A new global survey explores how COVID-19 changed the nature of IT, and how lessons from the pandemic are reshaping digital business agendas.

COVID-19 has changed the IT landscape forever, forcing organizations to shift their technology priorities rapidly. IT leaders across every region and within every industry suddenly found their digital transformation initiatives put to the test, adding new urgency to decide which projects should be abandoned, repurposed, or accelerated.

As the implications of the pandemic continue to evolve, it’s clear there is no business as usual to return to—staying competitive will require radical changes in strategy and practices. IT leaders are now taking steps to reimagine their operations through the lens of a post-pandemic reality, speed up their digital transformation efforts, and prepare for a new, still uncertain future. 

So, what’s changed, and how can enterprises prepare for what’s coming next? A new Google-commissioned study from IDG examines the impact of COVID-19 on IT. Below are some of the findings from the report, including the cloud capabilities that modern IT leaders want, and how the roles of both the CIO and modern cloud providers have changed.

Get a quick look: Howard Blumenstein, Senior Manager of Platform Product Marketing at Google Cloud, highlights two key insights from the global IDG report.

Five ways the pandemic has impacted core IT initiatives

As the pandemic took hold around the globe, many organizations discovered that previous efforts to modernize their IT infrastructure were paying off in a big way. Organizations that were further along in their digital transformation journey were, for the most part, better prepared to adapt and experienced less disruption. 

But all organizations, whether at the cutting edge or more digitally conservative, had to make changes along the way to their current IT operations. As employees and customers alike migrated en masse to digital environments, cloud-based technologies and services proved to be invaluable for helping organizations support newly distributed workforces, stay connected with their target markets, and deliver innovation.

This global-scale proof of concept offers leadership teams new context for evaluating which initiatives to focus on as they turn to the task of recovery and growth. Below are five key areas IT leaders are pursuing to accelerate their digital transformation efforts as they prepare for whatever lies ahead: 

  1. Remote work and collaboration: 59% of companies have accelerated or added new capabilities to improve remote working and collaboration, making it the top new initiative by far.
  2. Open and hybrid cloud: 78% of companies say that multi/hybrid cloud support is a top consideration right now. 
  3. Data analytics: 78% of respondents said that big data analysis capabilities are a must have or major consideration for the cloud provider they choose. On the journey to innovation, intelligent data analytics remains a top priority.
  4. Advanced security: 84% of IT leaders believe their cloud infrastructures are as or more secure than their on-premises infrastructure.
  5. Sustainability: 90% of IT leaders say sustainability is a priority for their IT department. However, even though the desire to become more sustainable is high, actions still lag behind. Only two-thirds of respondents reported their organizations have sustainability targets in place today. Many will choose providers with documented sustainability records, such as Google Cloud’s carbon neutrality commitments.

Related: The new Google Cloud Region Picker helps organizations choose a sustainable data center option that’s right for them.

Drilling into the data: The cloud capabilities modern IT leaders want, by industry and region

Enterprise adoption of cloud infrastructure and application services will only become more necessary, driven by an urgent need for solutions that are scalable, reliable, cost-effective, and secure. Here’s a closer look at what different IT leaders across industry and regions are looking for from their cloud providers.  

By industry:

  • Financial Services and Insurance: Data sovereignty and control (80%) is the most important consideration factor, followed by big data analysis (78%), then cutting-edge technology, multi/hybrid cloud support, and cost transparency (76%).
  • Manufacturing: Operational transparency and control, multicloud support, and big data analysis were all considered “must-have” or a major consideration by 80% of respondents.
  • Communications Service Providers (CSPs): 73% of CSPs view multicloud or hybrid cloud management as an important consideration for cloud provider selection, and 76% cite cutting-edge technology.
  • Healthcare: Nearly two-thirds (65%) want support from cloud vendors on shaping business objectives, and 79% say big data analysis and data sovereignty and control are top consideration factors.
  • Retail: Multi/hybrid cloud is the top consideration (81%) followed by big data analysis and availability of trained developers and IT (79%).

Related: Download our new report for research insights and tips to add resilience in retail.

By region:

  • North America: The top consideration factor is a cloud providers’ ability to source developers trained on their platform and IT (83%).
  • JPAC: Key consideration factors included help with big data analysis (79%), and multi/hybrid cloud support (77%).
  • LATAM: Always-on encryption and cutting-edge technology is a major consideration (83%).
  • EMEA: Data sovereignty and control (81%), and cost transparency and IT skills (77%) were the highest ranked consideration factors.

The CIO’s role has changed—and so has that of the cloud provider

Findings from the IDG study also indicate that the CIO’s role has evolved significantly over the past decade. IT leaders now play a more strategic role in many organizations, providing influence and guidance in areas such as driving business innovation and identifying opportunities for competitive differentiation. 

Two-thirds of the global survey participants said they want support from their public cloud providers when it comes to shaping their organization’s business objectives.

Beyond technology, many CIOs are looking to major cloud providers to provide guidance and strategic partnership. Two-thirds of the global survey participants said they want support from their public cloud providers when it comes to shaping their organization’s business objectives. As business and technology objectives become more closely aligned, IT leaders are finding they can tap into the expertise of cloud providers to identify the right technologies, processes, and skills needed to achieve business objectives. These relationships work best as a collaboration.

Cloud computing will only become more vital

The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of having open, flexible, and advanced digital systems in place. But the survey data suggests that cloud computing will only become more vital and pervasive in the months and years to come. And cloud providers will be the best source of critical capabilities, such as multicloud support, powerful data analytics and AI, IT sustainability, and advanced security. 

IT leaders can draw significant lessons from the new initiatives that other organizations are focusing on, evaluating their own digital maturity and what changes they will need to make as they find their way forward. 

Discover more insights in the full report: No Turning Back: How the Pandemic Has Reshaped Digital Business Agendas

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