As 2017 ends, as always, let’s talk about some of the things we’ve seen that were significant to our customers over the year. To be clear: most of these are not anything that will surprise you, but are things we’ve seen and, I believe, we will continue to see well into 2018 and beyond. So, let me step up on my soap box—as you know I am prone to do—and let’s begin.
A big area that we’ve seen is in organizations continuing to embrace Microsoft services, the 2 big ones being Azure (more on that later) and Office 365. Microsoft continues dominate and does a great job with the services they offer with O365. Organizations don’t want to host services on-premise anymore and with what Microsoft offers they don’t have to. The only really competition in this area is Google’s G Suite, but we do not see it being as pervasive or as robust as O365 at this point, at least in the corporate world—K-12 and higher education are a different story. For those keeping score, I’ve written three (3) Office 365 blogs post this year alone because of our experiences and what we’ve seen. Amazon continues to dominate the cloud market and grow—no surprise there. They continue to release new services like AI and DB as a service (among many others) that have the potential to be big game changers. As they continue to introduce new services, Amazon likens what they do to creating the paints and the brushes (the tools) and it’s up to the developers to create paintings on the canvases (the use cases). That’s exciting. We had a bunch of members of our organization attend AWS’s re:Ignite conference in November of 2017 and they couldn’t have been more impressed with what AWS is doing. That being said, we are thoroughly impressed by Microsoft. AWS is by far the current market leader, but Microsoft is a strong (though distant) number two in the cloud market with Azure. Most firms use the Microsoft ecosystem and Microsoft makes integrating and using Azure simple (see my paragraph on simplifying things below) with their other services. Look for Microsoft to continue to gain ground because of that. In that same vein, cloud spend will certainly continue in 2018 and beyond. As of now, only a small percentage of enterprise applications (around 8%) are out in the public cloud. Not much yet, so the upside and growth potential is enormous and these organizations are going to need help. That help is not just getting to the cloud. That sometimes can be the easy part. But how do you develop your apps so that they are cloud ready, how to rewrite your apps for the cloud and one of the big ones: how to you secure it all? That’s what organizations are working through right now and will continue to do so. Will on-premise spend on infrastructure continue? Absolutely, but at a much slower place. For new firms and start-ups there is probably no reason to buy technology to put on-premise. Why buy technology when you just rent it and focus upon running your business? That’s precisely what many firms are doing. Many also just don’t want to be bothered with owning technology anymore. It’s like what us Apple iPhone/iPad owners do with our Apple Music subscriptions. With my $14.99 family plan I haven’t had a need to pull out my collection of 2,000 CD’s out of the attic or purchase a single CD in years. I get all the music I need/want through my subscription and see value in it. More value than in buying. Though not exactly equivalent, that thought process carries over to IT for firms both large and small. I think you get the point. When it comes to the cloud we all know there is entire ecosystem of vendors to provide cloud functionally and security such as CASB’s on one end of the spectrum, to solutions to help manage costs and workloads, which is a big challenge for firms today, on at the other end, plus many other functions. But this aggressive cloud push will happen and will spawn new ways of doing things for customers and force new ways for organizations like us as IT solution providers to adapt. That's a very exciting thing. Customers are looking to simplifying things. Most feel that IT has become much more complex than it needs to be—myself included. People don’t want to work as hard in setting up and using IT technology and services. That’s why SaaS services are so popular and why services and products with clean, simple GUI’s are what’s in demand today. People want easy and straightforward so that they can focus on their business and NOT focus on IT. This will continue in droves. I strongly believe that people will trade off simplicity for functionality at just about all times—look at Apple products. That’s not a knock, that’s a compliment. I believe they’ll take simplicity and ease-of-use over feature richness, again, just to make it simple. This will be interesting as time goes on as IT continues to be become more complex. How will it continue to be simple for the customer experience? The customer experience is what it’s all about. Nothing else matters. In terms of spending, customer will continue to spend on IT, but will do so prudently. Nothing shocking here or much different in years past, but I do have to say it feels a bit different this past year. It’s not that customers do not care about IT—they do—but as I mention above, they want to focus upon what matters to them. And you know what? It’s usually not IT. IT can either help or be a hindrance. That’s why you see so much shadow IT today. The people that need to get things done within organizations, just want to get things done, not be slowed down. And they feel at times that IT can, at times, slow them down. In the past, departments didn’t have a choice but to do what IT told them to, but not so today. They can just go out to a cloud service or SaaS vendor and do what they need to do. So, what does that have to do with IT spending? Just about everything. People want to spend on the things they need to spend on—the things that will help them get things done—not what IT tells them they have to spend on. That’s a big difference versus years past. Customers don’t want to spend on IT and when they do, they better be getting value for their money. So prudent and smart spending will continue. I’ve talked a few times over the past year about not overlooking the day to day stuff. No matter what technologies we adopt, no matter what cloud and other services we use, we still need to make sure that they work as we need them to. We need to make sure that our users know how to use these technologies and services, they are up and running, they are productive, and are happy using them. This is the “keeping the lights on” part of IT. While it’s not the most glamorous part of what we all do, I would argue that it’s probably the most important. While the large projects and implementations receive all the glory and notoriety (we installed this new technology, this new software, this new system, etc.), what makes that new “stuff” successful over the long term is the day to day support. That’s how something is judged to be successful in IT. Not day one. But over time. Without that day to day support, there is no success. Time and time again, we’ve seen customers overlook this part and the challenges that arise because of it. We’ve seen this throughout it 2017 and I know we’ll see in 2018 and beyond. Organizations still need guidance as to what they should do regarding IT. That has not and will not change and continued to play out in 2017. Of course, the buying landscape has changed in how customers research and purchase technology and services. The Internet is the great equalizer. By the time someone like me and my company are speaking to an organization about a product or service we sell, they might know just about as much about that product or service than we do. But what they don’t have is context. What they don’t have is how other customers are using it and finding value, like the 100+ other customers that I have using it that I can share and correlate with them. That’s where organizations need help. Not in the knowledge of the product or service—they can find that easily—but how to apply that knowledge in a way that’s of value to them and their organization. So that means our organization and our sales and technical professionals must be much more to them than someone that just brings knowledge. They must bring context and value—which is our special sauce. Without that we are no different than any other company that sell the same thing. My company hears me say it all the time internally and to our customers: “we all sell the same stuff at the same price”. It’s what’s wrapped around it is what makes customers want to buy from us and from me. That certainly was the case in 2017 and will become much more important in 2018 and beyond. Without value and context our customers have no use for us. And I don’t blame them. Our smaller and mid-sized customers have been looking to further remove themselves from the day to day business of running IT. As I mention above, they want someone else to do it for them, they want someone else to be their IT department, and they want their IT as a service. We’ve seen this much more with our customers in 2017. In the past it was just parts of their environment that they wanted us to manage: network, servers, telephones, a specific app, etc. Now they want to offload it all and have us do it. They want to focus upon the business of their business, whatever that is. It makes sense and it will certainly continue. So, firms like us need to be able to provide holistic support around everything that a small to mid-sized customer might need, in addition to the enterprise firms we service. And the needs of each can and do vary greatly. There many other things that were important to our customers this year of course, but these were some of the big things that were top of mind that I wanted to point out for this year. Certainly, things like IT and data security will always be prevalent as we all know from our own firms and in just reading the news. It’s was everywhere. We were very much engaged with our customers in helping them around security particularly around security intelligence, ransomware, threat hunting and IAM, which were hot and will continue to be. People also want to know what is going on with AI and what it means to them. In many cases, I think it’s a bit early to tell (and we are engaged with our customers in AI and machine learning discussions) but it will certainly be much more significant as time goes on. Much more to come on that and I look forward to giving you my thoughts in future posts. What will next year be like? Before I write my year-end post each year I go back and see what I wrote each previous year and they aren’t that remarkably different each year. Some technologies are accelerating, like cloud and AI and machine learning, but otherwise organizations are looking for what will help them be better at their core business function. And that is usually not anything radical but tried and true things that work. That’s a bit of a paradox in an industry that is always changing, where we have customers that are just looking to get things done and in many cases tried and true methods are the best way to make that happen. Is cloud tried and true, you say, or is it new? We’ll it’s still infrastructure (or SaaS, or PaaS, etc.), just not infrastructure at your site, so I say yes. So not as different as it might initially sound. This will continue and I image I will be writing something similar a year from now—and I look forward to it. I very much look forward to 2018 and what it will bring. The IT industry is the most exciting industry there is—bar none—because it is so dynamic and changing and is precisely why I’ve been part of it for 24 years. I look toward to another great year for us all. Let me know how these things affected you and your organization and how they will affect you in 2018. I’ll close this year as I have in previous years: Wishing you IT success in 2018. See you next year. Andy