5 IT Ops management trends to watch in 2018

As businesses continue to contend with digital disruption, IT is facing an upheaval as it evolves from a support to a leadership role. As an IT professional, your job now has an impact on customer service, user experience, and even the company culture.

To get a glimpse of what the year ahead holds for IT operations management, we asked IT leaders what trends they see developing. The top responses below represent the issues most frequently mentioned (although it's by no means a canonical ranking of concerns).

1. The skills gap will grow wider

The skills gap in IT is only going to get worse. According to TechnologyFirst.org, the US creates 120,000 new jobs that require a degree in computer science each year, but the US educational system produces only 49,000 related degrees. That's a shortfall of 71,000 computer science professionals annually.

The result is that employers will continue to struggle to staff their IT departments. Acorrding to a study by analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies and CompTIA, some 558,713 IT jobs remain open 90 days after posting.

There’s no indication the situation will improve in 2018. More likely, it will get worse. BitTitan CEO Geeman Yip says that the President's executive order earlier this year directing federal agencies to propose changes to the H-1B visa program, which has allowed companies to hire skilled foreign workers for jobs they've been unable to fill with Americans, will make it even more difficult to secure data scientists, engineers, developers, and other IT talent.

The result? Companies may have no other choice but to farm out their most skilled operations, says Mark Kirstein, Yip's colleague at BitTitan.

"Lack of talent continues to inhibit cloud adoption, which means CTOs without the tools to complete more technical tasks are shipping them over to their service providers. Particularly around security, expect service providers to beef up their technical talent and develop accessible how-to programs for their customers."
Mark Kirstein, VP of products, BitTitan

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2. IT Ops will be more tied to end-user experience

As more daily interactions become digitized, consumer expectations for a seamless experience are growing—and companies aren't keeping up.

In its inaugural State of Digital Operations Report, PagerDuty surveyed 300 IT personnel in development and operations, and more than 300 consumers. It found that nearly 70% of consumers abandon an unresponsive or slow digital app or service in 15 minutes or less, but more than one-third of IT respondents said it takes an average of 30 minutes or longer to resolve such issues.

The report also uncovered a reality-perception gap among IT professionals: While nearly 84% of IT personnel said they are confident that their organization is well-prepared to support digital services, more than half said they experienced incidents that affect customers, such as slowness or downtime, at least once a week.

As the role of IT Ops continues to grow more closely tied to end-user experience, it will change the nature of IT Ops' relationships with other lines of business—particularly customer service, said PagerDuty's head of DevOps, Eric Sigler.

The pressure is now on IT operations to address service disruptions quickly while keeping customer support in lock-step as it resolves problems. As we've seen with recent headline-making data breaches, Sigler says, this is particularly true in the case of security incidents.

"Real-time customer communication about IT and security issues is becoming table stakes, and IT Ops will need to reconsider their business-wide communications strategy in order to meet these expectations."
Eric Sigler

3. There will be more and bigger security breaches

You're not having déjà vu. Security is a perennial top IT concern, as highlighted by a pair of high-profile breaches this year. Last July, data for as many as 14 million Verizon subscribers was left available for download on an unsecured Amazon server that was controlled by a third-party vendor. Then in September, Equifax announced that personal data of about 143 million American consumers was exposed in a data breach. That number was revised upward to 145.5 million as of October.

The incidents were another reminder of the woeful state of security practices across many organizations.

"A lack of resources allocated to security training—both technical and general awareness—increases the risk a company faces related to technical debt, human error, and consistent adoption of security best practices by personnel across the enterprise," said David Buchanan, IT security and assurance partner with Delap.

"Technical debt continues to pose a concern as teams pressured to rapidly prototype and release solutions on tight timelines increasingly bypass controls and security best practices for the sake of meeting release dates."
David Buchanan

"Equifax is not a 'unicorn,' as most enterprises don't have a comprehensive security assurance program in place. And if they do, it's often composed of manual efforts,” said Mike Kail, CTO of Cybric.

"In order to keep up with the velocity of development, automation and orchestration need to be leveraged."
Mike Kail

4. IoT will become a workplace security threat

While this year hasn't seen any headline-grabbing Internet of Things (IoT) incidents on par with ones such as the malware-driven distributed denial-of-service attacks that took down Twitter, Spotify, and PayPal last year, the likelihood that another will occur increases every day. IoT tecnology will be in 95% of new electronic product designs by 2020 and new threats will continue to emerge through 2021, according to Gartner.

While the home has been the primary domain of most IoT devices, they are increasingly found in the workplace, where everything from connected espresso machines to printers and copiers to conference-room displays to digital signage provide access points for hackers. So going forward, having full visibility into your IT environment will be crucial for implementing an effective security strategy, Delap's Buchanan said.

The security of many IoT devices relies primarily on the host network, so security teams must harden those. They also must implement mitigating controls to actively protect IoT devices, many of which are currently insecure, providing hackers with an easy entry point into the corporate network, he said.

5. Blockchain will blow up

"Services based on blockchain are going to break out in 2018," said Richard Stiennon, chief strategy officer of Blancco Technology Group. "Document signing, micropayments, transaction recording, stock trading, single sign-on, and more. … Is your organization going to resist this trend or take advantage of it?"

That sounds like hype, but as of February 2017, "blockchain" was the second-most-searched-for term on Gartner.com, with the search volume up 400% over the previous year. And that's on top of a 600% increase between 2015 and 2016. Interest, the consultancy said, is growing exponentially.

Blockchain finding its way into a variety of industries in 2018, said Cybric's Kail.

The number of relevant use cases for blockchain is rapidly increasing, as evidenced by the number of startups and investments in this area, Kail said.

"In addition to the obvious financial transaction areas, we will see companies leveraging distributed ledger technology for things such as digital identity along with authentication and authorization."
—Mike Kail

What concerns you about the coming year?

Looking ahead, IT Ops pros should expect to face a more complex technology environment that's fraught with a greater amount of risk—and fewer resources  to manage it all. As emerging technologies such as blockchain enter the mainstream, these trends will only become more pronounced.

"IT Ops assets are now both ephemeral and elastic, which presents clear challenges for IT leaders to measure what's important, provide what is needed, and overall stay out in front of requests from the various lines of business," said Kail. But the technology implementation is the easy part, he adds. "What will be challenging is driving the continual cultural evolution needed to truly power digital transformation."

This is just a snapshot of some of the more critical issues IT operations will face in 2018. What did we miss that didn't make the list? If you and your team have concerns that aren't mentioned here, keep the conversation going in the comments section below.

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