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2021 tech predictions

This year won’t mark an end to the bombardment of phishing attacks, targeted attacks and ransomware the world has experienced in recent months – if anything, 2021 could look like the ‘wild west’ in the world of cybersecurity. With cyber criminals becoming increasingly bold and aggressive, and a remote workforce making organisations more vulnerable than before, organisations and CIOs in particular, can expect a challenging year ahead. Industry pundits share insights on the tech outlook of the Middle East enterprise market and hear predictions about the year ahead.

While the last few months have been rife with uncertainty and challenges for both individuals and businesses, there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel. With COVID-19 vaccines approved and the process of being administering having kicked off, this year is starting with many hopeful that it shall be able to return to relative normality that happened prior to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Yet 2021 is also likely to be a year of picking up the pieces and adapting. Business operations have changed significantly and organisations will be tasked with rebalancing and reassessing their systems for a working world that looks drastically different from a year ago. The fact is the enterprise segment in the Middle East isn’t quite out of the woods yet.

With this in mind, here are the top technology and business trends that organisations should keep an eye on, to ensure that they are best positioned for success in 2021.

Hybrid cloud

Hamilton Ratshefola, Country General Manager, IBM Southern Africa, said IBM has already built three enduring platforms – mainframe, middleware and services – all of which continue today. “Hybrid cloud is the Fourth Platform and becoming ubiquitous – we’re seeing clients use about 6 different clouds for their business,” he said.

Ratshefola said clients are realising business value advantage by adopting a consistent hybrid cloud platform approach versus a single public cloud. “With that significant value advantage and deep investments in AI, IBM is positioned for long-term growth by bringing AI and emerging technologies like quantum and Blockchain to the hybrid cloud,” he said.

Ratshefola said if there is anything the COVID-19 pandemic has taught the IT industry, it’s the critical importance of technology solutions that enable speed, flexibility, insight and innovation. In fact, choosing which technology platforms power your business is the most consequential decision a business can make. Technology platforms are the basis for competitive advantage in the 21st century.

“CIOs are looking to improve efficiencies in the midst of ever-increasing complexities. We believe that we have introduced solutions and services to help them navigate this year we will really be about expanding on this and helping them navigate new challenges and changing requirements,” he said.

With the African enterprise IT market undergoing transformation, CIOs are being urged to embrace change and innovate.

At Citrix, Fermin Serna, CISO, believes that: “Companies are rapidly moving to simplify and shift things to the cloud. And CISOs are adapting to secure the new environment. But five years from now, there will be something else. CISOs will become more agile in adapting to changes as technology evolves in 2021 and align closely with business leaders to provide a secure environment that fuels innovation and growth.

“There are lessons to be learned today that can help shape a better tomorrow. Just like work, cyberattacks can happen anywhere, anytime. And in order to successfully protect the systems and information people need to get things done, wherever they happen to be, security organisations need to become more intelligent and flexible. In doing so, they can create the secure environments needed to keep employees engaged and productive and fuel innovation and business growth.”

Muggie van Staden, MD at Obsidian Systems draws similarities between past discussions with corporates regarding open source adoption and use, and current discussions regarding the cloud.

“Over the years we’ve gotten better at explaining to people why these things make sense. And if we think specifically around cloud, it is interesting about two or three things ago, if you spoke to the banks about the cloud, most of them would say ‘sorry it’s not something we are considering, regulatory reasons, security reasons etc.’ until probably about 18 months ago, suddenly every bank had an executive responsible for the cloud. So, they went from ‘it’s impossible’ to ‘now we need a cloud executive to make sure we do it right’,” said Van Staden.

Van Staden added: “I think in the South African context, the biggest challenge that people still have is around the understanding of governance, with things like the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) and GDPR. But I think as more and more big banks start engaging with Software-As a-Service (SaaS) or just Infrastructure- As-a-Service from different cloud providers, those things are being addressed with the regulator. And now that we have most of the big cloud players having data centres in South Africa also helps. But it is still a slow process, I think that that is one of the big drivers.”

While it’s difficult to tell the outlook for the enterprise IT market on the continent in 2021, pundits predict it will be the continuation of what characterised majority of 2020.

Data management

Kate Mollett, Regional Manager, Africa at Veeam, said 2021 is almost certainly going to be a continuation of what started in the second-half of 2020: a rapid and sustained evolution to deal with the pandemic’s disruption.

Mollet added that there won’t be a mass migration back to the physical office, but a move towards a hybrid working model. “Organisations are going to continue accelerating their investment in robust Cloud Data Management strategies and we are seeing an increasing number of companies seeking out the most cost-effective and efficient ways to harness the power of the cloud. One of the most pressing questions C-suites face today and which will intensify over the course of 2021, is how best can they invest in efficient multi-cloud or hybrid cloud strategies, where data is secure across all their platforms,” she said.

Mollet explained that as little as a year ago many organisations were on a single path, with one public cloud provider, either AWS or Azure, for instance. As we know, 2020 saw a rapid shift to a decentralised workforce and digitisation of all appropriate and critical systems. Under these circumstances, many customers in South Africa chose to hedge their bets, so to speak, and not rely on a single cloud service provider but have a more diverse approach, which included investment into multiple cloud service provider platforms.

Paul Farrington, EMEA CTO, Veracode, said: “If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that a business is only as agile as its infrastructure, proving how much we depend on cloud-native technologies. With infrastructure becoming increasingly immutable, I predict we’ll see the impact of this specifically as it relates to the rise of cloud-native technologies and infrastructure as code. Both of these trends offer major business benefits in terms of automation, cost, scale, and security.

“As companies continue to outsource their infrastructure to third parties and pivot their focus to consuming services, they will need to focus less on the security of the operating system and runtime environment and more on the application layer. Furthermore, as infrastructure turns into code, the better ‘choke point’ to scan for infrastructure vulnerabilities becomes the code rather than servers in production.”

5G and Edge Computing

IBM’s Ratshefola explained that CIOs are also looking to 5G and Edge Computing which can bring computation and data storage closer to where data is created and make it easier for companies to act on the insights it generates.

“The challenge is to connect all of the different elements into a cohesive platform that enables agility and rapid delivery of new features and services. This is why we introduced new edge and telco network cloud solutions built on Red Hat Open Stack and Red Hat OpenShift. This now enable clients to run workloads anywhere-from any data centre to multiple clouds to the Edge,” he said.

Mollett said key technologies CIOs should look out for this year include Kubernetes-native backup solutions because they are critical for businesses as Kubernetes-based environments are fundamentally different from those based on earlier technologies and therefore, require a different approach. “This benefits businesses in a number of ways, including application scale, protection gaps, security and ecosystem integration. As such, businesses will be able to keep applications as the unit of atomicity for consistent operations with a Kubernetes-native backup approach,” she added. “Further, businesses can enjoy consistent security operations as Kubernetes security features deny access to internal application components and their associated data centres. It is a backup solution that comes with workload knowledge to select the capture primitive best suited to the application’s requirements – a key attribute for a cloud-native infrastructure ecosystem.”

Digital Transformation

With the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic being felt on businesses of all types,

Rod Johnson, Global President and Chief Revenue Officer, Infor said: As a direct result of COVID-19, we are going to see the acceleration of digital supply chains in 2021. While supply chain leaders have traditionally viewed Digital Transformation in the context of efficiency and cost, the focus will now be on agility and resiliency. That’s where digital technology comes in. A multi-enterprise, digital supply chain enables better end-to-end visibility, better predictive analytics, better and smarter automation. Leaders will be able to customise and flex their supply chains based on market demand and make better use of ecosystem partners. These digital tools are as far ranging as Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and robotic process automation, and are expected to shift early promises to impactful value propositions.”

Johnson said that as the incredible supply chain disruptions of 2020 unfolded, it became clear that managing real-time supply and demand matching and forecasting were no longer tasks humans can take on alone. “It’s no longer reasonable to expect a supply chain leader to predict when one country’s market will suddenly close and another’s will open, or account for ever-shifting materials and costs – especially as government restrictions on transportation and travel change rapidly,” he noted. “In 2021, we will see supply chain managers accelerating their adoption of AI to augment workers’ instincts and experiences and provide them with intelligent insights into changing market conditions, letting them accurately forecast supply and demand in real-time.”

Already, organisations recognise the unlimited opportunities available to them through data they have already collected. Data re-use will be a big trend organisations will witness as the market shifts in 2021, with many leveraging the power of Machine Learning.

According to Mollett, enterprises have a double motivation to ensure data compliance in 2021. She said the first in the case of South Africa, is the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) which will come into force during the course of this year. “The second is that increased reliance on Cloud Data Management requires robust solutions lest businesses fall foul of regulators, lose the trust of their customers and face heavy fines. 2021 will see increased investment in solutions that are able to secure and backup data as well as scan and remove personal data before it is redeployed back into production,” he said. “As we start a new year shrouded with uncertainty, we can be almost certain that investments in Digital Transformation generally and Cloud Data Management specifically, will continue to accelerate.”

Looking ahead, Mollett explained that it’s crucial that the next generation of employees, who are largely digital natives with more exposure to technology than previous generations, are encouraged and incentivised to take up careers in computer science, engineering and software programming to help bridge this gap.

“CIOs need to drive skills development within their organisations that address their challenges, such as how to optimise installations and how to use data in more innovative ways for customer enhancement. A great enabler for developing technical skills is the growth of the cloud across the African continent,” he said. “This growth is raising awareness of the impact more skilled people can have on the technology opportunities that the cloud can help facilitate. Additionally, organisations must enhance their capabilities to ensure employees can draw on data insights and use new technologies as they are deployed.”

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