Head Geek Leon Adato of SolarWinds talks to EM360 about their 2018 IT Trends Report

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What inspired you to launch the IT Trends Report? 

Five years ago, SolarWinds wanted to explore how the IT industry was evolving—and particularly, better understand priorities for IT professionals. Our annual IT Trends Report consists of survey-based research that explores significant trends, developments, and movements related to and directly affecting IT and IT professionals. 

What were the main themes in 2018?

This year saw SolarWinds commission SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2018: The Intersection of Hype and Performance. Building on the results of the SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2016 and 2017, which anticipated the permanent arrival of hybrid IT, cloud and hybrid IT remain the primary responsibility for IT professionals as technologies core to delivering business value in 2018.

IT professionals also set their sights toward innovation in emerging technologies like AI and machine learning as key enablers of digital transformation strategies. However, although a third of this year's respondents acknowledged that these emerging technologies are equally important, the results exposed a dissonance between the business leaders charged with setting the company's vision and the IT professionals tasked with executing that vision.

Where the C-suite considers AI, ML, and deep learning to be fundamental elements of digital transformation, IT professionals are looking toward the technology and processes that underpin continuous integration and delivery—which ultimately enable enhanced performance and digital experience in today's environments.

The results of this year's report shine a light on the ongoing need for greater collaboration between business leadership and IT professionals to overcome challenges introduced by technology, and the broader realisation that now is the time to focus on people and processes.

The C-suite appears to have big ideas around transformative technologies, such as AI and machine learning. How can IT professionals best manage those expectations?

This is true—in fact, this year's report suggests a disconnect between the views of IT professionals and their senior managers on priorities for IT investment over the next three to five years. Enterprises see AI and ML (81 per cent) and process automation and robotics (82 per cent) as important C-suite directives—higher than any priority other than cost reduction. On the flipside, when U.K. IT professionals ranked the technologies needed for an organisation's digital transformation over the next three to five years, AI did not even make the top five.

It's clear that the excitement around ML and AI is not going away anytime soon. As we've seen in previous years with cloud, executives are eager to implement new technologies such as AI and ML, which promise the hyped benefits of disruptive innovation. The C-suite is keen to activate these innovative technologies quickly, but they don't have the experience, or a view of technical complexities, or deployment challenges. IT professionals need to take on the role of educators: identify ways to discuss the basics and the specific cost-benefit analysis of how the current and near-term reality of these technologies will benefit the business, the cost to adopt those new technologies, and what it means for current efforts to improve service integration and service delivery.

So, what do IT professionals care about?

Based on this survey, we can assume that hybrid IT and cloud computing will remain IT professionals' top priority for the next five years as these elements meet today's business needs while serving as the foundation for trends like machine learning and AI. 95 per cent of U.K. IT professionals surveyed indicated that hybrid IT and cloud is one of the top five most important technologies in their organisation's technology strategy today. Cloud also outranked all other technologies as the one that's central to digital transformation initiatives over the next three to five years.

IT professionals are prioritising internal investments in containers as a proven solution to the challenges of cloud computing and hybrid IT, and as a key enabler of innovation. In the U.K., 49 per cent view containers as the most important technology priority today. As well they should. Delivering organisational value is a constant goal, meaning that IT Professionals should continue to prioritise container deployment, both from an investment and skills development perspective.

What can the industry learn from the report?

It can be tempting to jump on board with current trends, especially emerging technologies that promise to meet the growing demands of a business and make delivering services both more reliable and less painful. However, no matter what the environment looks like, it's experience that will prevail. The IT professional is at the heart of all transformative change, and responsible for expressing their knowledge in a way that all levels of decision-makers can understand. Effective leadership and communication will be key throughout the course of this year.

In 2018 more than ever, IT professionals have an opportunity to continue identifying ways to optimise the digital experience for end-users in hybrid IT environments, while prioritising investments in technologies that will deliver business value visible well beyond IT. IT must also be the discerning voice in business discussions, showcasing the ongoing value of IT professionals as the partners to the business, supplying expertise and experience on the technologies which will enable the business to deliver digital transformation success.