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UK IT shapes up for hybrid new normal in 2022

The latest Computer Weekly IT Priorities survey shows that secure connectivity and cloud remain at the core of enterprises’ needs for the foreseeable future

Making predictions about anything these days is rather a mug’s game. A personal favourite in recent times comes from the first – note first – Computer Weekly IT Priorities report of 2020, from January that year, which carried the solid expectation of a senior IT leader that the collaboration technology market was not only unworthy of investment but was in a “death spiral”. With that in mind, predictions that 2022 will be a “good” year need to be regarded cautiously.

Yet that is precisely one of the top line findings of the Computer Weekly IT Priorities report of 2021 for the UK and Ireland (UKI). Indeed, the study noted that while the pandemic delayed or disrupted many projects, especially on-premise projects, over the course of the past year, 2022 plans point to a recovery at or above pre-pandemic levels.

2021 has seen businesses come to terms with the harsh realities of the post-Covid world we live in. There was no mass return to work and it is almost certain that there won’t be going forward. The hybrid model is the one that will need to be accommodated for an indefinite amount of time. The so-called third workplace will be a number one priority for many. And this will have large ramifications for how IT teams need to discharge their responsibilities.

Looking at how firms can address the future of work will not only be a core task, the Computer Weekly IT Priorities report of 2021 revealed that it will also be a major investment area. It noted that 83% of UKI organisations were investing in the “the future of work”, and one in five were investing aggressively or proactively.

Mobile device and hardware upgrades are going to be a key piece of enabling the future of work (FoW), while security is set to win big in redirected attention. Just over half (52%) agree that security is more important for 2022, due to changes driven by the pandemic.

The survey pointed to a number of broad technology shifts as networked resources become more vital. Cloud and investments in modernising user computing and experience management point to greater IT/business alignment, while safely extracting value from data through analytics and data management is now of increased importance.

When asked which of the following broad technologies had become more important to their organisation’s future than they were before in  response to the global pandemic and other changes, security and risk management were indicated by 52%, cloud in general – including computing, storage and applications – by 41%. Rounding out the top three was digital workspaces, mobility and user computing with 40%.

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Looking at FoW intentions, that is the current posture as it relates to supporting a digital-ready workplace and hybrid work environment, 22% of the survey said that they would be investing aggressively or proactively, while 31% said they would do so on a moderate basis. Yet more, 35% said they would invest as needed or reactively. Just 7% said they would not invest at all. FoW initiatives were found to be concentrated in large enterprises. Over a third of those making investment in this area has 5,000 or more employees, while 23% has from 1,000 to 5,000. Some 9% had fewer than 1,000 employees.

There were a number of key technology areas investigated in the FoW environment: unified communications platform (incorporating voice, video, messaging, screen sharing); AI-enabled monitoring tools (including AIOps, APM, cloud, DevOps, log and metrics); productivity suites (such as Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace); platform-as-a-service; and internet of things (IoT) network infrastructure.

As suggested by the latter list, the key to FoW is networking. The study found that remote access needs weigh heavily on network connectivity spending, with cloud connectivity on a steady increase, with a fifth or organisations spending up and the UKI leading 5G adoption across Europe.

Indeed, looking at what connectivity or access-based network initiatives organisations planned to deploy in the next 12 months, as many as 31% said they intended to invest in 5G technology followed by technology based on the growing Wi-Fi 6 standard (28%). Upgrading wireless local area networks – that is, upgrading access points, upgrading cable to 2.5/5 GHz – was a priority for 25%. Improving cloud connectivity and datacentre interconnectivity was a priority for 22% and WLAN management tools for 19%.

When attempting to find which cloud or application-centric network initiatives organisations planned to deploy in the next 12 months, software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) is expected to get a big post-pandemic boost, as will all categories of cloud and application networking.

Reflecting perhaps the increased amount of home networking and remote SD-WAN was top priority, indicated by 34%, followed by intent-based networking/network automation, acknowledged by 28%. Software-defined perimeter technology, or other VPN alternatives, was the third-highest priority, at 19%, the same percentage as with network virtualisation.

In terms of general networking architecture, the top line findings in the study were that IoT networking infrastructure buying intention would be rising sharply, and monitoring tool modernisation would hold steady, while managed services tied for the lead for first time in Europe. Datacentre fabric was recovering from pandemic lows. Leading along with managed network services was network analytics on 31%, with monitoring software and campus LAN on 22%. Some 16% said they would deploy or invest in IoT network architectures, and despite attracting media mind share over the year, secure access service edge was noted by just 9%.

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