When the clock struck midnight on December 31st, the UK’s Brexit transition period ended and with it, the country’s membership of the single market and customs union. What this means for UK businesses is still relatively unknown, but if reflecting on the past year is anything to go by, business resilience is going to be paramount. Many challenges were faced in 2020 for businesses of all types and sizes; Coronavirus didn’t discriminate and sadly some sectors were hit disproportionally hard. For most businesses it was a steep learning curve but one that set IT operations off on a new digital trajectory – one that may have taken some years more had it not been for COVID.
To close off one of the most challenging years in our lifetimes, here are my predicted trends for 2021:
Using software automation to ‘keep the lights on’
Across our customer base we’ve seen a desire to strengthen legacy infrastructure to ensure that ‘keeping the lights on’ is not the sole focus of attention and cost. By using the latest software automation technologies businesses can create more resilient infrastructures and the focus can be switched to innovation and integration; which is the most valuable currency for any business.
What’s next for automation?
Automation is a powerful vehicle in advancing the technical capabilities of workforces. We’ve seen automation simplify cloud ownership and operations when it comes to migration, maintenance, upgrades, capacity changes, auditing, back-up and monitoring. Cloud is now an option for businesses of all types and sizes with hybrid configuration now the norm for mid-market and larger enterprises. Increasingly we are seeing a shift to container orchestration using Kubernetes as well as serverless services enabling companies to better automate deployments and scale rapidly while controlling costs across multiple public cloud platforms.
But what’s next for automation? We’re rapidly advancing the possibility of enabling all businesses, whatever their size, to benefit from an automated datacentre with the application of software-defined managed services and technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and machine learning. As we enter a new revolution in how businesses operate efficiently and remotely, every piece of data must be handled and used appropriately to optimise its value. The datacentre is becoming a bit of a misnomer as all your data is distributed around your infrastructure across on-premises, IAAS, PAAS, IOT and Edge systems. Your data management and storage therefore needs to span all these modern technology platforms, managed efficiently and securely with a blend of autonomous services and software. Not only are they required to efficiently manage increasing amounts of data, more complex machines and infrastructures, the key is that they will also be able to generate valuable business insight and actions from their data more quickly.
Fully autonomous hybrid datacentres, mixing public and private clouds, will support traditional and next-generation workloads which can be automated to be self-healing, self-managing and fully optimised. The infrastructure management software will take most actions itself with no or little assistance or human intervention required. Like autonomous vehicles, the possibilities for automation are never-ending; it’s always possible to continually improve the way work is carried out.
UK and global economic impacts
Our status as an independent trading nation is sure to be a turning point yet again, but one thing’s for sure; if we focus our efforts on embracing more automated technology infrastructure correctly over the next few years it will make the UK more competitive and more resilient to the challenges and opportunities ahead.
To jump the upcoming economic hurdles to give businesses the best possible footing, and with employees returning from furlough, companies need to keep cash in their business. Vendors need to continue to support customers in whatever way they can. At Ultima, we’ve had to be flexible in our billing, not charging for services that aren’t currently being used to help where we can. Companies signing up to complex, inflexible contracts are a thing of the past - IT services need to be provided on a flexible, consumption-based billing model.
Efficient remote working
The demand for efficient ways of replicating office support through technology in a remote working economy is also continuing. CFOs have saved money from remote working and employees also like the flexibility. There is no doubt that the flexible workforce is here to stay and most companies will allow for the right levels of social interaction back in offices with an ability to work remotely without reducing efficiency and collaboration. Giving employees secure and agile ways of working by accessing company data from home is what the cloud has always promised. With the cloud, any IT problems can be handled remotely, which hugely benefits the efficiency of an organisation.
Furthermore, the automation capabilities on offer with cloud computing services mean that maintenance, security and support requirements can be effectively managed remotely. Issues across multiple devices are automatically linked, diagnosed and can be fixed in the background without the user ever needing to know about them, bringing about a more productive, agile and motivated workforce.
Attracting new talent in a remote working world will also depend on a business’ ability to demonstrate a strong culture of support; both from a technology perspective and a personal wellbeing perspective. Businesses need to perform successfully whilst managing a distributed workforce; this comes down to infrastructure, hardware, software and effective training and support.
Taking a proactive approach to security challenges
The pandemic has given rise to many more online threats when compared to 2019. According to Google’s Transparency Report, over 2 million phishing websites have emerged since the start of 2020 – an increase of 19 per cent. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) reported that it responded to 723 incidents in the period from September 2019 to August 2020 - a 10 per cent rise on the previous period. Coronavirus provided a massive opportunity for threat actors to use the global emergency to their advantage. The sudden move to remote working made workers vulnerable to attack as they got use to new ways of working. Legacy infrastructure and poorly managed systems provide weak links to exploit, making it easier to breach corporate defences. Scammers are also finding increasingly inventive ways of stealing sensitive information through phishing and ransomware attacks.
As a result, security is going to be a big issue in 2021 as organisations strive to secure themselves in a more future-proof style to harness the benefits of long-term remote working. Automation and machine learning, using pro-active MDR (Managed Detection & Response) security solutions can tackle these issues by analysing trends and creating alerts and actions when anomalies occur. By automating the maintenance, security and support requirements of the cloud, organisations will be better placed to manage their business-critical apps while reducing their overall threat footprint.
The pandemic has forced digital transformation on a global scale; post-pandemic, we must not lose the benefits of this change. To make organisations as robust and resilient as possible, we need to stay alert to the operational challenges ahead yet recognise the great strides that have been made during 2020 despite the global emergency. I don’t doubt that UK businesses will stand up to the challenges ahead and emerge from 2020 that much stronger and we in the IT industry need to stand up with them.