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2021 predictions: Cloud, comms and remote working

There are reasons for the channel to feel optimistic about the year ahead on numerous technology fronts

Across the channel, expectations are high that next year will be a busy one, with customers reaching out across many fronts to get the technology needed to drive their digital transformation projects forward.

Cloud underpins a lot of the activities that should come in the next 12 months, and along with that there should be changes in the communications world. There are also other areas for the channel to keep an eye on, according to some of those responsible for promoting IT. 

Dave Locke, chief technology adviser at WWT: “2021 will continue the trend towards ‘anywhere operations’. Modern infrastructure is increasingly software-defined and can be managed from any location.

“This shift will continue to drive continuity in enterprises’ network quality and security, whether employees are in the office, working abroad or from home.

“To deliver this, the IT infrastructure needs to be distributed closer to employees. Big cloud scalers are creating products which decentralise stored data and push it into business premises.

“Services such as AWS Outposts will be important to remote working because they allow businesses to have their own mini on-premise cloud, all while remaining connected to larger public cloud infrastructure and its benefits.

“To meet the associated security challenges of this shift, SASE software, combining wide-area networking and network security services into a single, cloud-delivered service model, will gain popularity.”

Crisis response

Rob Elliss, vice-president for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) sales at Thales: “All roads lead to data protection, cloud and secure remote working. But if businesses – whether they’re an SME or multi-national – don’t have the agility to respond to future crises (as with the pandemic), they will continue to be caught out.

“SMEs in particular are asking for cloud adoption and compliance support, and the channel’s leading message on 2021 will be educating customers on building resiliency. As more organisations begin their digital transformation process, the channel has a key role to play in helping businesses implement balanced and robust security both in physical and cloud environments.

“As a result, we believe we will see a dramatic rise in businesses adopting cloud through the channel, with those providers working closely with users to enable them to embark on their cloud journey, and increasingly adopting multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments.

“As we exit 2021, the organisations achieving true success will be those who have worked closely with their channel partners to ensure they have instilled an in-built agility and resiliency needed to succeed, no matter the size or industry.”

Martin Gibbons, head of channel for EMEA at Cohesity: “In 2021, channel partners will be put to the test when it comes to providing strategic value that can help customers flourish as the pandemic continues to impact companies and economies.

“Customers will continue to face increasing threats from ransomware attacks, a growing need to embrace hybrid-cloud models, to embrace SaaS offerings that offer much greater cost predictability and agility, and to derive value from mountains of dark data that continue to grow exponentially.

“Partners that can step up and provide this type of strategic value to customers will flourish. Those that can’t will fall behind as they become increasingly less relevant to their customers.”

Budget cuts 

Dave Woodcock, vice-president for EMEA at Gigamon: “Businesses have faced budget cuts this year due to the economic climate, meaning ROI has risen significantly up the corporate agenda in terms of priorities.

“Technology investments are being scrutinised more than ever. Finance teams are currently focusing on investments made pre-Covid that haven’t yet had chance to be fully deployed yet, such as network detection and response [NDR] and SIEM tools to name a few, to ensure they are active and fully optimised before any additional purchases are signed off.

“With everyone chasing the same budgets, the focus will be on business need; any new investments that supplement existing tools and applications and makes them more effective and valuable will be seen as a priority. For example, one such technology is network visibility and analytics, which is key to optimising all tools on a corporate network. You simply cannot manage what you can’t see.

“With comprehensive visibility into all data, IT and security teams will be able to ensure only relevant traffic is sent to each tool to maximise capacity and extend their lifespan. Network visibility capabilities can also enhance security measures, helping protect an organisation from the significant cost implications from a cyber attack.” 

Minesh Pore, co-founder and CEO of BuyHive“2021 will bring reconciliation and stabilisation in some areas of the supply chain, and while regulations and restrictions will continue to evolve, travel restrictions will linger. Transparency and trust will need to be present in global supply chain management.

“The future of the industry will begin with partners and APIs that will help improve the sourcing ecosystem – it’s not about developing your own, but rather collaborating with experts including Trade Insurance, Freight, 3PL, Trade Insurance, Recommendation engines, factory verification, etc.”

Service first

Simon Aldous, global head of channel at Dropbox: “Given the backdrop of Covid, 2021 could be an uncertain time for many. Businesses will be debating whether they go back to the office, and if not, what will work look like? There’s going to be a knock-on impact for the channel, so providers that don’t adapt to a “service-first” approach could struggle.

“In the current SaaS-dominated market, it’s much easier for customers to change suppliers – instead of having to undergo a complete digital overhaul, they can simply switch with a click of a button. This means that we’ll see growth from partners that can quickly adapt and identify how they can best address their customers’ business needs, and from those who are constantly thinking about whether their solutions come with the right level of customer service.

“The channel also needs to show added value by helping customers to ensure they’re getting the most out of their current digital solutions – such as helping them to streamline their business operations – without the need to uproot their whole digital ecosystem, or in the case of SMBs, hiring an entire IT department.

“Because of these changes in customer demands, next year there will be an increased focus on collaboration tools and workspaces that make distributed working easier and smoother. These will be the platforms that bring together a host of tools, products and services that are in the market, and create a holistic and well-rounded view of how we work.”

SaaS-driven cloud

Keith Jackson, regional vice-president of channel sales EMEA at 8x8: “2020 has taught us that businesses are ready for SaaS-driven cloud products, with cloud adoption rapidly increasing during the pandemic.

“It’s clear that over the next 12 months many people will continue to work remotely and, as a result, growth opportunities in the channel will develop from organisations of all sizes and verticals requiring a cloud communications platform to enable this.

“Organisations will also need to ensure they have a long-term plan for their business communications, that supports the changing needs of both their workers and customers, as well as being able to successfully attract and retain talent. We will see consumer buyer habits continue to evolve into next year, which an open communications platform will be able to support through a mix-and-match from a full suite of innovative communications and customer engagement technologies.

“Remote working will drive further demand in 2021 for high quality video, voice, chat and analytics capabilities. A wider range of communication channels will allow employees to develop sustainable relationships with their customers that were once carried out in person; additional touchpoints are likely to improve communication and relations in a largely virtual world.

“The channel will need to ensure customers are adequately trained on these channels for remote workers, so they can successfully elevate customer relationships from being just transactional ones.” 

Ronan David, vice-president of strategy at EfficientIP: “Businesses should expect 2021 to accelerate many trends that we saw in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic has given leaders no choice but to transform, both from organisational and societal viewpoints. If enterprises want to succeed, they need to rely more on edge computing and the cloud – which saw a huge boost last year – but they also need to invest more in automation and security.”

Video collaboration

Richard Roberts, vice-president for UK & Ireland and Norther Europe at Mitel: Video collaboration has experienced tremendous growth during the pandemic and this trend is likely to continue into 2021 as organisations are looking to accommodate the needs of their hybrid workforce. As a result, industry players will be looking to add new features to existing collaboration apps such as a shoulder tap button or a quick-call function that allows users to recreate the spontaneity and intuitiveness of in-person meetings.

“There will also be more focus on combining video conferencing with other emerging technologies to create more immersive experiences through complementary use cases for the technology. For instance, we can imagine to augment videoconferencing solutions with AR by introducing features like enhanced digital whiteboards that make collaboration in meetings more intuitive and feel more ‘real’.

“Or, if you’re a service worker, like a technician, and you’re stuck with a problem – an AR-enhanced video conference could connect you with a colleague who can help you solve it. AR will be also a major boon to remote training, particularly when in-person training is more difficult or expensive.

“As customers rethink their business models and digitise their services to adapt to the volatile market environment, we’ll see stronger demand for technologies that help enhance the customer experience. Whether it’s AI, chatbots, blockchain or AR, businesses will be increasingly looking to the channel to help them figure out which technologies are mature enough to be impactful, and where they can add value.

“In response to this trend, businesses will continue to strengthen their digital offerings, so we’ll see a stronger focus on personalisation. This will drive faster adoption of artificial intelligence [AI] and predictive analytics, with businesses looking to bundle AI-powered chatbots and agent-assist technologies with contact centre platforms to create more personalised and seamless online experiences.

“As AI becomes more widely used, virtual assistant apps will become easier to train and deploy, enabling smaller businesses to compete more successfully with larger brands when it comes to customer experience.”

Customer sentiment

Jason Skelton, head of platform alliances for the EU at Acxiom: “The pandemic has contributed to fast-changing customer sentiment, which will be a priority for businesses to tackle in 2021. For example, according to our recent research, only 20% of respondents cited traditional factors in the retail sector such as locality, as determining a purchase.

“This push away from traditional business norms will only intensify through 2021, and we expect to see more businesses looking to turn to customer data platforms [CDPs] to implement, integrate and enhance customer data within their businesses as a means of better understanding their customer.

“But it isn’t a case of working with a single provider. Over the next year, we’ll see further the benefits of an integrated marketing stack that uses technology and data that is working for businesses already, but with the freedom to innovate and transform through a choice of data, technology, and services providers.

“This best-in-breed approach to technology and services in the marketing ecosystem helps businesses effectively satisfy ever-evolving customer needs. For Acxiom, this means integrating at the data layer, in order to deepen customer understanding.

“As these networks evolve, two things will happen. First and foremost, gaps in the market will narrow, bringing businesses closer to their customer and providing true customer value.

“Second, it is inevitable that some of these strong partner relationships will result in acquisition and consolidation in the coming years, as we’ve seen elsewhere in the MarTech industry.”

Managed service 

Alex Walsh, manager of channels for UK and Ireland at Veeam“Partners will double down with existing customers and do their utmost to be that customer’s only provider for all of their IT needs.

“While the pandemic has driven digital innovation and adoption for businesses of all sizes, it has had a negative residual impact on small businesses, which have either had to cut budgets or go into administration.

“Small businesses are a foundation to the UK and Irish economies, and with smaller businesses struggling to stay afloat and a reduction in the amount of small businesses opening in 2020, it will be more important than ever for partners to retain their existing customers.

“Managed service offerings will continue to grow, and cyber security will be a focus. With most people now working from home due to the pandemic, more and more businesses are looking to outsource different IT operations to service providers to reduce the amount of physical tasks needed to be undertaken and keep their employees safe. This mass move to managed service offerings creates even more responsibility for service providers to guarantee the protection of their customers networks and data from external threats like ransomware.

“We’re all in the cloud – now what? User requirements have certainly shifted this year, from customers planning to dip their toes into cloud in 2020 and start their “journey to the cloud”, to racing to get people working from home and adopting technologies such as M365 to support this.

“Now users are in the cloud, the next question will be, what else can we do from here? There will be a continuation of migrating workloads and applications to the cloud and ensuring that these are both secured and user-friendly to guarantee strong user adoption.

“Users will be looking to their trusted advisors in the channel to advise on the best way to manage their new cloud environments and to do it in the most cost-effective ways possible.”

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