Security, Cloud and Ethics Dominate IT Priorities in 2019

Survey of senior IT leaders reveals important shifts in enterprise transformation

CCS Insight’s annual survey of senior IT leaders offers fascinating insights into the spread of challenges facing IT teams as they continue to lead the transformation of their businesses.

In September 2019 we surveyed over 400 senior IT decision-makers in the US and Europe about their priorities, preferences and needs for enterprise technology, spanning workplace productivity, end-user computing, cloud services, security and artificial intelligence (AI).

Here I give an overview of the survey’s main findings and how they might affect the market. Drop us a line if you’d like a copy of the full report.


Firstly, let’s take a look at a summary of the main results before I go deeper into a few major areas.

  • Security remains the top priority for IT decision-makers, forming the top four most-important considerations for investment in enterprise technology in 2020. Requirements this year were even stronger than in previous years, spanning several areas and involving concepts like zero trust, technologies such as conditional access and strategies to consolidate security suppliers.
  • In contrast to a key trend in cloud computing, enterprises are changing their approaches to multicloud, choosing to deploy a preferred or single cloud strategy as they begin to build AI solutions. Despite growing adoption of AI, few companies have fully operationalized it into their business processes, held back by governance, security and compliance challenges.
  • For the first time, our survey explored the needs of developers and trends in software development. As hunger grows for solutions that take advantage of AI and machine learning, so do concerns about the ethics of developers.
  • Microsoft is still the dominant force in cloud productivity, but adoption of Google Cloud services is building and many companies prefer to have Microsoft and Google tools coexist in their workplaces. We see the same trend in PC platforms as well: Windows 10, Google Chrome and macOS all gained share in enterprises over the past 12 months.
  • The biggest theme this year, however, was the continued importance of trust in motivating enterprise technology decisions. For the third year running, Microsoft takes the title of most-trusted brand, although Google’s trust score rose in 2019. Trust is now a crucial indicator as businesses step up their investments in cloud computing and machine learning.

Security still top priority, but supplier consolidation is on the horizon

Changes in the way people work and the complexity of the technology landscape have been putting IT security models under the microscope for the past few years. At the same time, growth in mobile end points and in the number of cloud-based applications have been clashing with traditional perimeter-based approaches to securing business applications and data.

According to our Employee Workplace Technology Survey 2019, 42% of employees now spend more than three hours a day working on a mobile device, and this number jumps to 51% among millennials. More than 90% regularly use mobile cloud apps for work (see Four Highlights from Our 2019 Employee Survey). This new normal in employee workstyles has meant that this year saw security take a much bigger role in decision-makers’ plans, making up the top four priorities for investment in workplace technology (see below).

The fact that requirements for security are spanning networks, cloud applications, devices and infrastructure tells us two important messages. Firstly, companies are looking to continually verify trust on several different security layers — end points, networks, identity and applications — so the integration of these solutions is becoming paramount. This is why there’s a lot of discussion about technologies like conditional access and concepts such as zero trust, which promote a similar requirement.

Secondly, few suppliers can cater to the full spectrum of these needs. The survey revealed that a staggering 71% of respondents are planning to slim down the number of IT security suppliers they use. With the average large business having over 70 security products from 35 different suppliers, this trend presents opportunities for larger security platform players and cloud providers that have a wide variety of integrated security products.

Cloud and AI investments trigger focus on responsibility and ethics

The survey also revealed fascinating changes in cloud computing, AI and software development. The shift to the cloud has been a central piece in the transformation process for many organizations, but lots of businesses are still wary of full-scale adoption of public cloud services, preferring a hybrid multicloud strategy for a combination of on-premises IT infrastructure, public cloud services and a mix of public cloud providers.

But as the market for data analytics and AI has been materializing in 2019, we’re starting to see the dominance of the multicloud strategy change. According to our survey, 57% of businesses that are deploying AI favour either a single cloud or a preferred cloud strategy when it comes to their data and machine learning needs.

The way companies approach AI is changing too. The topic of responsible AI has become the most important theme in the enterprise AI market in 2019 as more companies struggle with challenges in governance, security and compliance. The ability of AI systems to ensure data security and privacy, and the level of transparency of how systems work and are trained, are now the two most important requirements when investing in machine learning technology. It’s a marked shift from previous years, when scalability, performance and easy-to-use tools topped investment priorities respectively (see below).

Similarly, our research revealed that concerns about the ethics of software development in AI are growing louder. Although the primary responsibility for setting the ethical parameters for software development within organizations currently sits with technical leaders, 75% of respondents expect that in the future, companies will create an ethics team tasked with making ethical development decisions such as data collection and customer privacy considerations. They believe that those responsible will eventually have legal liability for such decisions as well.

Cloud productivity: Office 365, G Suite or both?

Finally, cloud productivity also stood out this year as an important area, often the first major step into the cloud for many organizations. More than 90% of respondents are using Microsoft Office 365 or Google G Suite as their main productivity platform. Office 365 is the winning platform, with almost 70% of decision-makers having implemented the suite versus 52% who said so in 2018. G Suite too is making progress, with over a third of respondents (37%) having rolled it out, up from 26% in 2018.

With more than 200 million commercial users of Office 365, over 5 million paying businesses using G Suite and over 90 million G Suite users in education, it’s fascinating watching these giants slug it out for supremacy in this market. The next few years will be eventful as they polish their platforms to become more developer friendly, customizable and focussed on workflow and automation. They’ll also need to focus on enabling external uses, for example, linking up the digital supply chains of customers.

Microsoft will continue to benefit from the momentum of Teams, which now stands at 20 million active users, up a staggering 50% since July 2019, and Google will continue to gain from digital natives and from CEOs wanting to change culture and ways of working in their organizations. And for a growing number of businesses, coexistence is also an option: 15% of IT decision-makers we surveyed are adopting both platforms in their companies. This echoes the diversity that exists in PC platforms: our research showed that Windows 10, Google Chrome and macOS all won share in enterprises over the past 12 months.

The power of supplier trust

Although there’s an astounding breadth of technology transformation happening in the industry, our survey stresses above all the continued importance of security and trust in influencing enterprise technology decisions. Among the suppliers addressing this critical trend, for the third year, Microsoft leads the way as the most-trusted brand among IT decision-makers, with 81% of respondents placing it in their top three. However, Google’s brand continues to gain ground in the market, with its trust score in our survey reaching 61% in 2019, ahead of IBM and Amazon Web Services in third and fourth position respectively.

The importance of security is also affecting developers, and for the first time, our survey highlighted growing concerns about the ethics of software development in this new era. This is a new reality that providers need to be acutely aware of, not only in their product strategy and marketing efforts, but also in their broader corporate strategy, ethics and governance policies. Trust is now a crucial indicator as businesses accelerate investment in cloud computing and machine learning in particular, over the next 12 months.

But success with senior IT decision-makers doesn’t hinge solely on trust. The survey also revealed important trends unfolding in cloud computing, productivity, end-user computing and new technologies and segments such as extended reality and front-line workers. Heading into 2020, it’s highly likely that we’ll see even more important market shifts and changes to this picture in the coming year.

I look forward to revealing the results of our 2020 survey next year, marking a new decade of change ahead. Stay tuned!