Blog Post 7 Top Trends in Infrastructure and Operations (I&O) in 2021

Organizations expect frequent disruption, but COVID-19 has taken change to a new level. Enterprises expect even more from their IT organizations, and I&O has moved to the forefront of digital transformation as evidenced by the broad reach of these trends.

top trends impacting I&O teams in 2021

2021's top trends in Infrastructure and Operations (I&O) revolve around IT teams meeting new and changing expectations, which is not unfamiliar territory. The move to the cloud, for instance, has been elevating I&O’s responsibilities and profile for quite some time. Yet the cloud has taken on outsized importance as enterprises have made digital products and services a centerpiece of their pandemic-survival strategies. The trends discussed below all speak to how the most-effective I&O teams will be known for the innovation they create, as opposed to the infrastructure they manage.

1. Anywhere operations on two tracks
The distributed enterprise is here to stay. COVID-19 has accelerated this trend not only within I&O, but enterprise wide.

The fast-changing nature of IT infrastructure (most prominently, the shift to the cloud) was already making it more feasible for I&O staff to work remotely. The pandemic put this trend into overdrive, with most I&O teams working off-premises. The trend is expected to continue post-pandemic, with the majority of I&O organizations having most of their team working remotely.

Equally important, I&O teams must also support their organization’s overall shift to the distributed-enterprise model. That means supporting not only each business unit’s remote work needs, but also empowering line-of-business end-users with self-service approaches to accomplishing daily work on their own.   

Self-service IT automation is one such trend that promises increased productivity for end-users and reduced manual work for I&O teams. With self-service automation, users are enabled to kick off sophisticated automated tasks and workflows from the tools they use daily, like MS Teams and Slack. 

2. Focus on experiences and solutions for customers and business-users
In 2021 and beyond, the most-effective I&O teams will be known more for enabling innovation than for managing infrastructure.

This trend finds its fullest expression in the infrastructure-led innovation (ILI) model, a key element of which is using infrastructure technology to improve customer experiences and solutions.

Customer centricity isn’t the only factor at play: I&O teams will still need to prioritize infrastructure reliability, cost, talent management, and anywhere operations. However, meeting the ever-growing expectations that both customers and internal business users have for digital products and services will only grow in importance post-pandemic. 

As with trend no. 1, empowering citizen automators with powerful, effective and easy-to-use self-service automation is a key element of the growing I&O focus on business-user experiences and solutions.

3. Cross-function partnership and collaboration
The first two trends illustrate the growing interdependency between line-of-business users and I&O teams. In 2021 and beyond, the most-effective I&O teams will also expand their partnerships and collaboration across the IT universe, including DevOps, DataOps, and Platform Ops, to name a few.

Traditionally, I&O teams have focused on building and operating the environments for which they’re responsible. What we’re seeing now is a more expansive I&O vision that embraces the organization’s shared mission, vision, value and goals. 

I&O teams will continue to evolve in the direction of facilitating and enabling other teams and delivering value-added solutions. I&O can do that by deploying platforms that centralize management while also providing a service that helps other teams do their jobs better and more efficiently. Automation tools are particularly well suited to helping I&O meet their counterparts’ important needs and, thus, encourage further partnership and collaboration. 

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4. Zero- or minimal-touch maintenance, including automation
Ensuring continuous IT services was certainly a priority for I&O teams pre-pandemic. But the events of the last year have underscored just how many ways IT services can be interrupted (extreme weather, life events leading to unexpected staff absences, etc.).

I&O teams are turning to automation and zero- or minimal-touch maintenance to guarantee operational continuity regardless of external factors. In addition to lower costs and enhanced consistency across processes, automation specifically improves efficiency and makes workload deployment faster. 

Not all automation solutions, however, are created equal. The service orchestration and automation platform (SOAP), the successor to the traditional workload automation solution, is especially well suited to hardening IT services against the threats from external events. 

The SOAP excels at choreographing and managing applications and infrastructures across an enterprise-wide hybrid IT environment. Zero-touch comes into play with the right SOAP’s ability to run workflows in real-time via event-driven triggers that support IT processes like:  

  • Provision computing
  • Storage and network resources on demand
  • Orchestration of data pipelines

5. Workload automation yields to service orchestration and automation
We’re ten months into the service orchestration and automation era (Gartner coined the term in April 2020). Service orchestration and automation is steadily supplanting the traditional workload automation solution when organizations look for new or upgraded solutions.

Workload automation is still a vital part of IT automation. However, by adding comprehensive cloud orchestration capabilities to the picture, enterprises can now automate across hybrid IT environments. The goal for any I&O team in today’s environment is to be able to orchestrate automation across any of their disparate on-premises and cloud systems. 

6. The rise of automation architecture
Infrastructure architecture and cloud architecture are already well-established IT functions. The addition of automation architecture is a growing trend that will accelerate in 2021 and beyond.

I&O leaders understand that effective automation goes beyond achieving cost, efficiency and speed goals. As I&O teams zero in on improving customer experiences and solutions (see trend no. 2), automation will only grow in importance. 

The rise of automation architecture reflects the growing understanding that automation is an ongoing, multi-year journey. 

At one level, automation architects will have their hands full rooting out pockets of opportunistic automation, which will help decrease costs and complexity. At a higher level, automation architecture seeks not just to eliminate islands of automation, but to replace them with a broader orchestration approach that supports enterprise strategy and objectives.

7. More support for public cloud initiatives
As IT spending shifts dramatically to public cloud computing, I&O teams feel the effects of change everywhere, from system infrastructure to software (both infrastructure and application). IT teams are activly engaged in getting support from their technology vendors and other partners to make cloud projects successful.

A strong example of support that helps I&O teams make the most of their public cloud initiatives is orchestrating managed file transfers in hybrid IT environments with Kubernetes. Using automation to orchestrate workloads and data pipelines across cloud platforms and applications is another example. 

Public cloud initiatives support a growing range of digital workplace solutions and emerging technologies that automate processes and decisions. The goal is to enable a faster pace and scalable digital transformation. Support for these initiatives is growing in number and value.

Meeting the moment

COVID-19 has transformed business not only over the last year, but most likely for the foreseeable future. Enterprises have placed more emphasis on resilience, flexibility and adaptability to future shocks. Top trends in Infrastructure and Operations show that IT organizations have moved to the front lines of meeting these new challenges. By evaluating and responding to the trends identified here, I&O teams will ensure their continuing important role in helping their organizations meet top-level objectives. 

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