At the end of 2019, IT pros were making bold predictions about what 2020 would hold. But they weren’t bold enough—time makes fools of us all, and hot takes fizzled rather than sizzled. From the continued evolution of smart devices and blockchain’s continued rise in prominence to the falling price of compute workloads, there was rational thinking behind the predictions made at the end of 2019.
However, there was also an unsurprising inability to foresee a year as tumultuous as one could expect 12 calendar months to be. As a result, the unprecedented transformation in IT made a mockery of even the safest predictions.
Let’s look at how IT goals were set, ripped up, thrown away, and replaced as the events of 2020 unfolded.
Time to Pivot
The era of the home worker began in earnest in 2020. Though it was teased in previous years as more collaboration tools came to market and were embraced by businesses, the global pandemic and the absolute necessity to cater to home workers drove the point home, requiring almost every office-centric organization to perform a major pivot to support remote workforces.
Office-centric businesses relied on workers’ physical proximity to ensure a sense of collaboration, with IT pros working hard to deliver the tools to empower this. When everyone had to suddenly work from home, the pressure grew on IT pros to maintain this same level of collaboration.
This was a big challenge, even if businesses typically have contingency plans for significantly disruptive events. Unfortunately, these plans typically assume a localised event, like a hurricane or loss of power that disturbs an office or an entire region at most.
A global impact stretching over an unspecified amount of time was a challenge of a different sort, one impossible to prepare for. From CIOs desperate to plan their next steps as everything changed from day to day to IT pros who had to deliver technology capable of meeting the needs of a globally dispersed workforce, the goals laid out at the beginning of 2020 quickly became outdated.
Thankfully, IT pros—and their businesses—soon found there’s nothing like a crisis to get everyone on the same page, with organizations coming to understand the value of embracing change rather than fighting it.
If we gathered a collection of buzzwords related to 2020, “disruption” would likely top the list. Indeed, 2020 has been enormously disruptive in almost every sense of the word to every industry. A word we haven’t used as much—even though it’s something IT pros will likely nod along with in their assessment of 2020—is “accelerator.”
Though 2020 disrupted transformation targets for organizations, shifting the goalposts so what once seemed important (a robust, on-premises environment, for example) now seemed decidedly less so, it also catalysed certain IT projects, driving them forward at a terrifying pace.
We heard examples of Partners who’d only just begun to embrace collaboration tools ahead of COVID-19; they had plans to roll them out over six months or even longer, giving their end users time to adapt. This adaptation period was kicked into overdrive as a six-month plan demanded completion in days, with global training taking place in virtual meeting spaces.
For IT pros, this was a blessing and a curse. Sometimes it’s better to just rip off the bandage, though this is easier to say in hindsight when you’re not frantically trying to enable an entirely new way of working for an organization in days or hours.
With change forced upon organizations at a blistering pace, they had no choice but to keep up and embrace technology that was already in place but had yet to be widely accepted. IT pros typically embrace the shifting sands of advancing technology—they’d be pretty bad at their jobs if they didn’t—but the challenge is getting others in an organization to do the same.
However, the unpredictability of 2020 meant this resistance to change was dropped. With so much flux already accepted in their day-to-day lives, end users accepted this workplace evolution as a necessity, allowing IT pros to accelerate the adoption of technologies they’d already outlined for the future.
If this was the blessing, then the curse was pretty much everything else. As some technologies were accelerated and adopted, others were put on hold—sometimes indefinitely—and a time of tumult followed as the pressure went up while budgets remained the same or were even reduced.
Even now, the ambition of IT goals in 2021 will have to be checked. Initial deployments to address the changes in 2020 are being tweaked and optimised to account for risk and performance issues, requiring IT pros to streamline current infrastructure instead of looking to adopt new solutions.
IT pros already know 2020 was a trying but extremely valuable year for IT. They’ve been able to accomplish things in a shorter period of time than perhaps ever before, and businesses have realised the value of IT in ways they previously may not have. The downsides, meanwhile, include the spiking of projects that once had a transformative impact on businesses but have no place in “the new normal.”
What’s important to note, however, is business goals won’t simply go back to normal. The changes required by the events of 2020—and businesses’ openness to accepting them—will remain. Even as COVID cases fall and workers return to the office, the genie won’t be put back in the bottle.
Distance working, virtual environments, remote collaboration—businesses have proven to themselves they can do these things effectively, and they must become part of the fabric of how companies build their work and IT environments going forward.
For IT pros, the end of 2020 isn’t the end of these changes—it’s the start of something new.