In a challenging economic climate, growth for B2B ITC and Telecoms vendors in 2017 will depend on understanding customer priorities

2016 has been a tumultuous year, and it’s still unclear what the consequences of the Brexit vote, the policies of President-elect Trump, and the economic slowdown in previously high-growth regions such as China will be. Waiting to understand the impact of these events has brought uncertainty to many businesses regarding their markets, future investment, and the purchasing power of their customer, particularly if that customer is another business.

Business-to-business ITC and Telecoms markets are no different, and many commentators are predicting stagnation in budgets and staffing levels during 2017. This could well be true for many businesses, however it doesn’t tell the whole story. While ITC and Telco decision makers may not have more money to spend, or more staff than in 2016, there are key areas in which they’ll need to allocate greater proportions of their budgets than they have previously and where development and smarter solutions are an imperative.

At a broad level many businesses will be looking to accelerate their digital development, as they look to innovate, resist disruption, take advantage of new technologies, and provide employees and customers with a digital first experience. They will be looking to data analytics to enable them to analyse the large volumes of data produced and make data-driven decisions which increase efficiency, improve quality and give them a competitive edge. As they do it will be imperative they protect this data, a key reason why….

Security was most likely to be named by decision makers as both the single most important technology project that their IT department was working on, and their single biggest leadership challenge over the next 12 months. The number of potential security threats to businesses continues to proliferate, including but not limited to; viruses, ransomware, malware, phishing attacks, cyber espionage and data leaks, and with businesses getting better at protecting their desktop devices attacks are expected to increasingly focus on mobile. Also, growing technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence increase the number of potential points of vulnerability to hackers. Alongside these trends the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in May 2018 and promises punitive action against business not effectively protecting customer data.

Businesses will address these threats using a combination of Network and Threat Protection, Unified Endpoint Management, Mobile Device Management (MDM), Mobile Application Management (MAM), Mobile Content Management (MCM), and Identity protection. They will be looking to vendors who can provide all encompassing solutions which enable them to manage security across the workplace with as few different products and vendors as possible.

The ‘second-wave’ of Cloud migration is predicted, as decision makers develop their understanding of the role of cloud computing and strategies that exploit it. Enterprise businesses who have been slower to move to the cloud are being persuaded to do so by the efficiencies of scale which make them more agile and allow them to better serve customers, the flexibility in payment terms which enable cost-savings, and the recognition that they are spending a lot of time, energy, effort and management bandwidth to create infrastructure that already exists. Security and compliance remain key concerns for adoption, and while Enterprise organisations increasingly understand how to securely deploy in cloud environments, this is often tempered by caution and as a result hybrid (public/private mix) cloud solutions are frequently being adopted.

The mobilization of business applications will also increase pace in 2017. As many employees take a mobile-first approach to their work it’s critical they have access on their mobile devices to the applications they’re able to use on their desktop. The purchase of third-party mobile business apps remains the norm, but this will be challenged by an increasing need for businesses to mobilise desktop apps, develop custom apps, and respond to employee demand for specific tailored apps. It will be incumbent upon decision makers to understand the key needs of their employees and prioritise the purchase and development of mobile apps accordingly.

A wide range of new devices will be connected to the Internet in 2017 as usage of the Internet of Things develops. The data created will be analysed to increase efficiency and improve products and services. This will be driven by the development of Low-Power, Wide-Area networks which are more efficient for IoT applications than traditional cellular networks, with emerging standards such as Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) expected to lead. However, as Gartner identified, many of the technologies, vendors, and services in this space remain immature, with a wide variety of protocols and standards used, which brings risk. As we mention above, managing this risk and the security challenges that come with opening up new points of vulnerability to potential hackers will be a key challenge for organisations when exploiting the IoT.

There are a range of other technologies which businesses will be looking to learn more about during 2017, and for which those at the cutting-edge will start to develop burgeoning strategies – Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are among those which we expect businesses to be taking a serious look at over the next 12 months. AR is one which has clear practical use cases and benefits, for example businesses are already considering how it can be used to guide employees in intricate technical tasks where the ability to provide guidance and instruction while keeping the user hands-free has infinite practical applications. Usage of AI is also developing, in 2016 Google and Microsoft added and number of AI services to their clouds, and we expect the use of AI to grow alongside the Internet of Things as an interface for automating business processes and using the data produced to make decisions, greatly increasing the impact of the IoT on business processes and decision making.

It will be important for ITC and Telco vendors to be sympathetic to the challenging environment their customers are operating in during 2017, and growth will be achieved by those who are able to provide solutions which address the key needs outlined above. However in this environment a clear demonstration of ROI or competitive advantage will be needed to secure investment.