With a new year on the near horizon, it is accompanied for some by a combination of relief that 2016 is over and for many, hope, that 2017 will bring a sea change.
Thus, the latest IDC Predictions 2017 event, held in Hyde Park recently, were robustly attended, with many no doubt eager for a ray of light for the industry in particular and the country at large.
Mark Walker, IDC's associate vice president for Sub-Saharan Africa, noted that 2016 has undoubtedly been a difficult year for economies globally, with the South African economy certainly not emerging unscathed. “Marginal economic growth and political instability have made the business environment very difficult to navigate, and organisations are looking at technology to drive down their costs while improving the way they operate. Business confidence has also taken a knock because of the economic and political instability," he elaborated.
All this means that we can expect innovation to continue disrupting the traditional sector, accompanied by a considerably stronger focus on ensuring that technology enables business outcomes. What else though is on the cards? The forecast for IT seems to be a mix of good, with regards to cloud adoption, and bad, at least as far security is concerned.
Get your head in the clouds
Jon Tullett, research manager for IT services at IDC South Africa, elaborated that South Africa has lagged in cloud adoption due to the lack of local infrastructure, data protection concerns, and conservative investment strategies. However, the year ahead looks brighter on that front.
"IDC believes 2017 will see at least one major global cloud provider establishing local datacentre infrastructure to service the region," says Tullet. "This will address key concerns and spur competition and adoption while putting pressure on local providers. New public cloud spend will overtake on-premise in areas such as collaborative applications, application development software and platforms, and customer relationship management (CRM)," he elaborated.
With this in mind, his recommendations to businesses is that they continue to invest in a private cloud but develop the capabilities to transition workloads into public cloud as circumstances change: "Organisations should reassess their application capabilities with a view to cloud capabilities and invest in cloud skills around critical workloads, as well as integration and management. They should also reevaluate contracts and relationships with software providers to ensure that they meet their business requirements," he added.
But stay safe on the ground
Not so heartening is the expected outlook for security, with the firm pointing out that 2016 was a particularly difficult year for information security, owing to the prevalence of massive data leaks, ransomware, and Internet of things (IoT) malware compounded by a shortage of IT security skills.
According to Tullet, 2017 will only see an even worse situation arising, with continued exposure for South African businesses to major cybercrime syndicates, both directly and indirectly. “IDC believes 2017 will see at least one high-profile public breach in South Africa, which is likely to be a data leak within the public sector, although we cannot rule out a malware or ransomware attack in retail or healthcare,” he warned.
In other words, the time worn strategy of sticking one’s figurative head in the sand and adopting a ‘it won’t happen to me’ approach is really not going to cut it in 2017. Indeed, Intel Security recently highlighted just how big of a problem ransomware is, and that is just one of the threats that businesses will still need to contend with in the year ahead.
However, while 2017 may have its dangers, it is not without some cause for optimism too, particularly with regards to the growth of mobility and analytics.
Mobility still matters
George Kalebaila, senior research manager for telecommunications at IDC South Africa, explained that mobility is becoming one of the key drivers of digital transformation, as customer engagements and transactions move to digital platforms: "Choose your own device (CYOD) has become the de facto device policy for most enterprises to reduce the cost of mobilising the workforce. Financial services will continue to lead the adoption of mobility solutions mainly due to the inherent benefits and cost savings from the reduction in branch footprints and improving customer experience. However, securing data and data recovery have become more important than securing devices as data becomes the new capital in the digital economy," he noted.
Furthermore, the IDC expects the number of mobile enterprise applications to almost double as the shift from devices to mobile apps accelerates. Additionally, in the year ahead, near field communication (NFC) is expected to start pushing mobile payments to the fore, while 5G curiosity, along with hype from mobile operators and vendors, is anticipated to see 5G becoming part of enterprise executive discussions.
In order to take advantage of this, Kalebaila elaborated that organisations should plan for mobile apps as a natural part of all their workflows. "The focus should move to mobile app development platforms as a critical tool and security must be integrated across the mobile app development lifecycle. Organisations should also develop an intermediate understanding of 5G elements and what they mean in a commercial setting," he encouraged.
It's all about the data
Also offering some hope for the year ahead, is data and analytics. Tullett asserted that South African companies will increase their investment in analytics and big data in 2017. While the primary investment will remain limited to large enterprises, he noted that South African companies are building foundation technologies for cognitive computing, whether it is part of the long-term strategy or not.
"Behavioral analysis and prediction will become mainstream in 2017, directly driving product development in banking, financial services, and insurance in particular,” he elaborated. Perhaps most heartening, especially when considering the real security threats expected to loom, is that analytics is expected to step up as “the primary resource responsible for thwarting major criminal incidents" in the year ahead.
He added that when machine learning does arrive in the country, it will do so rapidly, with mature, proven technologies ready to deploy by then and ready to take advantage of aligning projects towards that future.
Thus, Tullett's advice to organisations in South Africa is to continue to invest in analytics and data processing capabilities: "Measure everything, bearing in mind this will require investment in data handling infrastructure and development resources. Ensure your data is robust and accessible to your development, customer experience, business intelligence and data science teams. Finally, workshop strategic projects around current and future analytic capabilities," he encouraged.
Admittedly, at least on the IT stage, IDC was as usual thorough in its analysis of the possibilities and potentials that it believes lie ahead. It certainly seems as though there is good reason to expect 2017 to bear some negative trends to be alert to, but also opportunities to take advantage of.