In 2021, as a consulting firm, my colleagues and I had the privilege to have our clients' trust and work on a wide range of exciting projects. In a moment of retrospect, I looked back over these projects and found nine trends I thought were worth sharing.
1) Leaning on Legacy Systems
The first trend that we identified in 2021 (and prior, for that matter) is that many organizations rely on legacy technologies to support business operations. This strategy would be perfectly valid if the business and technology world around us weren’t just changing but changing at an accelerating pace. Leaders must include technology change in the business strategy to enable the business to remain competitive. This trend was somewhat contrary to the other trends we observed this year. We did see that 2021 was an awakening year for many businesses that had historically leaned on legacy technologies.
2) Appetite for Change
Digital transformation has been a hot topic for business in 2021. We saw an interesting trend that leaders and staff had an increased appetite for change and a desire to find new tools and technology to improve operations. Many organizations under-estimated their capacity and willingness to change within their workforce. We believe that this is a result of many factors, including changes in workforce demographics, increased exposure to technology as consumers, and the impact of the pandemic on the business.
3) Work from Anywhere
The pandemic-driven work-from-home trend of 2020 has flowed into 2021 with some new twists. For example, there has been a significant trend in moving to a hybrid work from anywhere (WFA) business model. Some businesses have found significant opportunities for business improvement with the WFA capabilities, including attracting top talent and better life-work balance for employees. Secure access service edge (SASE), software as a service (SaaS), and 5G technologies, which simplify the WFA deployment and improve the experience, has supported this trend.
4) Hybrid Cloud
Public cloud adoption has been a trend for many years and is accelerating. In 2021, the movement has become mainstream as businesses have adopted a cloud-first strategy for application deployment. The direction was to deploy new or upgraded applications in SaaS, platform as a service (PaaS), or infrastructure as a service (IaaS) while maintaining the legacy applications in existing data centers. This hybrid approach was application-driven, which was a welcome trend from our perspective.
In past years, we saw many businesses adopting multiple public cloud providers and sprinkling applications and services across the various providers. In 2021, we saw a shift in strategy. The change was to consolidate applications within a single cloud provider and invest in knowledge internally in that cloud platform. The transition was primarily due to the improved reliability and range of services of the large cloud providers. The consolidation strategy will likely take a few years to implement fully, but the trend has become prevalent.
6) Microsoft 365 Enterprise Suite
We also saw a trend towards adopting the broader Microsoft 365 suite by many businesses, which goes hand-in-hand with the consolidation trend. The direction was to adopt the range of integrated services included in the licensing, like device management, AI security capabilities, workflow automation, zero trust, application provisioning, and single sign-on (SSO). This adoption extends a previous trend towards the Office 365 subscription model (Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Word/Excel/PowerPoint, etc.).
7) Microsoft Teams Expansion
A further extension of the consolidation trend was the increased adoption of Microsoft Teams more strategically. The adoption of Teams during 2020 was predominately pandemic driven. In 2021, we saw a movement to embed workflow, document management, and project management into Teams with a strategic approach that included better governance and operational support.
8) Cybersecurity Operations
Cybersecurity continued to be top of mind for most businesses as they grappled with the risk to business operations. We saw a trend of an increased focus on cybersecurity operations, even more than new tools. This trend appeared to be fueled by governments and supplier ecosystems adopting security standards, such as the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification based on NIST 800-171 (CMMC) and NIST Cyber Security Framework (NIST-CSF), and the increase of cybersecurity compromises in all business sectors. This change was a welcome trend as we have advocated for years that cybersecurity needs to be a holistic balance of technology and operations.
9) Data Analytics
Data-driven decision requirements seemed to reach a crescendo in 2021. Organizations were keen to drive business data into business intelligence platforms like Power BI, a business analytics service by Microsoft. The trend was muted a bit as business units struggled with siloed data sets, data privacy challenges, and determining what data was required to make better decisions. It was a year of learning for many businesses, and many “aha” moments occurred.
2021 was an exciting year of growth and change for many businesses looking to recover from a challenging 2020. Our firm was exceptionally impressed with many companies as they demonstrated visionary, strategic leadership to deliver improved value to their customers. I’m looking forward to 2022!
Scott is writing on behalf of the SCTC, a premier professional organization for independent consultants. Our consultant members are leaders in the industry, able to provide best of breed professional services in a wide array of technologies. Every consultant member commits annually to a strict Code of Ethics, ensuring they work for the client benefit only and do not receive financial compensation from vendors and service providers.