IDC: Worldwide IT predictions for 2021 that CIOs need to know

Informed and cautioned by the COVID-19 crisis, predictions say CIOs need to consider remediation of shortcomings, identifying which IT areas should be accelerated, and which new tech to leverage.

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The coronavirus' worldwide impact on lives and the immediate pressure on the IT workforce was completely unprecedented: This is a given. But now, the enterprise has the opportunity to take a reasoned, analytical, and predictive look at what is involved in an unexpected, dramatic emergency. In the next 12 to 24 months, predictions for the global business ecosystem, and specifically, the tech world, are completely shaped by COVID-19's disruptive force, according to a new report from business analysts International Data Corporation (IDC). 

"IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Industry 2021 Predictions" reported that despite the disruptions in 2020, the global economy rallies towards its "digital destiny." 

"The COVID crisis was, for the IT industry, represented a first in the sense it was the first crisis in the cloud era, and it was really the first crisis even in the era of mobile and smartphones," said the IDC report's author, Rick Villars. "One key takeaway we came for this crisis versus, say prior ones, was that technology was what led people to respond and do better. This was very much a technology that helped people navigate the crisis, as compared to many past crises. That was our big takeaway, is this is a crisis where technology mattered and being smart about your technology use is really what helped you navigate the issues better as a person, and as a company. And frankly, even as a country."

Remote workers, e-commerce, education, telemed, and more are based in a digital-delivery model-making digital-augmentation, which must be the standard to continue to be competitive in the industry. Most products and services are based on a digital delivery model or require digital augmentation to remain competitive. By 2022, this means a shift of 65% of global GDP will be a result of digitalization. There will be a dramatic change in the tech economy, too, with IT spending from 2020 to 2023 estimated at $6.8 trillion. Predictions in the IDC report are focused on the outcome of how the current changes will profoundly affect the enterprise by 2023.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

"We don't say that they're definitively by order of importance" in the report, Villars said. "There was a flow to it. We wanted to say there were really three major trends that a CIO needs to think about." Three of the top 10 predictions for CIOs and digitally driven C-suites are remediation of shortcomings, identifying which IT areas should be accelerated, and to leverage new tech, according to an IDC report.

IT predictions for 2021

1. Becoming cloud-centric. The enterprise was already making the shift to cloud-centric infrastructure, but when the pandemic hit, and the industry had to make significant changes to office operations, the transition quickened, so much so that the IDC report cited by 2021's end, 80% of enterprises--informed by the experience of the shift to a primarily remote workforce--will develop a mechanism to double the acceleration of the shift to cloud-centric infrastructure and applications.

"In a crisis, there's always challenges, but there's usually companies or groups that use this to take advantage of a competitive situation and grow market share or acquire new technology to change their business," said Villars.

2. Prioritize edge. Cause and effect will dominate most industries, which will continue to evolve. What most of the enterprise learned from the necessary transitions and subsequent practices put into play during the pandemic will be responsible for the motivation through 2023, for 80% of edge-driven investments and business-model changes. This necessitates a revised infrastructure, with application and data resources toward edge locations, and industries will need to incorporate cloud-centric edge and network solutions. This will address quicker responses for existing business needs, and serve as foundational for the support of long-term resilience digitally, enable scaling for business, and flexibility in business operations.

3. Hybrid by design. Today's dispersed workforce was definitely a result of the circumstances hoisted upon the enterprise by the coronavirus. But, the IDC report predicts that 75% of G2000 companies pledge that the workforce have technical parity by 2023 and that the workforce will be created and developed to accommodate a hybrid structure. It will foster a better understanding, group efforts, and a motivated workforce. 

"There was always this perception about, 'OK, the remote work, it's a temporary thing. When the crisis is over, people will go back to the office," Villars said, "and what we saw was that really the companies who were accelerating and doing well were ones who are inclined to completely change their model and recognize that giving their employees to work anywhere and in any environment, and work together anywhere as equals, as opposed to second-class citizens and first-class citizens, was going to be a key part of succeeding in the next phase."

4. Autonomous IT. Throughout the world, all IT automation initiatives will be supported by a burgeoning cloud ecosystem for greater resource control and real-time analytics by 2023. But to overcome challenges and meet the objectives, the industry must be forthright and integrate proactive AI/ML-powered analytics, introduce automation informed by policy, and use low code, serverless workflows more for a consistently operating infrastructure.

"Companies are going to go out and much more aggressively acquire much more advanced tools and AI," Villars said. "Not technology companies, but companies across all industries."

5. Talent at the heart of operations. For everything to come together and work efficiently as planned, the most critical element will be the building appropriately skilled teams of IT/Sec/DevOps professionals. Because it is and will be a challenge to bring a quality group together, there are concerns that through 2023, that about 50% of the hybrid workforce, as well as efforts to automate business may be slowed or stopped completely because the industry leaders may not have properly created a budget that will bring the best talent to their business. The need for developer and data analytics talent isn't likely to be abated, so enterprises will need to look towards alternative solutions, to move innovation, such as flexible talent sources, crowdsourcing, and employees who are already within the company; this will become a necessity to meet development/automation and advanced analytical needs.

"If you think about automation or cloud or any of these other things," Villars said, "and you don't step back and think about what's the impact on people, and how you can use this to help them do their job, as opposed to just add yet another pressure and challenge in their job, that can make the difference between whether you're going to be really successful in this new world or try interesting things but not really succeed."

IDC's other predictions revolve around how the industries deal with AI, the future of IT agility, resiliency, and sustainability. 

"One of our big predictions uses this [predictive] model to leverage the idea of digital co-workers, digital assistants, to help employees work better," Villars said.  "I'm looking to see if that actually gets implemented. Because that'll tell us whether people are really serious about this idea."

IDC's predictions were presented in a webinar Tuesday and will be available as an "on-demand replay," as part of the 40 FutureScape events, that addresses topics such as the CIO Agenda, Digital Transformation (DX), IT/OT convergence, cloud, smart cities, and industry-specific presentations. 

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