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Four ways in which digital transformation will affect 2017

Following the dramatic shifts in the global economic, political and regulatory landscape seen in 2016, there’s no doubt 2017 is set to be a year for further change and transformation. Looking ahead, there are a few triggers that will help accelerate the digital agenda for European business decision makers. 

Macro political shifts and the challenges of data protection

The ripples of Brexit, and the upcoming French and German elections, will place additional pressure on organisations to create more sophisticated frameworks for data privacy and protection. We’ve already seen LinkedIn be barred from Russia due to its arrangements for managing Russian citizen data, and with European regulations on data protection potentially fragmenting, we may well end up with different standards and sovereignty regimes across the region.

So it’s not just GDPR that British businesses will need to concern themselves with, but potentially multiple sets of rules around data retention, data protection, data location and more. Critical to addressing this will be the continued emergence and acceleration of ‘hybrid clouds’ – infrastructure that gives organisations the flexibility to dynamically move and store data where it needs to be. British and European enterprises will need a lot more flexibility in the way they manage this in the future. 

Rise of AI and sophistication of cyber threats… and cyber regulation

It’s got to the point where a cyber-attack is no longer an event… just a statistic. In 2016, one insurer found that nine in ten big businesses had suffered a significant cyber-attack in the last fuve years. Indeed, the threat vectors are getting more sophisticated and more challenging. We’ve seen an emergence of artificial intelligence applications using predictive models to identify targets that could be vulnerable to attack, in order to establish the easiest point of entry. We’ve also seen machine learning and AI characteristics work their way into harmful software. These tools can adapt to their target resulting in devices that were considered ‘secured’ becoming vulnerable. For example if Cyber attackers identify the presence to ransomware protection it can morph into other types of attack often more extreme.

The only option available to businesses is to accelerate their own defensive preparations, putting in similarly sophisticated defensive measures that can learn and adapt to the attack vectors they witness. This grade of quasi-intelligent ‘security analytics’ will be critical to the cyber defence mechanisms organisations need to develop in the year ahead.

Stephen Hawking turns 75… how are we doing at building the next generation of STEM skills?

As the digital agenda continues to emerge, organisations will be grappling with the issue of finding intelligent, qualified staff to develop, plan and execute their strategies. And yet, in the year Stephen Hawking turns 75, I expect that most European nations will still be struggling to find the right people with the right skills and aptitudes to support these changes – in fact, the skills gap is projected to stand at 800,000 people across the EU by 2020. Potentially these challenges could be exacerbated by any changes to the freedom of movement and immigration debate that’s generated such strong feelings in the UK and across Europe. Some countries, such as Germany, are looking to address this through massive investment in digital infrastructure in schools over the next five years, while the UK has placed greater emphasis on the teaching of coding and computer science.

While important, these initiatives will take time to have an impact, so there’ll be an onus on business leaders to find ways to extend and refine the skills base in their own organisations. Building teams able to implement digital transformation strategies that automate key systems and massively reduce the burden of mundane procedural tasks for key operational IT managers will be vital. Another crucial element will be the ability to work in partnership with other organisations to accelerate the roll-out of key skills in their networks; as we are doing with our partnership with X-Forces, retraining ex-military staff for key IT roles.

The threat of disruption

2016 saw one of the most anticipated television programmes of the year – the Grand Tour – launched by a bookstore. Land Rover BAR – an upstart team – use our data platforms to help them win the Americas Cup World Series. Dictionary publisher Collins announce Uberisation as one of its top ten words of the year and 2016 comes to a close with Scottish start up Skyscanner, being sold for a tremendous £1.2bn

Change is a constant and it’s better to be Uber than Ubered which will continue to be a very real threat to established businesses all over the world. Of course, the industry is reacting. One of the reasons Dell combined with EMC in the defining technology industry transaction of the year, was in anticipation that we would be worth more than the sum of our parts. Because of course, you need clever infrastructure if that’s going to support sophisticated applications like data analytics; you need security and governance technology to protect your data; and you need people that can help you stitch it all together and build your next generation of applications and services, and you need the end-user technology that empowers your staff, wherever and however they’re working.

The ongoing march of progress

Enabling and driving a lot of this change are the ongoing developments in computing technology. The forecast sees performance of IT growing a thousand fold in the next fifteen years, resulting in the cost of additional IT resources becoming negligible. This will facilitate incredible progress in the ‘internet of everything’, unlocking the potential of artificial intelligence and other new industries.

2017: a year to be agile

Whilst there will inevitably be more of the same in 2017 that we saw this year by way of disruption and change, every conversation I’ve had with IT leaders in the last 12-18 months reinforces the fact that we are at an inflection point. Next year will see further tremendous changes and with luck, digitally-savvy enterprises will find a way to harness this change as a force for good, rather than as one for organisational paralysis.

Adrian McDonald is president Europe, Middle East and Africa, Dell EMC | EMEA Enterprise