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When we surveyed IT leaders this year to learn about their technology goals for 2021, we were curious about the impact of COVID-19 on planning and how we can best meet our customers where they are for the coming year. What we learned? Digital transformation and security remain important, and more than a quarter of those surveyed have a hybrid cloud strategy heading into 2021.

From July through September we surveyed more than 1,400 IT professionals most from companies with more than $100 million in annual revenue. This included a mix of Red Hat customers and a broader industry panel. 

Digital transformation and security remain high priorities

What's the impact on COVID-19 to digital transformation and IT priorities heading into 2021? It looks like many companies are accelerating their digital transformation efforts, though some organizations may have had to put digital transformation on the back burner this year. 

Currently, where is your company in its journey to digital transformation? Figure 1: Currently, where is your company in its journey to digital transformation?

A majority of respondents say that they're well into their transformation efforts with 65% in the "transforming" phase or beyond. 

This year we added "stalled" and "accelerating" as responses and found that 21% of organizations seem to be stepping up their efforts. Only 6% of respondents said that they are stalled, though twice as many respondents (4% vs. 2% in 2019) this year said that they have no digital transformation plans at all. Only 5% of organizations surveyed have not yet started their digital transformation or are just beginning. 

The top priorities for digital transformation cited by this year's respondents are innovation (23%), security (19%), user experience (13%) and cost reduction (11%). 

The top five IT funding priorities next year are IT security (45%), IT and cloud management (39%), cloud infrastructure (34%), optimization of existing IT (29%) and IT automation (26%). (This question allowed respondents to select up to three of the top areas, rather than a single area of focus.) 

When asked about the outcomes they hoped to achieve, the top three were improved efficiencies, improved security and reduced cost with 37%, 32% and 30% respectively. Again, respondents were allowed to choose up to three outcomes rather than a single hoped-for outcome. 

Hybrid cloud in 2021

More than a quarter of the respondents (27%) described their cloud strategy as "hybrid cloud" for the next 12 months, with 17% saying they had a private cloud-first strategy and only 12% planned to standardize on a single public cloud. 10% said they were "public cloud-first" and 11% indicated that they were pursuing a "multicloud" strategy use of multiple public clouds, but independently of one another. 

Which of the following best describes your cloud strategy?

Figure 2: Which of the following best describes your cloud strategy? 

Use of three or more clouds in the next 12 months is expected to jump significantly. Only 22% of respondents say that they're using three or more cloud platforms today, but a majority of respondents (51%) say that they plan to use three or more cloud platforms in the next 12 months. 

The biggest shifts are in the Latin American and the Asia-Pacific regions, where they plan to at least triple their usage to four or more clouds. All regions report they’ll be using more clouds—but last year’s survey also showed an intent to use more clouds, which mostly hasn’t happened yet. It may be that COVID-19 significantly hampered organizations' plans to expand their cloud usage this year and they are hoping to pick up those plans in 2021.

Getting machine learning into production is a challenge

About half of those surveyed said they were considering using artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) in the next 12 months, but cited "collaboration across teams to get models into production" and "managing AI/ML tools and frameworks" as the top challenges in achieving these goals they were tied at 28% each as the top challenge to ML getting ML workloads up and running. Provisioning infrastructure was cited as the top challenge by 24%, and 18% cited access to data as the top challenge to getting ML into production.

Figure 3: What is your top challenge to get a machine learning project up and running? 

Figure 3: What is your top challenge to get a machine learning project up and running? 

Find out more in the report

There's a wealth of additional insights in the report, such as plans on containerization, Internet of Things plans, and more. For the deeper analysis, check out our 2021 Global Tech Outlook and learn more about how enterprises are planning to modernize their IT approach in the coming year.

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