Prediction pieces are often the bane of the new year. This time of year sees pundit predictions flying at you from all directions. Many of those predictions turn out to be from marketing shills producing typically self-serving, even lurid suggestions of a dire technology future with only their company's products standing between us and certain dystopian doom. Others are from analysts and tend to be just vague enough to force you to engage their organization to get any information that's really useful. Sometimes it's a combination of both.
I'm avoiding those kinds of predictions here for a couple or reasons. First, I don't work in marketing, so I've got nothing to shill. Second, analysts seem to predict using last year's developments as a foundation and then extrapolating from that what might happen next year. That's probably safe, but I think it lacks imagination.
So my predictions are going to come from my own research, my interactions with both readers and industry vendors, and that cynical place in my head that chimes loudest when I hear a corporation wants to do something forward-thinking for us all out of the goodness of its heart. It's not that I'm against corporations, far from it. For good or ill, corporations are moving most everything forward in their own way. I just don't think they have much in the way of hearts.
When you look at 2019 through that particular lens, I think the future actually becomes rather clear in several areas. Here are four I plan to watch in 2019:
IoT is going to be a major concern – The Internet of Things spent 2018 (and several years prior) being hailed as the next evolution of societal technology. Be that as it may, next year is when some of that evolution is going to fall on your head. You probably already have "non-traditional" connected devices on your network. Mostly that'll be mobile devices, but even if you're only running a medium sized LAN, you've probably also got several security cameras, facility-style environmental monitors, and other chip-equipped doodads sponging up your bandwidth. You might even have put some there deliberately, like network printers and fax servers or computer-controlled manufacturing machinery. More nefarious, you likely have a few Amazon Echo devices hiding in executive offices, too. And that's just the beginning.
All of these devices require not only bandwidth, but management; if not to keep them healthy then to control what they can access and how much of your precious resources they can use to do so. As their use grows, however, they're going to add to your network's complexity. That's not just because they'll take more space in your pipes, but because you'll need to know how to (a) find them, and (b) implement proper security, both for them and for the rest of your network. Each such device is a signifcant security risk, and taken together they multiply that risk, so you'll need to get on top of that problem fast. At the very least, you need to start re-architecting your network to keep those devices away from core resources and data stores.
Security risks are going to grow significantly – If we learned any hard lesson in 2018, it's that the level of cyber-war sophistication being demonstrated by the Russian and Chinese military, and several organizations working with them, is truly frightening when measured against how vulnerable our day-to-day IT systems are. While the Russians are best known for their attempts to subvert social media while attacking US and European elections, the fact is that they're also active in attacking US industry to steal intellectual property, collect information that can be used for phishing attacks, and to generally interfere with commerce. However, the Russians pale in comparison to the efforts of the Chinese military and their partners.
The Chinese-sponsored attacks on US IT systems throughout 2018 are only now being understood, but they encompass essentially every industry, nearly every manufacturing company, and even most of the organizations that do business with those companies. Those nations have passed along expertise and assistance to other regimes including North Korea, Iran, and the Ukraine.
The upshot is: Once this brown stuff truly hits the proverbial media fan, I predict senior corporate leaders won't want to simply hear about IT security anymore, they'll want to see and feel it. In 2019, you won't be able to continue with business as usual. Your communications must include well-configured virtual private networks (VPNs), and that includes not just the network connections you use for the cloud, but also those for VoIP communications, and any other communications channel the UCaaS industry dreams up.
And after that, you'll be encrypting everything if you're not doing that already. In 2019, encryption will become a standard component of all PC operations, whether that data's in transit or at rest, and whether it's in your own servers and devices or residing on those of a provider. If you're sane, there will be no exceptions.
And finally, if you're not serious about network monitoring and identity management (IDM) yet, you will be by the time 2019 is over. Knowing what's traveling across your network pipes -- and I mean knowing specifically, not in a general sense -- as well as who's accessing those pipes and exactly how they're doing it, those won't be optional data points to any IT pro anymore. You'll need to know them and be able to exert real control over both criteria at any time. That'll be a requirement for IT professionals managing tech for any size company in 2019, not just enterprise players.
AI will be the answer to everything – That's what its proponents will have you believe, but in fact, artificial intelligence still isn't at the point where it can cure all ills, and it won't be in 2019, either. In fact, it may never be, and maybe that's not a bad thing. Many industries have functions and processes for which there simply isn't an adequate AI solution as yet. While there are functions where AI shows great promise, such as security, inventory control, some types of manufacturing, and big data analysis; there are other areas where even just applying the technology is still a work in progress. While that's not a prediction, I will predict that if you're managing technology for even just a midsized business in 2019, at some point, you'll be asked to prove out the AI question. How can it help solve all your company's problems? If you think that your situation might benefit from AI, find a vendor with a proven track record in your specific industry.
The other choice is to experiment with applying AI by using one of the more versatile cloud-based offerings, such as those available through Amazon Web Services (AWS) or the IBM Cloud 's famed Watson. Just make sure you've got the development staff expertise available to creatively handle that application or you'll be wasting your time. That means budgeting for new staffers or signing on for help from the vendor's professional services staff. and never forget that it's an experimental effort. You don't want to bet the farm on any AI approach until it's been proven in production.
You might actually be able to find staff – Hey, a little sunshine! The good news in 2019 is that schools are now pumping out larger numbers of people with IT training. That means some of them will have experience you can actually use. In addition, I've seen indications that boards are finally allocating more money to IT staff, probably because it's dawned on them that they have to have staff to meet their financial goals, and that staff costs money. Also, remember that you can get more highly qualified staff if you forget the "bro" network, and decide to hire qualified candidates. One way to do that is to pay attention to the IT certifications that best apply to your business, while another is to not marginalize qualified women and minorities.
While all of these are sure to be important challenges in 2019, it'll likely be a quiet year in regards to new technology developments. While I do predict movement when it comes to new IT security products, those will likely be more a matter of repackaging than any actual new tech. Partly this is due to the uncertain economy, and partly it's due to the fact that government researchers aren't considered essential, and thus may not be working all that much. This combination is likely to create an atmosphere in which companies delay allocating major research and development costs until they see what's going to happen with the economy, a new Congress, and probably a new business environment.