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April 1, 2015

Five Leading IT Trends: What's Important Now

Gabrielle Doby | UWEBC Marketing & Communications Student Assistant
Sophie Greensite | UWEBC Marketing & Communications Student Assistant

2015 has marked a shift to greater complexity, opportunities and risks in IT as organizations begin to collaboratively innovate to the next generation in online technologies. The following trends can help leaders embrace major shifts in IT and highlight IT strategies for leveraging a competitive advantage:

1. Incorporating IT Professionals at the C-Level Table
In this Internet-driven, data-collecting world, it makes sense that those who work with the Internet and data have sizeable influence in the workplace. IT is no longer merely “working in the basement,” but rather alongside innovative business leaders and as a true enabler of the business. With the increased usage of XaaS (everything as a service), IT’s role within the organization has evolved into one of business-enablement and solution-visionary. IT can help determine the most optimized solution for the enterprise that can be readily and easily integrated, while ensuring responsiveness, effectiveness and security of the solution.

Demonstrating how IT services bring real value for the business will not only help build trust within the enterprise, but also help IT determine where to allocate precious resources. A metrics program that is built around performance that is both visible and measureable will help demonstrate IT’s contributions to the enterprise.

2. Leveraging Millennials and Social Media

There are two factors that define the dynamic nature of technology and business: millennials and social media. Millennials were brought up in a world with constant technology and connectedness at their fingertips. Already, this generation is savvy with constant connectedness and social media integration. Because of this mastery of mobility, companies are heavily recruiting millennials. As this generation grows up, they will revolutionize technology and business by communicating in a way like none before them.

“Just about everyone has a smartphone or laptop, or something to keep in contact with their staff, with their boss, their client,” said Mary Ellen Cutshall, Director of IT Asset Management at Alsbridge. “We are connecting to everything everywhere, where we used to just pay attention to the inside walls of our own company.”

Social media, certainly not foreign territory to millennials, is quickly becoming an expectation, not an exception. With the advent of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, the way people communicate and share with others has far surpassed dyadic phone conversation. The integration and expansion of mobility will be a defining factor in revolutionizing our IT world. Reverse mentoring (when a junior employee coaches a more senior employee) has been successful for many companies hiring millennials in technology, including GE, Cisco and Cox Communications.

3. Unlocking the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is a central theme of 2015 — it touches all drivers of change, from mobility and social media to cloud and analytics, and it seamlessly integrates them into our everyday life.

This integration enables products to help consumers by tapping directly into data to make decisions on its own. For example, the Nest thermostat learns users’ patterns of behavior and self-adjusts to accommodate individual lifestyles and save energy. Predictive data generated from technological interactions can be used to develop predictive models, which not only improve the accuracy of decision-making, but also the speed and agility with which important strategic decisions are made. Gartner recently reported that 4.9 billion connected “things” will be in use this year, up 30 percent from last year.

Unlocking the potential of the Internet of Things means unlocking the value and predicative power of data. Reiterated in every IT professional’s mind is the same concern: What do we do with all of the data we’ve collected? How do we determine its usefulness? Right now, data warehouses are like retirement homes, sitting in storage, providing no value, according to Austin Park, of Sapphire Cloud.

The key to finding the value in keeping collected data is through audience participation and personal experience. It’s all about harnessing data that outlines a clear strategic direction and mastering end user experience — being able to decipher the intent of the individual at any given moment.

4. Anticipating Advanced Persistent Threats

With the extension of valuable data into the cloud and the Internet of Everything, security is increasingly crucial to every organization’s IT strategy. According to Jeremy Thompson, Information Security Leader of Church Mutual Insurance, most business leaders are surprised when they hear that 97 percent of companies have had or are having breaches.

While businesses are familiar with sophisticated threats on larger companies like Target or Best Buy, little emphasis is placed on the implications of such breaches on small companies and the frequency with which these breaches happen. Companies may have a false sense of security if threats are addressed in their security infrastructure, but, according to Thompson, it’s the simple phishing scams that are often the bigger threat.

“Breaches happen to far more companies, far more often than we expect,” said Thompson. “Everybody, every company and every person is a target.” These insidious, hard-to-anticipate threats are called advanced persistent threats.

“Advanced persistent threats are dangerous because cybercriminals are able to think of ways to get what is valuable to them, or to ruin your reputation,” said Thompson. While attacks on mega corporations and governments are targets of multi-faceted attacks, the compromise of your shared data and systems is likely just collateral damage to them.

“Interconnected cybercriminals will likely find an avenue to your data you will never foresee,” said Thompson. For example, Thompson anticipates personal health information to be a targeted and unexpected avenue for identity theft. Unlike traditional avenues of credit card theft, personal health information cannot be recovered quickly and cannot be changed.

5. Rethinking Your Security Framework

Given the security risks associated with increasing interconnectedness and the cloud, Thompson outlined two essential components of IT security framework:

  • Conduct ongoing risk assessments
    “Risk assessments are the most appropriate investment of security resources,” said Thompson. It is crucial for your organization to know where data is, where systems are located, how systems are interconnected, and what value they add to the organization. Knowing these factors can help prioritize and identify where you should spend money. Risk assessments should also include third parties.  

    “As we get more connected, there is more information going back and forth and always a tendency to trust more than we should,” Thompson said. “You need to make sure third parties are included in your risk assessments; a lot of avenues of attack are through third parties.”
  • Users are an integral part in your security framework
    “It doesn’t pay a cybercriminal to spend hundreds of hours to look for ways into your system when he or she can just send an email looking like your CEO to your controller to gain access to credentials to access your system,” Thompson said. Attacks often require human intervention in order to succeed; therefore, customers are also targeted to expose private information, allowing cybercriminals access to sensitive data and to breach the system.

    Users, whether they are employees or customers, should take precautions to protect your systems and be comfortable with reporting any suspicious activity. It is essential to motivate users to take a personal interest in information security by developing materials that clearly communicate procedures and policies regarding end user security.

Whether it’s identifying key decision makers in the organization, leveraging the interconnectedness of the Internet of Everything or re-evaluating the security of people, systems and data, these trends have the potential to make a significant impact on organizations in the next year. They outline areas in which companies should make deliberate, strategic decisions.

For more information on what to expect in IT, member companies can access all IT Peer Group assets, including strategies, recruiting talent and millennials, and maximizing IT investments here.

Additionally, the IT Peer Group's April meeting will address leveraging the Internet of Things.

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