by Joanne Carew

The top 4 IT trends African CIOs need to watch in 2021

Feature
Jan 10, 2021
Cloud ComputingIT StrategyMobile

The coronavirus pandemic accelerated the usage of cloud and mobile; opened up new threat opportunities for hackers and caused a mass move to remote work. Savvy CIOs need to respond to these trends.

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Credit: Thinkstock

The world of technology changed fundamentally during 2020. When governments across the globe issued stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, individuals and businesses relied on digital technologies to remain productive, stay informed and keep connected. In this way, 2020 totally transformed our relationship with these emerging tools and solutions. 

Across Africa, the pandemic served as a great accelerator for innovation and co-operation, with the continent’s response to COVID-19 largely being defined by inventive thinking around the use of technology. And the trend is only set to continue into 2021. According Mark Walker, an associate VP at the International Data Corporation (IDC) in sub-Saharan Africa, mobility, security and connectedness will be a key focus for CIOs in 2021, with cloud being the glue that holds everything together.

Below, we unpack four key trends that African CIOs should be keeping an eye on in the year ahead.

Remote work is here to stay

The chaos that ensued when IT teams first had to transition everyone to remote work is largely behind us, explains Walker. In 2021 the challenge will be to continue providing reliable and secure access to people no matter where they are.

He believes that some will return to the office in 2021 but not on a large scale as the pandemic ebbs and flows from region to region. “Last year, all of our attention was focussed on simply getting the hardware and software needed to get everyone connected. In 2021, CIOs will need to assess if the investments they made in 2020 have been fruitful or not.”

If anything, the pandemic showcased that we can collaborate, have important meetings and even secure major business deals without having to be in the same room, Jonathan Tullett, research manager for IT services at IDC sub-Saharan Africa, told CIO last year.  The world of work will never look the same, he said. His sentiments echo the findings of a recent survey from Andela, which suggests that many organisations will embrace remote work for the long term. The pandemic accelerated a move at Andela itself to have all its contractors work remotely on a permanent basis.

Many companies realised significant cost savings — mostly relating to reduced running expenses and a decrease in the use of office supplies — by working remotely so there’s little incentive for them to rush a move back to the way things were, notes Derrick Chikanga, a technology analyst at market intelligence, analysis and ICT sector consulting firm, Africa Analysis Team. Furthermore, companies can now expand their service coverage without necessarily having to open up new offices in other geographic locations.

The move to cloud accelerates

Companies surveyed as part of 2020’s Cloud in Africa report, conducted by South African market research firm World Wide Worx in partnership with F5, DigiCloud Africa and Dell Technologies, believe that cloud played an “important” role in their response to the COVID-19 crisis. The study suggested that the pandemic may have actually boosted cloud usage in sub-Saharan Africa.

Some business leaders are still reluctant to migrate everything to a single cloud environment, which makes utilising a range of cloud products from numerous providers for their different business requirements an attractive approach, explains Chikanga. Throughout 2021, more and more large corporations can be expected to adopt a multicloud approach, he says. Given the financial strain that many experienced in 2020, we expect businesses leaders to put pressure on CIOs to help them curb expenditure, notes Walker. Cloud makes it possible to move away from a capital expenditure (Capex) model in favour of an operating expenditure (Opex) approach and enjoy widespread cost savings as a result.

Mobile innovation spurs further uptake of services

Unsurprisingly, the coronavirus pandemic sparked a wave of innovation around mobile technologies. This, in turn, demands that corporate IT leaders take the time to understand how mobile trends affect business.

Walker expects the use of mobile services to rise in 2021 thanks to the increased mobility of the workforce and because customers have become more mobile-oriented. For the immediate future, staff need to be able to work from anywhere and at anytime. The success of this approach relies squarely on mobile. Mobile services will continue playing a key role in providing the connectivity that remote teams need to work without disruption.

In South Africa, the anticipated auctioning of high-demand spectrum in the first quarter of 2021 will enable service providers to expand their coverage across the whole country, outlines Chikanga. Not only does this provide improved connectivity to more remote communities, it also makes remote work possible and boosts e-learning activities. Technology leaders will need to develop strategies to offer new products and service via mobile in order to stay competitive.

Security threats evolve

In 2020, the move to remote work transformed the threat landscape across sub-Saharan Africa, leaving many security professionals scrambling. While cybersecurity firm Kaspersky detected a 36% decline in malware attacks in South Africa and a 26% drop in Kenya in the first half of 2020, other types of attacks are on the rise.

When you combine the fact that more people are working remotely with the emergence of 5G connectivity and the Internet of Things (IoT) — which all increases the number of connected device — there are more loopholes for cybercriminals to exploit. As such, IT security will remain critical during 2021, Chikanga states.

In line with Walker’s earlier comments about assessing the success of hardware and software investments, IT leaders and CIOs will be looking at how their security strategy measures up when everyone is working from different locations. “It’s quite a balancing act,” Walker states. “CIOs need to enable productivity, while also keeping a keen eye on security.”

For modern CIOs, the challenge is to accept the fact that the world has changed. “Because almost everything rests on some sort of technology platform, an IT leader’s responsibility has only gotten broader. This makes it imperative for CIOs to develop good relationships with business and to have a clear understanding of how technology can be utilised to help business achieve what they want to achieve.”