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Part 1: What does 2021 hold for the data centre industry?

Well, we’re fast approaching the end of 2020. Let’s just say that this year has been a whirlwind, and while it’s been dominated by Covid-19, there’s no denying that the data centre industry has more than showcased its importance to the modern world. 

Before we look at what 2021 holds, everyone here at Data Centre Review just wants to thank those in our industry for everything they have done to keep things running. Without data centres, we wouldn’t have been able to binge Disney+, shop on Amazon, or keep in touch with our family and friends. Not to mention the countless other services that are only possible thanks to this remarkable industry. 

Now that the data centre industry has proven its importance to the general functioning of society, it’s time to look at what 2021 has in store. While Covid-19 is still likely to be a factor for at least half the year, we have experts from around the industry that are willing to have a stab at what else might be on the agenda. 

This is just part one of the expert predictions that we’ve gathered, but stay tuned over the next few weeks to read even more. 

Time to transform, stat

Digital transformation has been an ongoing objective for countless organisations since the early 2010s. And Anurag Kahol, CTO and co-founder at Bitglass, argues, “If stay-at-home orders were never enforced due to COVID-19, it’s possible that digital transformation still would have been on many organisations’ to-do lists throughout the next decade.

“2020 has accelerated 5G to keep remote workers connected, seen organisations expand their use of AI and ML-powered analytics to grow their businesses, and increased cloud adoption to enable businesses to achieve simplified innovation, faster time-to-market, easier scalability, and more.

“Remote work and other technological advantages spurred by stay-at-home orders will long outlast the pandemic, granting organisations more flexibility, cost savings, and an overall edge in their business plans”

Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft, further explains how this digital transformation will create a whole host of new and emerging digital roles, “We will see a renewed focus from businesses on upskilling and reskilling – both for current employees and new hires. Recent research by Microsoft revealed that 69% of UK business leaders believe their organisation is currently facing a digital skills gap – with the same report showing 59% of UK employees want to develop their digital skills, it is clear that in 2021 both businesses and employees will be prioritising training.

“Crucial to this movement is employers providing opportunities for employees to move laterally within their organisation into parts of the business where new skills are needed most urgently.”

Getting skills-savvy

Automation will also play a key role in closing the talent and data skills gap, claims Simon Spring, senior account director EMEA at WhereScape, “Data scientists and data engineers are burdened with data preparation instead of allowing them to focus on the science and value of the data itself. Introducing Data Automation will free data scientists from the more mundane tasks, allowing them to focus on the science, and for data engineers to focus on data provisioning. Automation is enabling businesses to get things done faster and with greater efficiency – and the same can be said of the data teams.

“Organisations that adopt a strategic and diligent approach to data investments; embrace automation to ingest, transform and deliver real-time data insights; and focus on building a multidisciplinary data team of gifted individuals, will see a stronger, more secure and successful business strategy and will reap the rewards.”

Having a handle on data

The ability to analyse large amounts of captured data is indispensable. The need for it is only going to grow, explains Terry Storrar, managing director at Leaseweb UK, “In 2021, I believe outsourced infrastructure will grow as more customers look to utilise hybrid environments that include physical, virtual and cloud infrastructure. The most important component in this will be how it all connects and works together. IaaS providers are ideally positioned to provide the long lasting growth partnership to customers, as they move through their journey of choosing the best infrastructure for their workloads and applications. The cloud is actually sat on physical hardware in a data centre somewhere so IaaS providers are very well-placed to ensure that any journey organisations need to take is a smooth one.”

John Day, sales engineering leader, UK, Ireland & Nordics at Commvault, looks into how 5G can also enable businesses to make greater use of data: “The sheer speed that 5G enables companies to adapt and deploy new technology will be fascinating to watch in 2021. We will start to see how ultra-high-speed networks change the way companies drive innovation & deliver their products and services. A real game-changer will be the sheer size of the data sets that can be moved around rapidly. Businesses cannot afford to ignore 5G.”

Predictive analytics

Over recent years, value stream management (VSM) platforms have improved how organisations develop software, but in 2021, VSM predictive analytics will shape organisations’ knowledge and foresight of what their customers need.

“The need for visibility into the software delivery process will enhance the ability to make informed decisions based on that insight and become a differentiator for companies that rely on software,” says Bob Davis, CMO at Plutora. 

”Companies will have to embrace VSM platforms if they want to become a software player. But it will be the improved visibility and utilisation of predictive analytics that VSM provides that will enable companies to understand what technology and products matter most to their customers.”

Greater demand from customers

Animesh Chowdhury, co-founder and CTO at Goodtill, further explores how customer behaviour and requirements have been affected by changes in trading environments.

“Any lagard businesses which have resisted the move to card payments will need to innovate and move to accept card and online payments to keep trading,” she notes. 

“We will see more charities move from cash-based collections to contactless tap-and-go donations. Charities can then offer larger set amounts such as a £5 donation where the donor may have previously only given the change in their pocket.

“As more businesses will migrate to mobile and online ordering, they can offer a more personalised experience to customers including communications, discounts and offers based on their profile or previous purchases. Agile micro-merchants, such as small, ethical and local brands will do well as they adopt more digital tools to build and sell to a like-minded community online.”

Richard Buxton, director at N4Engage, echoes the importance of effective customer engagement by using advanced communication technology: “Video will remain a key communication channel in 2021. Over the last year, video has reigned supreme as a way for people to communicate with each other – whether socially at home, in an enterprise environment, or for customer contact. 

”Customers are now used to accessing services via video, while agents, too, are showing a preference for video interactions with customers and colleagues alike.

“People are becoming more and more comfortable having interactions with organisations in this way. Initially, we saw remote working as a temporary move, but it’s going to become the norm. To remain flexible and agile, businesses will need dynamic, distributed agents working from lots of different locations, whether that’s home, smaller offices or flexible office spaces.” 

A word of caution

Coming out of COVID will be a drawn-out process, and Jim Darragh, CEO of Totalmobile, rounds off by discussing how technology can aid continued social distancing: “There will still be certain needs and maybe even pressures to continue to conduct work at arm’s length and maintain distance. As we’ve already seen, this has the potential to disrupt the field services industry, where on-site visits are essential to the job. To counter any potential disruption, we can expect to see continued investment in technologies that aid field services professionals carry out on-site jobs.

“We will start to see augmented video solutions, allowing specialists to remotely identify and discuss requirements with people on-site and in homes, saving the time, expense and safety risks of initial call outs.”

He concludes, “It’s clear that much of what we experienced in 2020 will be leaking into the start of next year. However, with varying lockdown measures anticipated for the first few months of the new year at the very least, the efforts made by organisations to transform their digital capabilities in 2020 should mean that they’re much better equipped to deal with whatever may come.”

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