In 2022, the IT industry and its enterprise customers will still be feeling the profound impact of the Covid pandemic. Having accelerated digitalisation as result of Covid protocols, the next challenge that enterprises will face is bedding down the changes they made to cater for Covid, while repositioning themselves for growth.
All the while, we can expect volatility to continue as long as new variants and waves of infection remain part of our reality. What’s more, with emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, NFTs and blockchain, maturing faster than companies can digest them, enterprises may face disruption from unexpected directions.
The important lesson of the past two years, however, is that we can adapt and transform faster than we thought possible before we’d heard of Covid-19. Here are some of the trends I expect to see continuing to shape the IT industry in the year to come.
1. Filling in the IT skills gap
The IT skills shortage has been a part of our lives nearly as long as I have been in the industry, but the dearth of skills seems more acute than ever. We’re seeing a severe shortfall of qualified mid-career professionals in roles such as software development, cloud architecture and security. As for highly experienced people, they are in such demand and more expensive by the day as companies digitally transform their businesses.
The 2021 ICT Skills Survey found nearly 10 000 hard-to-fill positions in the ICT sector, which it attributed to insufficient numbers of professionals coming through the skills pipeline. Another possible reason for the skills gap is growing international competition for our professionals, whether from companies that offer them lucrative, dollar-based salaries to work remotely from South Africa or help them to relocate.
This crisis demands a creative response. We’re looking at ways to get young, inexperienced professionals upskilled and productive in shorter timeframes. If the industry doesn’t get this right, South Africa could fall behind the technology curve and struggle to compete on the global stage in years to come.
2. The next-generation IT services company
To hear an IT executive talk about systems integrators and managed service providers moving towards a more independent and solutions-led model may inspire cynicism. After all, IT companies have tried for years to position themselves as vendor-neutral solution providers that focus on business outcomes rather than selling products.
Yet we are rapidly moving towards a world where integrators that are unable to add business value as independent partners face irrelevance. The way the market is evolving favours IT companies that can offer customers a more streamlined, flexible and customised experience than they get from most of the IT behemoths.
The winners of tomorrow will be unencumbered by massive overheads, technical debt or unwieldy business processes. They will take a flexible approach to partnering, using the right technology to help clients drive innovation, efficiency and growth. And they will practice what they preach when it comes to digital transformation with transparent operating models that scale through digital platforms.
3. Blurring the lines between digital agency and IT integrator
Just a decade ago, the idea that one of the world’s largest management and technology consulting companies would become one of the world’s biggest digital marketing and advertising agencies by 2021 would have seemed laughable. Yet Accenture Interactive has, through a string of acquisitions, grown into a US$10-billion juggernaut that can comfortably hold its own against the likes of WPP.
We, too, recognised early on that the lines between systems integration, marketing creativity and media buying are blurring in a world where companies are becoming more data-driven in their customer engagements. This is the reason we acquired DataCore Media to add digital media strategy, buying and planning capabilities to our technology competences.
To deliver a complete solution to their clients, digital agencies need strong in-house data integration, technical development, and operations capabilities. IT companies that touch customer-facing systems, meanwhile, need access to digital media and marketing skills. I expect to see lots of partnerships, mergers and acquisitions in 2022 as companies rush to offer the full set of services.
4. The new world of hybrid work
More than 18 months after a pivot towards remote work during hard lockdowns, most companies are still trying to work out which business model is best for the future workforce — remote work, work from the office or a hybrid of the two. Many South African organisations, among them Deloitte and MTN, are gravitating to a hybrid model for large portions of their workforce.
The attraction of a hybrid model is easy to understand — it hopefully allows employers to get the best of both worlds. Employees can still reduce commuting time by only coming to the office some days and their employers could still downsize real estate. At the same time, companies can bring people together some of the time to build teamwork, improve cohesion and develop company culture.
Yet there is also the possibility of hybrid work delivering the worst of both worlds instead, with more complex rules and systems, potential disconnects between mostly remote and mostly office-bound workers, and a combination of the stresses of office life with the always-on expectations of remote. Most companies will struggle to find the right balance throughout 2022.
5. Hybrid cloud models to grow
South African companies that weren’t deep in the cloud before 2020 have had to embrace the cloud during the pandemic. In 2022, South African organisations’ cloud maturity will grow in leaps and bounds. Rather than regarding the cloud as a technology model, they will increasingly see it as a business model that enables them to deliver services to internal and external end users with more speed and flexibility.
As they move to consumption-based IT procurement, companies will look at how subscription-based or pay-as-you-use models from different providers can help them meet their goals. We’ll see most opt for multi-cloud strategies — incorporating public clouds from more than one cloud provider — and hybrid cloud strategies using a mix of private, managed private and public cloud services.
This approach enables companies to align each of their workloads to the approach or provider that delivers the optimal price/performance. IDC research shows that 84% of South African C-suite executives are pursuing or planning hybrid cloud strategies.
- Rob Godlonton is CEO at +OneX, the IT systems integration business in the Reunert Group