Zero Trust initiative.

“COVID-19 has certainly changed the landscape,” he said. “The distributed workforce is different from the workforce we had 10 years ago. We have seen the internationalization of the workforce. You can contract people and they can be located anywhere in the world.  You can have gig-based workers there for a single contract and it has all been accelerated by COVID-19.

“85% of CSIOs have said that in order to roll out these new initiatives they have had to sacrifice cybersecurity. Our traditional way of doing things has been based upon a perimeter-centric form of defense. You might have a firewall, you might have AV software, you have software OS patches roll out rapidly and you might have (tools) to prevent spear-phishing and things like that.

“The problem is they don’t work. Breaches are very common, and ransomware is very common.”

The alternative, said Ward, represents a totally different paradigm. Instead of using a perimeter and assuming that anybody behind the perimeter is OK, the new approach is called Zero Trust.

“It’s being driven by a number of big companies and the standards are being set. Zero Trust is an approach that is exactly what the name says. It is a never-trust, always verify every transaction all the time.

“Just because you are behind the perimeter does not mean that you are not an adversary. Instead of having a spread-centric approach, now you bring in a trust-centric approach.  Think of Zero Trust like a bank teller. If you go into a bank today for money you are not allowed to go right to the vault and get it. You have to go to a bank teller and the teller then checks your ID and bank card … You have to be verified.

“The whole idea is to eliminate unauthorized access and make enforcement as granular as possible.

“It is big. Two-thirds of companies in North America are bringing out Zero Trust projects right now and it is up about 300% year-over-year in terms of companies bringing it in because they know the old way doesn’t work especially now with so many people working from home.”

Zero Trust, said Ward, verifies every user, for every device, for every app, for every single transaction. It is very dynamic in that you can adapt policies on a user-by-user basis on a case-by-case basis and even on a file-by-file basis.”

During the webinar, the three speakers responded to the following questions:

Each of you specialize in different sectors of the IT sector. What key trends do you see occurring over the next 12 months?

We have referenced IDC and Gartner and now it is Forrester’s turn. It is predicting that AI and machine learning (ML) will permeate new use cases and experiences. In 2021, the grittiest of companies will push AI to new frontiers, such as holographic meetings for remote work and on-demand, personalized manufacturing. They will gamify strategic planning, build simulations in the boardroom, and move into intelligent edge experiences.” It sounds exciting, but how realistic is it?

How will 5G change the IT and edge computing landscape?

To access Projections 2021, click on the following link.

Paul Barker