By the time you read this, the year 2020 will be behind us. But as you look around, you’ll realize that 2021 doesn’t look a lot different. You’ll still be socially distancing, most people, including you, will still be working from home and the industry will still be reeling from the Russian hack of nearly everyone.
Nonetheless, there are changes to expect in 2021--just not necessarily right away. Of course, some things won’t change even after the pandemic passes.
- Working from home won’t really change much. Even after the worst of the pandemic is over, and many people have received their doses of vaccines, working from home will continue. What companies found out is that their overhead goes down when you get employees to provide their own office space. Employees found out that they like working from home if only because the commute is better. But both found out that employees can be just as productive at home as they are in the office, and frequently more productive.
- What will change for some employees is that office visits will become a regular feature of work. While working at home will be a regular thing, once it’s safe to do so, there will be reasons to visit the office. This means that the IT staff will need to come up with ways for employees to be supported both at home and in the office at their convenience.
- Security support for the work-at-home staff will become critical. When the pandemic first started, everyone simply went home and did their best. But since then it’s become apparent that more robust security measures need to be in place. Phishing has become a huge problem, so the IT staff is going to be involved in building a business-class remote access system that protects the users and the company. Expect there to be commercial VPNs for everyone, email security, remote-access servers and commercial anti-malware to configure.
- Your IT budget may shrink in the first half. Many companies are struggling with reduced revenue during the past year and will be reluctant to add staff. However, they will still add requirements, especially after new security threats emerge--such as the Russian hack of the entire government.
- The massive Russian hack of the U.S. government, along with several private companies, already has scared managers, and they’ll want the IT staff to provide some assurance. But what will really get their attention is when they find out that it was just the first hack that was found, not the worst. There’s a high likelihood that another, and worse, penetration of security in the U.S. will emerge in 2021. You should be prepared by making sure your own house is in order and by explaining to management that it is.
- 5G will finally become useful for business, but you still won’t see those blindingly fast speeds Verizon talks about. As T-Mobile and AT&T expand their mid-band 5G coverage, it will become useful for tasks beyond making mobile phone calls. You can expect to see the spread of IoT coverage with 5G in 2021 along with other remote wireless services based on 5G. Your employees will also benefit if they can use a 5G phone to get better coverage for their work at home.
- You will be increasingly short-staffed. Demand for IT staff will increase, salaries will increase. You will start having retention problems that go beyond issues caused by social distancing and the virus. You can expect to pay more, perhaps a lot more, to attract and retain IT talent.
- Non-IT talent will be readily available, and in many cases will be trainable to become IT staff. Millions of educated, motivated workers lost their jobs in 2020 and will be happy to come work for your company when positions open up. Some of those new employees will have had exposure to technology and will be likely candidates.
- Privacy will be more important. While the requirements to protect personal information never went away, the focus in 2020 had been on survival. As the pandemic fades, companies will again need to focus on the EU’s GDPR and California’s CCPA. Meanwhile other states and nations will begin to add their own privacy rules that will be required if you do business there. This could become a new area of expertise that will impact IT, and more organizations will need to hire compliance officers to handle it.
- You will need to ensure that the operational technology areas of your company are as well protected, as is IT. In many companies, these are two separate groups with few connections between them, but it will be increasingly important to find ways for IT and OT to work together. The attackers have started using IT to attack OT, and OT to attack IT. A united front will be crucial.
And, of course, there will be wild cards. Events that we never saw coming will have a significant impact on IT, and there needs to be enough flexibility in your organization to handle such things. Since you won’t know what they are until they happen, the best you can do is practice what you do know is coming and make sure that there’s a robust management structure to handle the unexpected.
Wayne Rash, a former executive editor of eWEEK, is a longtime contributor to our publication and a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing.