SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2020: The Universal Language of IT

Show of hands: who thinks “hybrid IT” is new, shiny, and filled with wonderful possibilities? Judging by fresh survey data and ongoing conversations on THWACK, not many of you. We’re now years into an era marked by hybrid IT, where on-premises, cloud infrastructures, and SaaS occasionally live in harmony if the tech pros in charge of those environments have enough time and resources to manage them successfully. IT pros will tell you silo demolition was overdue anyway, but the details of IT role convergence and more blurred lines of IT responsibilities are still in flux. And admins generally see promotion for ensuring reliability, not accepting indeterminate ops.

The clarifying effect of necessity is driving these changes, but it’s also adding complexity. And now IT pros are under even greater pressure to ensure optimized, secure performance for newly remote workforces while facing looming budget cuts and financial uncertainty. SolarWinds recently revealed the findings of its IT Trends Report 2020: The Universal Language of IT, which analyzes this reality and seeks to define the Universal Language of IT. It’s also the 7th annual data point, identifying multi-year trends reported by hands-on administrators and front-line IT management.

While the survey data was gathered before the COVID-19 (or Coronavirus) pandemic made clear technology professionals are even more essential workers, the findings are underscored by this challenging period of remote work. In particular, the report highlights increasing burden on the IT environments keeping global organizations operating at full capacity. The study reveals a new reality for tech pros where roles have converged, yet budgets remain focused less on emerging technologies and more on hybrid IT, expanding their charter from operations to optimization. And it’s great to know you’re not alone in this.

Specifically, the SolarWinds annual report surveys a broad range of tech pros and specialties to uncover the landscape realities of their roles. Change drivers, needed skillsets, and perceptions about their place within larger business and technology contexts were included. Of course, the study covers on-premises and cloud environments because of the nature of the hybrid IT beast. But it also includes application management, security, and managed service provider (MSP) functions to provide a broad overview of the effects of modern, interwoven complexities.

The findings are based on a survey fielded in December 2019, yielding responses from 983 technology practitioners, managers, and directors from public- and private-sector small, mid-size, and enterprise organizations worldwide.

Among many other key findings, this year’s survey revealed:

Tech pros are focusing less on emerging technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and edge, and more on hybrid IT and security.

  • The top three technologies influencing organizations’ staffing needs (by weighted rank) are:
    • Cloud computing (i.e., SaaS, IaaS, PaaS) (50%)
    • Security and compliance (46%)
    • Hybrid IT (35%)
  • Only a collective 29% name emerging technologies—like AI, edge, microservices, and containers—as the biggest influence on staffing needs.
  • This makes sense when you consider organizations aren’t allocating their budget to emerging technologies—particularly as this year’s budgets are reevaluated in the face of economic challenges. Over two-thirds (68%) indicate their organizations’ tech budgets allocate less than 25% of their spending to emerging technologies.

Nothing disinfects hype better than hands-on experience, and the 2020 report suggests IT teams are making progress on evaluation backlogs. Enterprises have invested in engineering teams to evaluate and build prototypes to evaluate many of the technologies hyped over the last three years. That’s welcome news to many in IT. From blockchain to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (as defined by the hype), enterprises are discovering many hyped technologies haven’t added real value or magically delivered significant modernization or business transformation. While organizations reassess priorities in the shadow of an oncoming recession, tech pros should routinely ask management to define the core competencies of the business as they relate to technology, and then monitor for gaps between priorities and training.

Today’s hybrid IT reality has created a universal language of IT where tech pro roles and siloes converge, and complexities are exacerbated by flat to shrinking budgets and a lack of qualified personnel.

  • With the convergence of technologies and responsibilities, the top three ways tech pro roles have changed over the past three to five years are:
    • Need to retrain existing staff (37%)
    • Increased on-premises responsibilities (35%)
    • Increased work week hours (31%)
  • At the same time, tech pros are experiencing barriers to successfully supporting their organizations, including:
    • Lack of budget/resources (35%)
    • Unclear or shifting priorities (20%)
    • Lack of training for personnel (12%)
  • What’s more, nearly half (41%) of respondents believe tech pros entering the workforce today don’t have the necessary skills to manage modern, distributed IT environments

Probably not shocking if you’re in IT, as in past years tech skills development emerged as a further-growing focus area for tech pros across IT disciplines in 2020. Gaining visibility both inside and outside the firewall remains critical, coupled with the need to oversee application performance. And once again for 2020, practical security and compliance is a top—and growing—priority. Leveraging technology solutions with a breadth and depth of cross-functional visibility can help bridge the gap for organizations either working to develop the skillset of their current staff or in the process of hiring specialists to manage these responsibilities.

Many personnel and skills issues relate to growing areas like APM and security and compliance.

  • Sixty percent of tech pros/teams/IT departments are spending more time managing apps and services rather than infrastructure and hardware. This represents a monumental shift in the strategic importance of applications to the modern business.
  • For 65% of tech pros, at least 10% of their daily responsibilities include IT security management. At the same time, the top three areas of security skills management tech pro organizations are prioritizing for development include (by weighted rank):
    • Network security (46%)
    • Security information and event management (SIEM) (30%)
    • Backup and recovery (28%)
  • Similar to the way the universal language of IT has affected IT departments, compliance policies have resulted in 40% of tech pros adding additional IT staff.
  • Compliance policies with the greatest effect on IT departments include:
    • GDPR (60%)
    • PCI DSS (25%)
    • RMF (21%)

Cloud’s accelerating adoption is further increasing needs for application performance management (APM) and security management skills and solutions. In the next year, security must enter the core competency set of every tech pro. In response, many organizations are focusing on internal or self-paced skills development, while others are outsourcing to MSP or MSSP teams. Tech pros must increasingly have complete understanding of the IT environment they support to uncover potentially hidden risks. Further, in 2020 they’re being tapped to explain key elements to business leaders more than ever. At the same time, it’s important for tech pros to begin evaluating APM skills and products and consider if they meet the needs of their current environments. Hybrid environments span applications and infrastructure often requiring new monitoring methods and technologies, and IT teams are searching for details to communicate with leadership.

Tech pros need to develop nontechnical skills to operate within the universal language of IT reality where cross-functional and business-level communication is necessary.

  • The nontechnical skills tech pros feel are most critical to successfully manage today’s modern IT environments include:
    • Project management (56%)
    • Interpersonal communication (51%)
    • People management (51%)
      • According to the LinkedIn 2020 Emerging Jobs Report, the demand for soft skills like communication, collaboration, and creativity will continue to rise across the SaaS industry.
    • Despite the budget and skills issues tech pros report, 88% of surveyed tech pros say they’re comfortable communicating with business leadership when requesting technology purchases, investing time/budget into team trainings, and the like.

While developing tech skills is often informed by current areas of expertise, the SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2020 findings reveal strong IT performance is about more than IT skills. Interpersonal skills are commonly referred to as “soft skills,” which is misleading. They rank high in overall importance. Soft skills aren’t optional. They’re human skills—everyone needs to relate to other people and speak in a way they can relate to and understand. Find a mentor: someone on your team who can help you learn. Practice your communication skills and try your hand at new specialties like project management.

Final Thoughts

Before COVID-19 defined it, 2020 had been the perennial beacon of the future to the point of almost becoming a flying cars-centered meme. The last two decades have ushered in sweeping changes for IT departments, from virtualization to mobility to cloud computing to digital transformation, and once again this year’s report shows that change only accelerating. At the same time, this challenging period of remote work further increases burdens on the IT environment to keep global organizations operating at full capacity. The Universal Language of IT details the evolving and increasingly critical role of technology in business and the tech pros responsible for ensuring overall uptime, availability, and performance and greater partnership with leadership to drive business success.

Fortunately, in response, we’re seeing tech pros and business leadership begin to increase efforts to partner closely to dismiss hype and focus on the fundamentals. And that was reassuring even before this new need to deliver great operations in the face of unprecedented change. They should be free to invest the IT department’s time, resources, and efforts to develop skills in the technologies with the greatest impact on business. Similarly, committing to upskilling in key areas is no longer optional. Both technical (application performance management and security and compliance) and human skills such as interpersonal collaboration, and project and people management, will be key in the year ahead to address challenges introduced by role convergence and added complexity.

2020 presents tech pros with opportunity to demonstrate and capitalize on the critical tie between skills development, leadership collaboration and communication, and business success. And at a time of such unexpected change, it’s encouraging that participants seem to indicate 2020 might be the year we begin to tame or at least measure the hybrid IT hairball.

  • Nice write-up. Infrastructure supports all apps, weather physical or virtual, on-prem or off-prem. Work with your Apps teams to ensure customer feedback is excellent. Unless you are the Apps team, then work with infrastructure so they understand your needs. Feedback is a good way to get you back to warp speed. Beam me up Scotty!

  • Nice write-up. Infrastructure supports all apps, weather physical or virtual, on-prem or off-prem. Work with your Apps teams to ensure customer feedback is excellent. Unless you are the Apps team, then work with infrastructure so they understand your needs. Feedback is a good way to get you back to warp speed. Beam me up Scotty!

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