In this the first of a multi-part report we look at general thoughts for life in 2021 before addressing more specific topics in subsequent reports.
This is the question we posed to our panel of experts:
Having endured the weirdest year any of us could have imagined, what will be different in 2021?
Some possible themes - please don't limit yourself to these - we simply want to make the context as broad as possible.
- security will get [better / worse]
- [more / fewer] organisations will move to the cloud
- mainframes will [resume control of computing / vanish]
- crypto-currencies will become [more / less] respected
- SaaS will [take over the world / shrink in popularity]
- malicious hackers will [get their come-uppance / carry on unabated]
- there will be [more / fewer] mergers than new enterprises
- the office is [important / no more]
In his own inimitable fashion, Garrett O'Hara Principal Technical Consultant at Mimecast ANZ sets the scene perfectly. "Let's hope everything will be different in 2021 because 2020 was the year equivalent of those days when you wake up on the sofa after a big night with a kebab stuck to your face while slowly realising two things: 1) it's not your sofa and 2) most of the day will be spent wishing it was the next day." We might add that it's difficult to find both pain-killers, and the front door, in a stranger's house.
And while today's date is December 20th, we all know that there are still at least two more months until Christmas.
Kicking things off (for real!), Jonathan Knudsen, Senior Security Strategist at Synopsys takes the relatively pessimistic view. "2020 has been a year filled with unpredictability, making predictions for the year ahead seem foolhardy. However, in the world of software application security, several trends are clear.
"Some things will certainly not change in 2021. Massive amounts of valuable data will continue to be placed online in public places with no protections. People will continue to choose easily guessed passwords that they use across multiple accounts and continue to click on sketchy links in emails. Organizations will continue to not keep up to date with software patches and versions.
"Organizations will continue to ignore more than a half-century of accumulated wisdom about defense in depth, least privilege, and all the other lessons about software development that organizations have learned the hard way."
Sam Deckert Managing Director, Peak Insight adds, "Workplaces are clearly going to take a long time to recover from the current pandemic and when activity does increase things are going to be very different. At the same time shifting employee demands and the need for more flexibility will mean that that the office will become an even more important building block for organisational culture, a place where team members can consume experiences in-person, where lasting connections can form. However, it will be part of a wider hybrid workplace, blending in-office and remote workers, empowered by cloud, security and collaboration technology to choose where they work for the day."
Deckert continues, "As governments encourage workers to return to CBD offices and companies incentivise workers to return to the traditional workplace, management will be required to put in place 'Safe Return to the Office'. This will include a touchless and intelligent workplace that enables teams to feel safe as they return. Touchless meeting room controls, voice-activation, room capacity and cleaning notifications will all play a part in safe office practices during the year ahead. It will be important for managers to take the time now to understand the options they have available for changing workplaces and the steps that will be needed to keep staff safe and secure in a post-COVID world.
"This will require a potential review of worker collaboration requirements whereby meetings will now have a high percentage of remote participants, highlighting the importance of high quality audio, video/content and co-creation (whiteboarding) capabilities. This employee experience will be a differentiator for organisations to attract and retain talent, from remote onboarding through to office-based interactions. The right technology will provide equality regardless of team member location. Indeed, AI, sensors and automation will enable users working from home to participate fully and have the same experience as when in-office.
Jim Shanahan, COO, Serverfarm agrees. "Whether by salami-slicing or best of breeding big applications and service tranches onto most-fit-for-purpose platforms, CTOs and CIOs are back in control and embracing the options offered by multiple cloud offerings. In terms of UpStacking, IT organizations will continue to slim down their structure, reskill people to high-value tasks and reduce costs by shifting away from the infrastructure operations and management best left to specialists.
"Success in an all-digital world means rapid time to value for IT projects. In 2021, CIO and CTO success will be measured by management, internal customers and consumers on how quickly they harness emerging technologies to deliver new applications that improve and enhance the customer experience in an increasingly 'as-a-service' world.
There's an interesting concept - "rapid time to value," expanding as it does, the worth of something to be much more than mere dollars and hours.
Steve Singer, Regional Vice President and Country Manager - Australia and New Zealand, Zscaler sees something similar when he notes, "It became very clear in 2020 that the majority of businesses across all industries needed to adapt to digital or die. Because of this, as we approach 2021 and beyond, IT will play an even more strategic part in influencing business decisions at the board level than ever before, as companies race towards the next generation of industry. Indeed, digital transformation will accelerate and in 2021 we'll see a consistent new normal workplace where previous five-year transformation plans will now be collapsed in time."
Further, Chris Marshall, Managing Director, blueAPACHE is in full agreement when he adds, although sounding a warning at the same time… "As teams settle into a new rhythm of flexible working environments, IT will have the time to take a breath and form a view on the application stack for the future. The accelerated deployments of on-demand collaboration tools will be retrospectively evaluated and may drive consolidation in this space. Time to value was the most critical success factor, powering the meteoric rise of tools like Slack and Zoom, but time to value won't guarantee success in 2021 the way it has this year."
Changing tack a little, Drini Mulla, CEO, DEK Technologies sees the demise of the big consulting firms, suggesting that "In 2021, organisations will move away from using large global consulting firms and turn to using smaller consultancies as they offer better value, are more responsive and cost effective in getting the work done." Further, this exposes a problem with the whole business model of outsourcing support to another country. Mulla continues, "The COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed cracks in some offshore outsourcing companies where work came to a standstill due to inadequate internet infrastructure to support employees "working from home". Organisations will look to using local outsourcing companies who offer greater certainty and ensure that in the midst of global turmoil and lockdowns, business can continue to operate as usual."
Lynette Clunies-Ross, A/NZ Region Vice President, SAS can also envisage a move away from 'hours worked' to 'outcomes achieved. "The massive disruption in 2020 has paved the way for new modes of working, new levels of trust in our employees and technology and a 'new licence' to operate differently as a business. In other words, proof that it can be done and people and processes can change more quickly than ever imagined…in every industry."
Darren Rushworth, president, NICE Asia Pacific expands on the theme, "There will be a shift to hybrid working environments. This transition to new working environments will see a changed need for workforce management and employee engagement management. With increased flexibility, we are starting to see more workers wanting to Work from Anywhere and at any time they like. Workforce management and engagement solutions will need to help manage people and help them manage their own schedules and workloads more easily."
Rushworth continues, "Our modelling suggests that in 2021, the number of contact centre agents transitioning to cloud contact centre solutions will be equal to all the agents who have moved in all past years combined!"
We can only assert that it's a good thing telephony is now firmly embedded in the internet.
However, Rushworth also exposes the advantages for workers in this new economy. "Increased flexibility will expand the workforce allowing people that couldn't participate in a normal 9-5 role, for the first time being able to participate fully in the economy. Being able to Work from Anywhere, and at any time, has the potential to vastly expand the workforce, and even potentially integrate a gig economy style of working for contact centres. Scheduling "chunks of work" provides more opportunities for people that only want to work part-time or casually, or with more flexible schedules to accommodate other priorities. This will also let older workers and those with carer responsibilities re-engage with the workforce as they have more access to remote working and part-time schedules."
To this, O'Hara chimes in, "Cheaper insurance. Lower costs for foosball tables and coffee machines. What finance team could say no to that?"
A lot has been said (by many people on many platforms) about the 'new normal.' Adrian Johnson, VP & Managing Director ANZ, Hitachi Vantara gives an historical perspective with the assertion that the pandemic merely accelerated an existing transformation rather than creating it. "2020 was a year of uncertainty and terms such as 'the new normal' became commonplace. The pandemic became an accelerant of changes that were already underway. As an example, digital transformation was no longer just about competitive advantage, it become a business continuity necessity. 2021 will be a year where organisations will be adjusting to the rapid changes made in 2020 and deciding what stays in the "new normal". Companies will determine what they should keep doing because it added value, versus those initiatives that were born out of necessity or regulation which they now need to take a closer look at. Optimisation will take the place of dramatic change, assuming of course that a vaccinated world leads to a more stable society and robust marketplace.
Expanding on this new normal, Mark Turner, Director Southern Region, Hitachi Vantara Australia and New Zealand observed that, "In the past nine months, I have done and experienced things that I would not have imagined. I have started 2 new roles - remotely, only returning to the office recently. I didn't meet either of my managers in person, until last week. I have searched for, interviewed and employed 5 sales staff across two organisations, virtually; only one of which was known to me prior. As of three weeks ago, I had not had a face-to-face customer meeting this year and I'm an IT sales leader!"
Summarising the year, Turner adds, "This pandemic event has accelerated change, driven existing and new trends reshaped norms, disrupted business and the global economy and quite fundamentally changed how we think about things."
Getting a little whimsical, and perhaps more 'real' than we're accustomed to, Turner notes that" The pendulum has also swung on work-life balance, or should we say integration, with spouses, children and pets all being part of the work zoom call experience. Good leaders are also taking the initiative in an attempt to get us all to step away from zoom to return the balance. Also engaging staff though curiosity and inclusion to build community.
"There is a great quote from Lenin: 'There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.' "
Turner summarises, possibly echoing the thoughts of most of us… "We have experienced a tectonic shift and we will not be going back."
Bringing us back with a small dose of reality, Claudio Cardile, Managing Director, Barco Australia and New Zealand offers this: "There's no denying that the "new normal" has been one of the top buzzwords for 2020. As we near the end of the year, most organisations are now deciding what the new normal looks like for their workplaces in 2021. The majority of Australian employees want to continue working from home for an average of two days a week, and are looking for their employers to invest in a technology-driven hybrid working environment post-COVID-19. Organisations must be prepared to continue operating as flexible workplaces, enabling employees to engage, communicate and collaborate regardless of where they are located. With some staff in-office and some remote, it will likely be this hybrid approach that becomes the 'future of work' we are living and breathing in 2021.
"But this year has taught us that working from home can have its downsides, with difficulty collaborating with colleagues, missing the social side of office life, and struggling to contribute to meetings just some of the major drawbacks. Some organisations will give in to these challenges. For others willing to take the learnings from this year on, their challenge is designing their workplace strategy to keep company culture alive through technology. Employees are cognisant of this - they want their employers to invest in technology-driven improvements. Our recent research of employees in Australia found majority want their organisations to invest in video conferencing equipment for use in meeting rooms."
Mike Mortimer, Director of Product, Machine Learning & AI at Zendesk ANZ homes in in the personal aspects. "Funnily enough, as we lean on technology even more than we have ever before, the need to connect with each other on a human level has never been more important. The pandemic has brought about new, extreme levels of anxiety, insecurity, and isolation. Businesses were interacting with people who were juggling work and home-schooling, had lost jobs, or dealing with huge amounts of emotional stress. Technology may be the engine that is keeping the workforce going during these times of social isolation and remote working, but human connection - granted mostly virtual - is the fuel."
Paul Crighton, Managing Director, NetApp ANZ agrees, "The events of 2020 have fundamentally shifted the way we work, with increased pressure on organisations to support employees to work from home. As organisations look forward into the new year, they need to consider how they will support their workforce in 2021 and beyond by developing a technology roadmap that delivers the same user experience, no matter where an employee is based.
"Technology that is reliable, high performing, secure, and supports easy access to data is the backbone of a great user experience for a flexible workforce. For example, businesses will be able to support both those who choose to work remotely and those in the office by deploying the best end-user computing (EUC) and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). This helps teams manage VDI shared storage resources across cloud vendors and regions, enabling employees to access company data, software and collaborative tools anytime, anywhere and from any device."
David Pickering, Director Solution Engineering - APAC, Cherwell asks that we consider the social impacts of the massive change being described by previous commenters. "Offices will become social and innovation hubs for employees to interact with colleagues while the home office will become the productivity centre for employees. Organisations will continue to invest in collaboration tools (Slack, Teams, Zoom) and these will continue to be integral and integrated with everything throughout the organisation."
Graham Sowden, General Manager APAC at Okta seems to agree with Pickering when he observes, "In addition to the practicalities of ensuring business continuity, there's a much bigger conversation going on about long term working arrangements now that we've had a taste of remote working at scale. It's highly likely that many businesses will enable some hybrid of remote and office work practices - what we call "dynamic work" - which is based on flexibility and choice. Dynamic work practices meet the expectations of today's workforce and help businesses address their duty of care, and it will be interesting to see how this shift impacts and benefits organisations moving forward."
Sowden also suggests that the location / ethnicity / language divide so common in 'online meetings' will experience a rapid demise. "Through all of this, meetings have been democratised and the widespread cultural shift around working practices has given us a new appreciation for remote participants. I think businesses will protect the new status of remote attendees - hybrid meetings will no longer be a two-tier experience where in-person groups dominate conversations and remote participants struggle to hear and be heard. The barrier to this wasn't just technological, it was also cultural, and many businesses have invested in both to provide an enriched meeting experience for all."
James Page, General Manager - marketing and alliances, Empired agrees, "A change in boards and senior leadership teams with an increased focus on optimising people's productivity within 'their' workspaces, not 'our' workplace will occur in 2021. This will require a fundamental rethink in organisational attitudes towards enabling remote working. Particularly now, in a market where labour mobility has dried up and costs for new hires is skyrocketing, it's the employee experience that will become the vital people retention tool. Employee experience will cease to be a tickbox item on a less important senior leadership team/board agenda and will become the mainstay of business continuity planning, enabled by smart people-centric policies, and smart people-centric technical solutions."
Similarly, Stephen Darracott, vice president and country manager, Pitney Bowes Japan, Australia and New Zealand suggests that "For many organisations, the rapid shift to remote work meant assessing business-critical processes and identifying how to empower employees to continue to work productively regardless of location."
Matt Goss, managing director, SAP Concur Australia and New Zealand wants to redefine the focus of 'the office.' "The role of the office has permanently changed. It is still as important as it was prior to the pandemic, but the focus has shifted from being a place of work to being more a collaborative and social hub where employees and clients can come together to network and drive innovation. It will also play an important role in supporting employee mental health and wellbeing by providing a much-needed escape from the isolation of the home office environment. In 2021, we will see more hybrid remote working models, with many employees using their home office as their primary place of work and others choosing to go back to the office either occasionally or full time.
Pointing at the (obvious) problems most companies encountered, Adam O'Neill, managing director - Australia and New Zealand, Y Soft suggested, "In 2020, many businesses learnt rather quickly that systems designed for occasional or limited work from home were very different than those required when a significant part of their workforce is trying to remotely access the information, business systems, and processes that make their roles possible. Business has, in the main, implemented systems that let staff members work more effectively when remote. However, perhaps predictions of working from home being the new normal for most employees in Australia may have been premature as we see people proactively returning to the office, desiring both co-worker interaction and the structured systems already in place."
Ed Pullen, Dataminr ANZ Director will bring our discussion to a close. "2020 has accelerated a number of innovations, adoption of those innovations, and built adaptation and agility capabilities many businesses know they had to have. While the circumstances around those developments were unfortunate, this was a pivotal, but challenging period for many companies and will continue to be so as the risk landscape continues to widen and aggressively diversify. It is quite likely that 2021 will have its own fair share of surprises and crises that will test our adaptability and agility capabilities and require a much more proactive approach to risk management to protect employees, assets and operations. Organisations are now exponentially more aware of the types of risks that they can potentially face - such as climate, cyber, supply chain and health. Previously, risk management has been something of a 'tick-box' activity for businesses but 2021 will see many adopting a proactive approach to risk and reap the rewards that brings."
This is the first in a series of 'predictions' for 2021. Stay tuned for the thoughts of out experts in specific areas.