For many organizations, 2020 felt like a long stretch of adjustments. We all navigated a compounding series of unforeseen business process changes, and success was defined more by quick pivots than long-term strategies. Many of these pivots were a long time coming. And behind nearly every success—and survival—were IT strategic investments and innovation.

Pure Storage® partnered with Bredin Research to hear how 300+ IT decision-makers are investing in their IT infrastructures to support what’s next. The research revealed five top priorities. Read on to see how your IT investments stack up.

1) Digital Transformation for Customer Engagement

As you might expect, digital transformation is one of the top priorities for IT leaders. Bredin research indicates that upwards of 70% of IT leaders are focused on improving digital experiences and personalization. It makes sense; 2020 was definitely a year we did almost everything online.

IT leaders expanded digital channels and evolved their use of data to create more meaningful, immersive touchpoints. This change was almost universal. Only 2% of respondents said they did nothing to change how they engaged prospects and customers. The rest put the pedal down.

Three other investments will take priority here:

  • Retention of direct and third-party customer data: To drive a personalized experience you need to understand your customer—every click, purchase, and review helps. IT leaders are also leveraging data from third-party agencies (43%) and social platforms to refine engagement.
  • Analytics pipelines and AI: Trends and insights need to be constantly refined based on behaviors. Most companies are just getting started, but 2021 should see an explosion in analytics, particularly around predicting intent and providing recommendations.
  • Augmentation of experiences: With more data and increased use of AI, augmented and virtual reality experiences can flourish, but IT leaders should anticipate the need to support more animated and multi-view content.

2) Improved Support for Remote Workforces

IT teams had to make a massive pivot in 2020 to support remote collaboration and development and to carry out remote IT operations. IT leaders made investments in desktop as a service (58%), on-demand video and webinars for staff collaboration and education (52%), and IT automation software (56%).

While 2021 will see a return to local offices, this will likely occur slowly and incrementally. Office policies may even change for good, evidenced by the 56% of leaders who said they plan to continue implementing new policies for remote workers through 2021 and beyond.

There are a few IT considerations to expect here:

  • Retention of online training materials: Digital enablement was already gaining speed, but with new hire training, sales, and partner kickoffs now 100% remote, organizations will need to store and curate more content, for longer.
  • IT automation and tracking systems: To better serve remote user requests and accelerate remote deployment, operations teams will need to invest in AIOps technologies to maintain prior service levels.

3) Data Security Everywhere

Use of digital channels with customers (see #1) and remote workforces expanded attack surface areas, making data security a top priority. Attacks piggybacking on the crisis led companies to double down on security and related forms of data protection. Respondents noted that this applied to:

  • Securing digital business: 63% of leaders indicated the need for stronger data security to protect customer and supplier data. Expect expanded investment in ransomware protection, data encryption, compliance technologies, and retention of logs (i.e., SIEM analytics).
  • Securing remote staff and backend systems: 60% of leaders indicated the need to make investments in data and organizational security to reduce risk. This will likely result in expanded monitoring of SaaS applications as well as leveraging zero trust models.

The message is clear: If you haven’t expanded the reach of your security strategy yet, it’s time to start.

4) Modern Data Infrastructures and Applications

The study revealed that many found their systems weren’t prepared to scale with data growth, with 56% citing a need to improve infrastructures to support digital engagement. Fifty-three percent of respondents had to modify or overhaul development processes to support digital commerce, but don’t expect this to be one and done. Adoption of containerized applications, Kubernetes, and related orchestration tools is exploding but will require modern infrastructures to support them.

So, what are these investments?

  • Infrastructure to support Kubernetes: It’s a cloud play (see #5), but on-premises strategies that allow for application and data mobility will also be key to enabling the application portability 40% of respondents said they will require. Container native will be key.
  • AI-driven forecasting tools: Integrated tools to simplify forecasting can make planning easier for IT and finance teams. This includes intelligently scaling to meet capacity needs, making system upgrades, and moving workloads to optimize performance.

5) Cloud-Based Solutions

Closely related to modernizing apps and infrastructure is the adoption of cloud solutions. More than half (56%) of respondents plan to build or improve their infrastructures with the cloud, and 33% implemented more public cloud compute resources (e.g., AWS or Azure). Also, just under a quarter made their biggest investments in managed cloud services (e.g., infrastructure as a service [IaaS]). The goals: to improve data accessibility and business agility to optimize costs, simplify management, and expand access to tool sets (e.g., analytics and machine learning tools).

Note that on-premises is not going away. The research indicates that organizations are not only maintaining an on-premises footprint but also upgrading data center infrastructures for the long haul—proof hybrid is here to stay. Whatever their mix looks like, one thing is certain: IT leaders will need software that can easily manage resources across both on-premises and in cloud (36%).

Looking Ahead: As a Service Will Underscore Most IT Investments

We heard it loud and clear: The biggest IT strategy change for 2021 is the shift to OPEX over CAPEX expenditures. To ramp up capabilities without scaling up work, organizations will continue to take self-service approaches and “plug into” as-a-service offerings. Thirty-nine percent plan to use cloud-as-a-service models for most of their IT infrastructure purchasing in the next five years, compared with the 20% and 17% planning capital purchases.

This is a common thread in the investments listed. By shifting to SaaS and IaaS, IT leaders can worry less about capabilities and subscribe to specific services while leaving hardware up to the vendor. Yes, block, file, and object protocols still matter, but since they’re being acquired as a service, IT organizations can carry less risk.

2020 created a deeper intimacy between business strategies and the IT infrastructure needed to support them. It wasn’t just digital-first. It was digital, period. Overcoming new challenges with future-proofed capabilities will be key to ensuring continuity. Keep an eye on these key investments as you shape IT strategies today and into the future.