I have to be candid: I’ve got about as much clarity looking into what’s coming next year as I do trying to see through my fogged-up glasses while wearing a COVID mask. But here goes.
I think one of the more challenging issues for chief information officers and other IT professionals moving into 2021 will be the ability to confidently locate, manage, and secure their company’s data. Data security has always been a top priority -- it’s often the No. 1 IT purchase in InformationWeek and Omdia surveys -- but I think the situations that arose from this past year, in addition to the onset of some emerging technology platforms like hybrid cloud, will accelerate the challenge of retrieving, analyzing, and managing data. The rapid move to cloud environments to support the vast work-from-home movement that the pandemic spawned was just one phenomenon that led to a disjointed approach to managing data. And that will only get worse before it gets better. And I do believe it’ll get better.
There are examples of companies that only had enough resources to support a few dozen employees working remotely -- from a workforce of hundreds. That meant having to accept letting boatloads of employees use their own devices to access corporate information. IT leaders have had to cope with the frightening scenario of multiple new end points on the network that were not part of a previously carefully planned architecture. Many had to scramble to map out data accessibility protocols that would have challenged Magellan. In 2021, they’ll now have to perform assessments to see how to better rein in this amalgam of connections and better ensure knowing not just who has access to what data, but where that data resides in order to give access to the right people.
Add in the rush to hybrid cloud approaches to accommodate the migration to digital transformation, and the mixture of IT domains that need to be managed potentially becomes a dizzying mess. Considering the circumstances, there are plenty of organizations that are doing relatively well overseeing these challenges that no one could possibly have anticipated. But even they will need to reassess the situation soon to avoid a calamity that could come in the form of security breaches, cost overruns, or lost data.
Accelerating previous transformation plans
But that’s where I see encouragement despite the potential of companies losing control of data. Many CIOs are starting to adapt to the uncertain environment by stabilizing some of the platform expansion, and some of that early rush to new cloud platforms was actually part of previous plans that simply had to be accelerated. And now that they’ve had some time and experience with the initial scramble, they can do cost assessments to determine where they can start making some improvements. There are also better technology solutions, like Secure Access Service Edge, that can help IT chiefs get better control of their data and regain some normalcy.
So, while the early part of the year might have some CIOs wondering “where’s my data,” I believe there is an opportunity to regain control and rethink how best to move data around the enterprise. That will give businesses the opportunity then to turn that data into new revenue streams.
I think FedEx CIO Rob Carter summed things up well when he said -- after acknowledging that the response to 2020 was probably even more challenging for CIOs than the days after 9/11 -- that there are lessons we’ve learned that’ve helped the industry to prepare, respond, and then sort out the kinks. “Culturally, there have been some great surprises. The effectiveness of these [collaborative] tools has been incredible. Not just because we’re able to [work together], but because it’s been so effective. Our team feels like we’ve been communicating really well throughout this. [The technology] is letting us do things that frankly we weren’t doing before the pandemic struck.”
And the experience has accelerated plans rather than dashing them. “We got slingshotted into 2023,” said Carter. “This e-commerce explosion that we saw coming and were preparing for came right up close and personal, and frankly you can’t fake being prepared for that.”
Follow up with our Top 10 Data and Analytics Trends for 2021.