Have you ever seen or heard a word repeated so often it begins to lose its meaning? This phenomenon is called “semantic satiation,” and it’s something I’m sure we’ve all experienced over the past 12 months.
While special mention must go to “the new normal” and “social distancing,” I’d like to throw a hat in the ring for a word that once most commonly appeared before “capacitator” in one of Doc Brown’s rants in Back to the Future: “flux.”
Yes, I’m in flux. You’re in flux. Your business is in flux. Flux flux flux. See what I mean? Unfortunately, while the word’s meaning may ebb away, its truth remains: IT pros (and everyone else) are in an unprecedented period of change extending from how we distribute our applications to how we manage our money.
This latter point brings me to this article’s question: how, after a year of financial flux (whoops) and a time when meaning and reason flew out the window, can IT pros reasonably plan their investments?
No More Normal
As with almost every other part of an IT pro’s professional life, IT spending in 2020 went through a significant period of disruption. Gone were the days of lengthy planning and the slow drip feed of long-gestating projects—in their place was an all-hands-to-the-pump approach, with investment once planned for a bright future instead brought forward to the explosive “now.”
As the financial impact of COVID-19 began to make itself apparent, IT pros were asked to tackle the most challenging period in their professional careers while budgets were slashed, with the focus on keeping the lights on and ensuring the organization remained alive and connected.
As a result, existing technologies within the business became the focus. New implementations were cast aside as IT teams invested time and money in strengthening the skills required to keep these already-established deployments running optimally.
Despite hope the monstrousness of last year would ebb away as the clock struck midnight on December 31, the issues facing businesses and their IT pros remain steadfastly in place. Still, according to Gartner, the abatement of revenue uncertainty in late 2020 will allow for the resurgence of more predictable IT spending by CIOs.
So what does predictable spending now look like?
The lessons learned by organizations in 2020 will continue to shape the way IT cost optimization and investment are planned in 2021.
Though spending will be more predictable (i.e., it’s less likely the rug will be pulled away entirely again), businesses will continue to place emphasis on the priorities established last year.
Namely, this means investing in architectural agility up and down the stack and ensuring distributed workforces are accommodated for in the long term. After all, Gartner also predicted social distancing will continue through 2021, capping office capacity at 40%.
Also remaining in place will be the reluctance to adopt new initiatives and a continued push to invest in internal innovation to support remote workforces. This push to refine rather than adopt something new is a tried and tested approach in IT management and investment.
Take, for example, network monitoring and management technology, which has been more or less the same for over a decade. What’s changed, however, has been the way these technologies have been implemented and managed. IT pros are able to do so with increasing sophistication, while the speed and variety of visualizations based on the data collected has also continued to develop apace.
More recently, the opening of network infrastructure to automation solutions has instigated a change in the way IT pros manage and invest in this existing technology. Because of this, monitoring and management tools are now expanding to help network engineers create, manage, and monitor the scripts and tools used to create them. Investment in existing technologies, then, is demonstrably advantageous.
Finally, IT pros will need to adapt investment as the definition of “business-critical” tech continues to shift. For example, though it may have been considered so 18 months ago, is a fiber backbone running across an on-premises site now business-critical? Probably not. On the other hand, client VPN connections for every employee—once considered nice to have—have gained importance and are now likely to be prioritized over once-sought-after deployments.
IT investment is in an interesting place in 2021. It will stabilize after a year of, yes, flux, but the effects of the past 12 months have ensured it won’t look the same as it did in 2019. What we have, then, is a revolution in IT spending—one that should empower IT pros to drive value through existing implementations and ensure the worst of the disruption is behind us.