2020 Predictions. 20/20 Hindsight
WELCOME TO A NEW YEAR and a new decade! Both are sure to be filled with unexpected opportunities, unavoidable missteps, unanticipated success stories, and a host of surprises. 2019 certainly was, as we know now thanks to (forgive us) 20/20 hindsight. We asked a collection of the industry’s top observers what they anticipate will happen this year and didn’t anticipate a year ago. Here’s some of what they told us.
2019, Michael O’Hara once hoped, would be the year people really, truly, finally started taking security seriously. In hindsight, he concedes, those hopes were misplaced.
“No one’s learning any lessons,” he sighs.
Well, not no one exactly. “Larger corporations are finally starting to pay some attention and pay some real money to hire real cybersecurity staff,” he says, adding that they’re deploying layered defensive technologies to boot. That has cybercrime gangs asking themselves who isn’t investing in security.
“It’s small to medium-sized businesses,” according to O’Hara. In a phenomenon he refers to as “digital fracking,” attackers looking to extract more money with less effort will capitalize on that vulnerability in a much bigger way this year.
“The organized bad guys are going to start casting their net wider and further and looking to pick up these small to midsized businesses that are less likely to be protected, less likely to be educated, and more likely to be a little bit on the gullible side,” he says.
Naïve business owners won’t be solely to blame either, he adds. Inexperienced IT providers who think anti-virus software and a firewall are all it takes to keep clients safe will bear some responsibility too. “These small providers and small MSPs actually believe that those firewalls are enough, and therefore the small business is left completely exposed, easily infiltrated, and the data easily exfiltrated,” O’Hara says.
Training and certification are part of the answer, he continues, but only part. Like it or not, channel pros who don’t specialize in security must collaborate more extensively with third parties who do. “You can’t be the chief cook and bottle washer when it comes to cybersecurity. You need to rely on people who are experts,” O’Hara says.
You may need to be a persuasive dealmaker too, according to Paul Dippell, CEO of managed services consultancy Service Leadership. He’s recently concluded that MSPs should probably be charging $40 a user per month on average for a good, complete, and profitable security offering. Not an enormous sum on its own, but a big price hike if you’re billing clients $150 per user now.
“That’s a huge, huge selling hurdle,” Dippell notes.
Good thing, then, that he also anticipates prices overall for managed services will continue climbing this year, partly because SMBs have never relied more on IT, partly because the supply of MSPs capable of supporting IT well is smaller than it might appear, and partly because providers who have been in the business a while are finally mastering the art of measuring costs and setting rates properly. “That takes a while to learn,” Dippell observes.
Indeed, even top-performing MSPs have room to charge more. Dippell gathers performance and finance statistics from thousands of MSPs, 80% of whom are in the U.S., every three months. Providers in the top quartile currently collect about $175 to $185 per user per month on average. “We’re fearlessly predicting that the price per user per month will probably peak out around $300,” he says, if not this year then eventually.
MSPs selling their business can expect to pocket more in 2020 too. While over 35% of the companies Dippell polls call themselves very likely to buy one or more MSPs in the next three to five years, just 13.2% say they’re very likely to sell.
“There is a mismatch between demand and supply,” Dippell says. It doesn’t take an economist to predict the repercussions.
Analysts at Forrester anticipated rising use of vertical industry-specific SaaS solutions last year. What they didn’t predict was just how often vendors like Salesforce, which launched a “Manufacturing Cloud” in September, and IBM, which unveiled a cloud for financial services firms two months later, would prove them right.
“The big announcements that came and transpired, I think, were more than we could ever have imagined,” says Lauren Nelson, a Forrester vice president and research director.
If the company’s crystal ball serves it well in 2020, she continues, there’s good news ahead for the top four public cloud operators. Forrester expects them to command 75% of the $75.4 billion spent globally this year on cloud-based infrastructure.
Wait, top four? Everyone’s familiar with Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, and Google, but who’s the fourth?
The answer may surprise you: Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant with a vast and growing public cloud platform that relatively few businesses outside Asia even know about presently. Look for that to start changing this year, Forrester predicts, as Alibaba’s $4.5 billion in revenue moves it past Google into third place among cloud providers globally. And though the company’s footprint in North America will remain small this year, according to Nelson, it has two data centers here already and big ambitions for the future.
Will channel pros and their customers entrust cloud workloads to a vendor headquartered outside the U.S.? They just might, Nelson says, if doing so saves them money. “SMBs tend to be very cost sensitive,” she notes.
Cut Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, some slack. The biggest vendor-related development he didn’t anticipate last year was Xerox launching a hostile takeover bid against HP, and HP didn’t see that coming either. Enderle expects HP to prevail in that contest eventually anyway.
“Hostile acquisitions at that scale are almost always catastrophic, and so I have a hard time believing that’s going to go forward,” he says.
The distraction that struggle creates, Enderle continues, won’t be big enough to keep HP from rolling out more innovative, business-focused PCs like the recently introduced Elite Dragonfly, a lightweight 2-in-1, or from making significant strides in industrial deployment of 3-D printing.
“They’ve been moving along those paths pretty aggressively, and we should see a continuance of that,” Enderle says.
For Dell, he continues, 2020 will be the year that cloud investments like the data center-as-a-service offering it unveiled last April start bearing fruit—or else. “It really needs to be a breakout year for them and the cloud,” he says, if they wish to avoid being marginalized in a critical market by Amazon, Google, and Microsoft.
As it happens, Enderle expects Microsoft to have hardware on its mind even as Dell focuses on the cloud. Now that Amazon is shipping Outpost, its cloud-in-a-box answer to Microsoft’s Azure Stack solution, on custom-developed infrastructure, Microsoft is bound to start doing the same, Enderle believes. The only question is whether it will build those devices itself or partner with someone else.
The initial market response to Microsoft’s latest Surface devices, and especially the Surface Duo, will be worth watching too. Enderle thinks the dual-screen phone/tablet could be a breakout hit.
“There’s been a significant amount of interest in a business-focused phone, and no one’s really executing against that interest,” Enderle says. Microsoft could prove the exception to that rule.
Internet of Things
What intrigues IoT expert Bryn Nettesheim most about 2020 is what surprises her most in hindsight about last year: the emergence of startups bringing new and often custom-manufactured IoT hardware to market faster and more effectively than much bigger, more established competitors.
“Who else is out there that is going to come in and make some kind of significant disruption?” asks Nettesheim, vice president of route to market operations at analyst firm and consultancy 2112 Group. She has a related question about those better-known incumbents too: Will this be the year they finally start crystallizing IoT strategies and sharing those with partners?
“They still don’t quite get it,” she says. “If no one’s telling partners what to sell and helping them get it to market, we’ve got a problem.”
Not that the IoT market’s continued growth is in jeopardy. Sales of IoT hardware, software, and services will continue to grow “fast, fast, fast” this year, Nettesheim predicts, especially in the industrial IoT, smart cities, and healthcare markets. Channel pros impatient to start pocketing some of that spending, she advises, would be wise to stop waiting for guidance from vendors and begin taking some chances themselves.
“Sometimes the easiest place to start is just simply to start,” Nettesheim says.
The big trend for digital signage this year is no mystery, according to Alan Brawn, principal of advisory firm Brawn Consulting. Retailers and other organizations will continue accumulating increasingly vast quantities of data about viewing patterns and interaction with digital displays.
“The wild card will be how various companies analyze all of this and decide what to do with it all,” he says.
Theoretically, Brawn notes, information collected by the latest signage solutions contains valuable insights that can inspire new consumer experiences and influence buying decisions. Whether 2020 is the year businesses start investing in the video analytics and other big data solutions needed to uncover and exploit those insights, though, is an open question.
“In other words, we will get the raw material and the task will be to figure out how to use it, and finally what effect that will have,” Brawn says.
Predictions about the global economy in 2020 vary widely. No matter, says Greg Schulz, founder and senior adviser at analyst firm and consultancy StorageIO. Regardless of what happens to GDP rates this year, storage capacity requirements will increase.
“There’s no such thing as a data recession,” Schulz says. “There’s still going to be data growth.”
Budgets are sure to remain tight as well, which means businesses will be looking for ways to stretch capacity further. That will lead to continued interest in compression and deduplication, Schulz says, but also increased demand for an underappreciated complement to those technologies: archiving. Migrating older data onto low-cost local and off-site archiving solutions saves companies money by extending the life of expensive front-line storage systems.
“If there’s an aspirin to data storage management woes, it’s archiving,” Schulz says.
As for bungled predictions from the past, Schulz prefers to look back over the decade now wrapping up rather than just last year. The biggest surprise, to many others, though not Schulz himself? All those people predicting the imminent demise of the hard disk drive were wrong in 2010 and remain wrong now. “The disk drive is not dead,” Schulz says. “The hard disk drive continues to do a lot of work.”
If only it didn’t take 20/20 hindsight to see that coming.
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