In-Depth

2016 IT Marching Orders

A list of top priorities for IT in the new year, including Windows 10 migrations, ID and access management, encryption, office politics, and DevOps.

After changing the wall calendar for the new year, IT organizations have a long and varied to-do list on tap for 2016 with projects ranging from Windows 10 migration planning and piloting to incorporating new encryption technologies and getting serious about some of the second- and third-order implications of the cloud. What follows are the top issues most IT professionals can expect to encounter in 2016.

Windows 10 Migration
In 2015, Windows 10 made its debut, but it was largely a consumer story; however, for the new year, expect to see numerous enterprises deploy systems with the new OS.

Microsoft's move to make certain versions of the OS available as free upgrades for the first year was designed to generate momentum by creating the largest possible userbase, which would, in turn, ignite developer interest. Nearly a half-year into the effort, 110 million devices are on Windows 10, but they're mostly consumer PCs. Expect that number to be much larger when Microsoft reports its quarterly results later this month.

Now it's the enterprise's turn.In a recent Redmond magazine reader survey, we asked, "What are your plans to deploy Windows 10-based systems to employees?". Of the 759 readers who answered the question, nearly one-third were already in production with one-quarter expecting to bring users onto Windows 10 in 2016. And while 7 percent had specific plans to begin rolling out Windows 10 in 2017, 36 percent weren't sure when Windows 10 rollouts would start.

Some readers expressed traditional reasons for their Windows 10 rollout timetables. "Preliminary discussions have occurred, but no concrete plans have been made for deployment, even to a limited group, until the product is further along in the maturation process," said one reader in a written explanation for his answer. "Our vendors must support Windows 10 before we can roll it out," noted another.

Other readers who are already rolling out Windows 10 came from operations with newer and looser styles of IT management. "We are a BYOD company, so some people have their own Windows 8/10 machines for work," said one. "They [Windows 10 systems] will come as new machines are purchased," another survey respondent added.

The 56 percent total of Redmond survey respondents who will have started Windows 10 deployments by January 2017 fit with broader industry surveys. Analysts at Gartner Inc. predicted in November that 50 percent of enterprises will be underway with Windows 10 deployments at the start of 2017.

"In the consumer market, a free upgrade coupled with broad legacy device support and automatic over-the-air upgrades ensures that there will be tens of millions of users familiar with the operating system before the end of 2015," Steve Kleynhans, research vice president at Gartner Inc., said in a research note. "For enterprises, we expect that implementation will be significantly more rapid than that seen with Windows 7 six years ago."

One of the reasons Gartner sees companies planning production deployments starting by January 2017 and ending in 2019 is also calendar-related. The end of support for Windows 7 hits in January 2020.

Keep an Eye on Detachables
The conventional wisdom is that Microsoft created a category with its R&D investments in the Microsoft Surface. Now four generations in, the Surface is beginning to spawn imitators at a healthy clip. In the Windows ecosystem, in addition to the new Surface Pro 4, there's the VAIO Z Canvas, the Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700 and the HP Elite x2 1012 G1. Even Apple Inc. is following with the iPad Pro and its Apple Pencil, a surprise from the stylus-averse designers of the Cupertino, Calif.-based company.

Buried in an otherwise dismal December report on the PC market, in which IDC forecast an overall 10 percent decline in PC shipments for all of 2015, was one slight ray of sunshine: "As detachable systems become more compelling (including attractive new Wintel designs), some volume will go to detachable tablets rather than traditional PC form factors, which will cut into the PC growth rate, but still supports the PC vendors and ecosystem," noted IDC Vice President Loren Loverde.

At this point, if IDC were to include detachable tablets as part of the PC market, the research firm projects that PC shipments in 2016 would grow by 1 percent, rather than falling slightly for a fourth straight year of PC market declines.

Encrypt End-to-End While You Can
Data breaches remain a critical threat to organizations and there's concern that one of the best defenses, end-to-end encryption technology, may not be around forever. Encryption got a huge public relations boost from the Edward Snowden revelations about the size and scope of the data collection efforts of the U.S. National Security Agency and its international partners. But the worm could be turning, setting up conditions for a return of the so-called Cryptowars of the 1990s. Remember the Clipper Chip?

A combination of the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris and in San Bernadino, Calif., along with the dynamics of the U.S. presidential election in 2016 could bring encryption technologies under renewed threat as a corporate security mechanism. Consider the calls immediately following the San Bernadino attack.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, for one, wants to drag Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates into it. "We are losing a lot of people to the Internet. We have to do something. We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what's happening," Trump said at an early December campaign rally. "We have to talk to them [about], maybe in certain areas, closing that Internet up in some way."

Trump came under heavy criticism for his simultaneous call to ban all Muslims from coming into the United States, but his technology views aren't far off from the mainstream of the political establishment.

"We're going to have to have more support from our friends in the technology world to deny online space. Just as we have to destroy [ISIS's] would-be caliphate, we have to deny them online space," Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton said in a Brookings Institute speech. "And this is complicated. You're going to hear all of the usual complaints, you know, freedom of speech, etc. But if we truly are in a war against terrorism and we are truly looking for ways to shut off their funding, shut off the flow of foreign fighters, then we've got to shut off their means of communicating. It's more complicated with some of what they do on encrypted apps, and I'm well aware of that, and that requires even more thinking about how to do it."

Expect to keep hearing demands from the stump for encryption technology that keeps corporate and personal data safe but is completely accessible to law enforcement and intelligence agencies whenever they need it. No matter how many times technologists deride the idea as an impossible "magic pony," politicians will demand it as long as voters respond to it.

Microsoft is among the technology giants keeping a close eye on developments. In late-2015, the company promoted its chief lawyer Brad Smith to president of the company, a move that internally elevates Smith's portfolio of issues, such as international data privacy, policy elements of encryption and the extent to which Microsoft cooperates or fights intelligence agencies and law enforcement on data requests.

Meanwhile, the technology keeps moving forward. One element to keep an eye on in 2016 is quantum computing, which could make a lot of current encryption technology irrelevant.

In a Microsoft list of predictions for 2016, Brian LaMacchia, director of security and cryptography for Microsoft Research, said, "The key cryptographic technology advance in 2016 will be the demonstration of an end-to-end encrypted TLS connection using quantum-resistant public-key algorithms for both key exchange (for confidentiality) and digital signatures (for authentication). The coming advent of quantum computers of reasonable size over the next 15 years will necessitate the migration of all our existing public-key cryptosystems to new quantum-resistant algorithms and a quantum-resistant TLS (used for every HTTPS secure Web connection) is the first step."

Corral Those Cloud Apps
The noise around identity and access management is getting deafening for good reason. Organizations that haven't implemented an ID and access management solution might want to check out the 2015 Q4 "Cloud Adoption Risk Report" from Skyhigh Networks.

The Campbell, Calif.-based cloud security and enablement company checks its data every quarter for the average number of cloud services in use at enterprise organizations. The latest count is 1,154 distinct cloud services in use at an average large company.

"Collaboration continues to be the category with the greatest variety of cloud services in use by a wide margin. The average organization uses 174 distinct collaboration services (for example, Cisco WebEx, Evernote and so on) followed by 61 file-sharing services (for example, Dropbox, Google Drive and so on) and 57 development services (for example, SourceForge, GitHub and so on)," the report says.

The Wild West atmosphere of cloud apps and services means collaboration, for example, can become more fragmented in many cases rather than less. "Companies that use many redundant services in each category can actually end up discouraging collaboration and introducing friction as users must log in to different apps to work with different teams," according to the report.

More than friction, though, the proliferation of services can mean that without centralized login management and policies, valuable corporate data is completely invisible to the IT department. Employees who set up accounts and store company data in those cloud services continue to have access to that data after termination or after departing for a competitor.

While backup and recovery is probably not a major concern for data in Microsoft OneDrive or in Dropbox, not all of those 1,154 services are backed by companies with that kind of scale or IT operations professionalism. The bankruptcy of a startup service could mean the loss of important company data.

Mind the Corporate Politics
All those semi-rogue, or at least undocumented, cloud services raise another point. Being in charge of the IT infrastructure of the company isn't the same as being in charge of all the critical data that a company has.

In its predictions for 2016, popular Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provider ServiceNow forecasts a new job role coming to the C-suite—a Chief Productivity Officer. "The CIO is now evolving from only being responsible for managing the IT infrastructure. CIOs can create significant competitive advantages through strategic use of cloud-based services and applications, be they public, private or hybrid, to help accomplish broad business goals such as driving revenue growth, targeting new markets and improving customer service."

While the definition fits the ServiceNow product offering, there's something to the idea that the CIO who isn't monitoring, leveraging, securing and encouraging the use of cloud services in the enterprise isn't fully on top of the information situation. For those who doubt the shift is occurring, consider that many IT vendors peddling cloud services are looking for ways to get around the IT department to the business line managers and marketing managers who "get" the value of their products and the way they'd help the business.

Any current CIOs out there who don't want to be justifying their IT budget to a new boss (who used to be the vice president of marketing) should be positioning himself politically now for that new and broader role.

"We are losing a lot of people to the Internet. We have to do something. We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what's happening. We have to talk to them [about], maybe in certain areas, closing that Internet up in some way."

Donald Trump, Republican Candidate for President

DevOps and Bigger Devshops
One other implication of cloud that will demand IT's attention in 2016 is development.

IDC, which has been talking about the "3rd Platform" concept since 2007 is now developing it into what it calls the DX economy, with DX standing for "Digital Transformation." Where 3rd Platform consisted of a foundation of mobile computing, cloud services, Big Data and social networking, DX is the next step as enterprises build on that 3rd Platform.

A couple of the implications that IDC is predicting include industry consolidation and an explosion of demand for developers. "The DX economy will take its toll on the IT industry itself. By 2020, IDC predicts that nearly a third of today's IT suppliers will be acquired, merged, downsized or significantly repositioned," IDC stated in a summary of its annual IDC FutureScape report.

Others have noted that such consolidation could hit IT departments on the IT side, with straight server maintenance professionals moving into other roles or over to cloud services providers with big server farms. But the developer side is another story, according to IDC's same November report:

"The DX economy—operating at scale—will be driven primarily by code. Enterprises' ability to grow and compete will increasingly depend on their digital ‘innovation capacity': the size and talent of their software development teams. In this regard, every company will increasingly be a software company. By 2018, IDC predicts that enterprises pursuing DX initiatives will more than double the size of their developer resources, focusing those developers almost entirely on DX initiatives."

The idea meshes with the increasing catchphrase "DevOps," which you'll hear more often in the coming year. When developers and IT can work together to iterate corporate applications and internal cloud services at a faster pace with higher build quality, the business wins.

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