Why security, AI and Microsoft are shaping the digital workplace in 2018

Results from CCS Insight's latest annual survey of IT buyers in businesses once again revealed wide-ranging shifts in challenges, priorities and brand affinity in workplace technology.

In September 2017, we surveyed more than 400 information technology decision-makers in four European countries as well as the US about their purchasing preferences for enterprise mobility and digital workplace products.

Here I give an overview of the survey findings, key results and what they mean for the market. Contact us if you'd like a copy of the full report.

Highlights

  • Security now dominates IT buyer priorities after a year of high-profile cyber-attacks. Security poses the biggest challenge for IT departments and has become the highest priority for investment in 2018. As a result, cybersecurity is also playing a greater role in new areas such as artificial intelligence.
  • Although artificial intelligence in the workplace is hyped and still in its infancy, companies are showing a strong appetite to research the technology and allocate budgets in a range of applications.
  • Mobility continues to accelerate as businesses are displaying a growing maturity in building mobile apps and deploying a rising number of cloud mobile apps for employees.
  • With the deadline looming when Microsoft will end support for Windows 7, organisations are moving to upgrade to Windows 10. The platform is set to enjoy a big year in 2018, as is Microsoft, which along with Google, has become the brand of choice for the digital workplace.

Security dominates IT buyer priorities

A standout theme from our 2017 survey was the accelerating emphasis on IT security among buyers of mobile and digital workplace technology. For example, 50 percent of respondents cited cybersecurity as a leading challenge in deploying mobile technology at work.

Security is now unquestionably the top priority for spending in enterprise mobility in 2018 as well. In our survey, 47 percent of respondents said that network security was the biggest investment priority for the digital workplace over the next 12 months, followed by device security (42 percent) and app security (27 percent).

In our past surveys, respondents have regularly cited security as a major barrier to mobility and an overriding challenge in a range of business operations. This time, there was an even sharper focus on this theme, reflecting the concerns of IT buyers in the wake of several high-profile security breaches that took place in 2017, including Equifax and the WannaCry ransomware attack. It's also indicative of critical regulatory changes that are appearing on the horizon and that IT teams need to prepare for, like the EU's General Data Protection Regulation, which will come into force in May 2018.

Early but important days for artificial intelligence in the workplace

For the first time, our survey looked at attitudes to and experiences with artificial intelligence, revealing some fascinating findings. We found that artificial intelligence is beginning to gain experimental traction among the companies we surveyed, with 58 percent of decision-makers saying their company is currently either using, trialling or implementing, or researching the technology for deployment in their businesses.

Companies are also showing an appetite to spend money on artificial intelligence. When we asked those companies with plans for investment, over 63 percent said they expect to make further investments in this technology in at least one or two selected areas over the coming two years. Just 4 percent of companies currently researching its use said they have no plans to make further investment in artificial intelligence.

When asked what were the leading uses or applications of artificial intelligence at work, IT buyers listed cybersecurity and IT automation as the top focus areas, cited by 23 percent and 21 percent of businesses, respectively (see below).

The results give early signs of where artificial intelligence will take root inside organisations. They also confirm what we've observed in the past 12 months; a growing number of proofs of concept in artificial intelligence are emerging in IT tasks such as in help-desk support functions and security operations.

At our Predictions for 2018 and Beyond event in November 2017, we predicted that cybersecurity would become the most widely adopted use of artificial intelligence in businesses in 2018. We believe that this will be led by companies looking to deploy the technology to help address skill shortages and to proactively deal with a rise in business risk posed by the growing threat to their data.

Mobile and cloud apps continue to accelerate

Our survey also revealed a growing maturity in cloud and mobile app strategies. On average, respondents claimed that just over half of all software used or managed within an organisation can now be accessed through a mobile app. Businesses also expect to step up their mobile app development activity for employees in 2018. Of those companies developing in-house, the average number of apps built is expected to rise from 13 during the past 12 months to 14 in the coming year.

When we asked IT decision-makers which are the most critical mobile apps for employees, Office 365 was the clear winner, cited by 54 percent of respondents. Skype for Business took second place, listed by 25 percent of those surveyed. Dropbox (23 percent), WhatsApp (20 percent) and Google's G Suite (17 percent) also received high scores.

Windows 10 and changes to the PC landscape

An important insight from our 2016 survey related to the expected adoption of Windows 10, following Microsoft's decision to end support for Windows 7 in early 2020.

In 2016, more than 80 percent of respondents told us they expected to upgrade their Windows PCs to Windows 10 within three years. This time, despite more businesses deploying Mac devices and Chromebooks in 2017, the survey revealed that 59 percent of organisations have already upgraded some devices to Windows 10 and a further 22 percent are likely to do so during the next two years. Just 11 percent of businesses we surveyed said they either have no plans to upgrade to the platform or do not use Windows.

Brand preferences

The tremendous amount of change happening in IT and spanning areas such as PCs, cloud applications, mobility, security and artificial intelligence, has of course huge implications for the market. A crucial survey question that acts as a barometer for these changes was about which brands IT departments believe are the most important to their workplace IT strategies.

A huge 62 percent of IT buyers named Microsoft among the top three most important brands to their enterprise IT strategies, ahead of Google, Apple, Samsung and Dell (see below).

The results are consistent with our recent survey of employees, in which Microsoft topped a list of brands most critical to delivering day-to-day work (see Employees Expect AI to Have Big Impact on Jobs).

Microsoft has made some notable advances in Office 365, Enterprise Mobility + Security and Windows 10 in 2017, which are resonating with enterprises. The company has also benefitted from the reinforcing effect of its accelerating Azure cloud and artificial intelligence products. With Google hot on its heels and Dell seeing big improvements through its acquisition of EMC in October 2016, it's going to be interesting to see if Redmond can hold onto or even better this supremacy in 2018.

Conclusions

Like in 2016, our latest survey validates many current perceptions about major technology trends in the enterprise segment and also reveals some new and fascinating trends that will unfold over the next few years.

Data security has become the most important challenge and current priority for the digital workplace, but organisations are also looking to the future, as reflected in the growth of mobile app development, cloud application support, Windows 10 adoption and the large number of companies currently investigating new technologies such as artificial intelligence.

Overall, this activity is helping to strengthen Microsoft's and to a lesser extent Google's position as the leading market players. However, it's highly likely that we'll see more important market shifts and changes to this picture in the coming 12 months.

I look forward to revealing the results of our 2018 survey later this year. Stay tuned.

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