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2021 tech outlook

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. Withcybercriminals 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.

Tech trends

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.

James Frost, Regional Director, MEA at Auth0, said traditionally the CIO position aligned internal business needs to technology solutions like employee single sign-on.

“With the exception of e-business, IT was defined as a cost centre. We’re living at a time when businesses are looking to increase their digital footprint and offset the risks associated with both the current health situation and loss of revenue. As businesses are forced to evolve and provide alternate offerings, CIOs are also needing to evolve into revenue drivers. IT is now moving organisations toward their financial goals, not just in e-businesses, but in traditional in-store businesses as well, and we’ll see this shift continue through 2021,” he said.

Frost added that: “We will see CIOs achieve quick wins by replacing parts of their legacy technology with ‘componentised’ digital technologies that can be more easily reused across their infrastructure. These include services like online payments, messaging and communication, and identity management that allow businesses to speed their Digital Transformation and adapt to changing environments, whether that be a pandemic, new cyberthreats or consumer devices and expectations.

Anas Abu Ghoush, Head of Information Services, Heriot-Watt University Dubai, said 2021 will require CIOs to both respond to digital acceleration and proactive risk management. “COVID-19 has helped us all become more familiar with uncertainty and has also shown us how important certain technologies are than we previously thought. This includes Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning as many business operations have incorporated such technologies more than ever before.”

Ghoush said Harvey Nash/KPMG found in a recent survey that small scale deployments of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning have risen from 21% before COVID-19 to 24% in a period of only a few months. “In the next few years, most IT and automation initiatives around the world will have a cloud ecosystem as the primary framework that offers resource controls and real-time analytics capabilities. In order to achieve this, organisations will integrate analytics powered by AI and ML, adopt automation, self-driving infrastructure enabled by serverless process and use of low code,” he said.

Cloud adoption

Soma Somasundaram, Chief Technology Officer and President of Products, Infor, said: “After the US Open tennis tournament successfully pivoted to cloud and AI this year to enhance the virtual experience for fans who could not attend the physical event, we will see an uptick in physical events leveraging cloud technology to give viewers tailored experiences.”

Somasundaram added that with 2021 primed to grip the world’s attention with several major events, such as the Summer Olympics in Tokyo and the Wimbledon Championship, cloud technology is poised to completely reinvent what is known about fan experiences today. “The potential for using cloud technology to transform events is enormous – think real-time crowd excitement analysis to optimise highlights and advertisements, extremely low-latency live feeds and moderated crowd interaction – all hosted on robust cloud platforms,” he said.

According to Somasundaram, in the unpredictable job market of 2021, it will be critical for organisations to leverage AI to ensure they find the right candidate for the job. “AI will enable HR departments to become more proactive in their hiring and help them determine a candidate’s cultural fit by using data to measure the quality of a hire,” he said. “Innovations such as intelligent screening software that automates resume screening, recruiter chatbots that engage candidates in real-time and digitised interviews that help assess a candidate’s fit, will start becoming commonplace in HR departments. AI also holds great promise for creating more diverse and inclusive workplaces, given its ability to reduce biases and add objectivity into employment decision-making through AI-powered algorithms that will identify the unique qualities of candidates.”

Digital Transformation

Patrick Smith, CTO EMEA, Pure Storage, said for those businesses that hadn’t already embarked on a Digital Transformation journey, the pandemic forced them to overhaul their IT and at speed. “In the process, many companies over rotated in their technology choices, opting for infrastructure beyond their needs and choosing expensive solutions with vast capacity. In the long term, these choices may prove unsustainable and in 2021 businesses will need to refocus on the medium-term, rebalance and opt for the solutions that fit their needs while remaining agile,” he said. “In 2021 the CTO’s role will need to adapt to being the ‘renegotiator’ – finding the best tuned systems for streamlined budgets.”

Alberto Pan, Chief Technical Officer, Denodo, said: “The COVID pandemic has made evident the need to accelerate the delivery of useful and trusted data to business decision makers. That is why many companies are turning to more agile data integration technologies like data virtualisation which can shorten these times drastically.

“In 2021 we will see how this trend is consolidated as a comprehensive data strategy. Many companies will implement the concept of data fabric – an architectural pattern which ensures agility and the delivery of trusted, real-time data to a business. In addition, AI technology will be further incorporated in data fabric architectures to automate steps such as data discovery, performance optimisation and workload management. This will further increase automation and agility by leveraging the maturity reached by AI technology in the last years.”

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.”

Business agility

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.”

Ty Amell, CTO, AppDynamics, said 2020 was a year that will go down in history as one of the most challenging, tragic and complex years of modern times. “And yet, amid all of the loss and hardship of 2020, it has also shown how resilient and strong human beings can be when we work together toward a common goal. In the technology industry, we watched IT leaders become the overnight superheroes of their organisations. They enabled entire workforces to shift to working remotely, supporting the IT needs and their entire businesses to be set up and supported while working from home. They accelerated Digital Transformation projects, delivering in weeks what would normally have taken months, empowering their organisations to deliver flawless customer experiences as businesses shifted to a digital-first approach,” he said. “Technologists have never been more critical to the success of the businesses they support and I see 2021 as being the year they have the biggest opportunity to elevate their careers and truly change the perception of the IT industry and its impact on meaningful business outcomes.”

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.

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.

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.

Training and skills development

Matias Madou, Co-Founder and CTO, Secure Code Warrior, said: “I believe that in 2021 and beyond, CIOs must focus on training people, rather than an over-reliance on security tools. Scanning tools and the like have their place in a DevSecOps process, for example, but security at speed is made possible by producing secure code in the first place. It’s kind of a “humans vs. robots” approach – the human element is often left out, when in fact automation is not getting the job done. Headlines uncovering new data breaches every other day are evidence of that.

“We must get to a point where developers – those who touch code most – are given the knowledge and tools to play a greater role in software security. Ideally, those tools are best placed in their workflow, getting closer to their day-to-day activities until security is second-nature.”

For IBM, Ratshefola believes there is no point in companies evolving digitally without creating employment in the process. “As such, challenges that can be addressed more immediately relate to skills and creating a workforce equipped with skills for the future. For the better part of the last decade, a changing labour market and rising unemployment rates were heightened by on-going concerns over the widening skills gap,” he noted. “The reality is that millions of workers will need to be retrained and reskilled as a result of AI in the next couple of years and this will be crucial for organisations of all sizes and across industries post-COVID-19.”

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