In light of IT Pro Day 2021, industry experts comment on what it means to be an IT professional, the hurdles they face and overcome, and how all businesses can give these employees the recognition they deserve
The job of IT professionals over the past 18 months has not been an easy one. They have almost single-handedly had to pivot the entire security strategies of global organisations in order to accommodate the new hybrid workforce and protect users from the ever-changing threat landscape. This has meant dealing with and transferring enormous amounts of data, a task that has been further complicated by Brexit. Over the past year, it is undeniable that IT professionals have stepped up to the mark and attempted to support us in every way possible, and for that, we must be grateful.
Stepping into the spotlight
The past months have meant the role of IT professionals has become increasingly visible, moving away from the more traditional background role. “It’s not easy being the keeper of an organisation’s technology systems. In the modern day business world the tech is the beating heart – it is what keeps data, systems, and people connected,” explains Joel Reid, UK&I VP/General Manager at Axway.
“Let’s face it—IT no longer just supports an organisation. IT is basically running it,” agrees Sascha Giese, Head Geek at SolarWinds. “The past 18 months have been challenging for everyone, our public sector organisations in particular, and it’s put a spotlight on IT that wasn’t there before. Teams received recognition for their work in supporting the next normal—before, these pros may have remained in more of a supporting role behind the scenes. Keeping a country’s vital public services running despite all the obstacles created by the pandemic was no mean feat, and the IT professionals in public organisations have played a huge role in making this possible.”
This move towards the spotlight however has resulted in increased complexity in the role and the control of data. “Capturing that data has become increasingly complex because it resides everywhere, in different formats, explains Terry Mooney, Solutions Archtiect at Wherescape.
“And even when the data is curated, what needs to happen to that data in order to deliver business value?”
“This is where solutions architects come into their own,” he adds – “bridging the gap between business and technical stakeholders. As data shapes the world, solutions architects are growing in demand. They stand at the crossroads of the technical vision and the business needs of an organisation, designing and managing technology solutions to solve business problems.”
Samantha Humphries, Head of Security Strategy EMEA at Exabeam echoes this sentiment: “IT and Security is an ongoing process and needs to be front of mind as businesses innovate, not an afterthought. We need to work on shifting the mindsets of those who still consider security a ‘tick box exercise’, and realise there is no one rule that fits all. This is the challenge that IT professionals face every day.”
A further reason for the enhanced role of IT professionals is the increased attacks on organisations and individuals and the long term effects these have. “Security or personal data breaches take a massive toll on a company both financially and reputationally,” highlights Diane Albano, Chief Revenue Officer at Globalization Partners. “Any downtime that prevents employees or customers from accessing a company’s services or database, even for a minimum amount of time, can have long-term financial repercussions. The scale of the attacks has continued to plague organisations with more and more defence needed to prevent long term damage.”
“In the first half of 2021, the UK encountered a staggering 14.6 million ransomware attack attempts, second highest globally behind the US,” notes Jonathan Bowl, VP & General Manager – Northern EMEA at Commvault. “Add to this the uncertainty of the future of data use following Brexit at the start of the year, and you’re left with a complex IT environment to navigate.”
As well as ransomware attacks, fraud has also become a major issue for organisations and individuals, Roger Walton, Chief Revenue Officer at Resistant.AI adds: “Incidents of fraud have sky-rocketed. A recent report from the University of Portsmouth estimated it’s costing the UK £137 billion a year. That’s an eye-watering amount of money. Traditional approaches to fraud prevention – those that primarily rely on human intervention – are losing out to criminals that can operate at a huge scale.”
One reason for the increased breaches over recent months is the increase in people working from home. “Before 2020, the risks and logistics of remote or hybrid working were not a top priority for most companies. COVID changed priorities drastically,” furthers Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft. “The UK was suddenly faced with almost 36% of its workforce working from the safety of their own homes. This proved a huge task for the country’s IT professionals, who had the mammoth job of managing new complexities such as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) technologies, overloaded cloud servers and new online communication platforms.” The increase in BYOD meant there were more and more variables for IT professionals to have to combat, a task that becomes next to impossible without increasing the size of the team or automating certain tasks.
Automation, automation, automation…
One way in which IT professionals have adapted to the new landscape is by adopting a higher level of automation. “Over the longer term, IT pros have also played an important role in developing software that automates many key business functions — like those within accounting and finance departments,” discusses Hugh Scantlebury, Founder, Director & CEO of Aqilla. “This contribution means that the rest of us, with far less IT knowledge, can access and utilise software that makes our lives far easier.”
One reason for this shift is the sheer volume of data that is now required to be processed. Terry Mooney adds, “as the volume of data increases and the needs of businesses become ever more complex, solutions architects have had to embrace automation to keep up with workloads. No longer having the luxury of being able to take three weeks to write a bespoke SQL script for one project, today’s solutions architects are utilising Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning as their go-to technologies to identify patterns in the data that go on to shape business strategies, and even ‘self-learn’ to write their own automated scripts.”
Walton furthers: “The automation of IT itself, is, without doubt, a critical development, enabling IT Pros to not only keep their heads above water but to innovate and digitally transform the way they are doing their jobs.”
“The world of IT is extremely diverse but data is the one common thread that binds all the different elements together, Mooney summarises. “British mathematician, Clive Humby OBE, coined the phrase “Data is the new oil. It’s valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used.” The biggest trick is to bring all that data together in a single place, ensure it’s still representative of the truth and that it hasn’t transformed along the way so it no longer represents the truth.”
This is evidently an important task and one that is often carried out without recognition or gratification towards the fantastic men and women that do it.