Australian IT leaders prioritising migration to hybrid cloud: Microsoft

Microsoft conducted a survey recently and found that almost half of its Australian respondents are looking to move their organisation into hybrid cloud.

Almost half of Australian IT leaders will drive their organisations' transition to hybrid cloud infrastructure over the next few years, according to a study by Microsoft.

Approximately 40 percent of Australian respondents indicated that their organisations are already transitioning to hybrid cloud with either integrated or non-integrated public and private cloud infrastructure. Microsoft expects this number to increase to 49 percent in the next 12 to 18 months.

However, 43 percent of IT leaders in Australia are still using only private cloud, while 17 percent are using only public cloud solutions, according to the survey that sampled 1,200 IT leaders within Asia Pacific. Australian organisations are not likely to increase their investments in private or public-only cloud solutions, it added.

In August, the International Data Corporation's (IDC) CloudView 2016 study painted a more optimistic picture, with 50 percent of Australian organisations having already adopted what they considered to be a hybrid cloud strategy and nearly 80 percent having aspirations for a hybrid cloud environment. However, there was no consensus around the definition of a hybrid cloud environment, according to IDC.

Mike Heald, hybrid cloud product manager at Microsoft Australia, told ZDNet that different departments within organisations -- such as finance and marketing -- are spinning up their own public cloud workloads that are often outside the scope of the IT department. As such, IT leaders are concerned about managing fragmented environments.

"It's a tough balancing act for IT to manage both current and future digital needs of the business," Heald said. "The cloud holds rich new applications which will enable better management tools, intelligent applications, and advanced analytics to not just reduce cost and increase efficiency but to also innovate and enable faster time to market. As such, it can't be ignored but it needs to be managed."

The Telsyte Australian Digital Workplace Study 2017 found that IT spend is spreading outside of traditional IT departments, with more than half of CIOs saying line-of-business IT spending will exceed IT department spending within five years. 8 percent of organisations believe spending by non-IT departments already exceeds IT department budgets.

John Roberts, former VP and analyst at Gartner Australasia, told ZDNet in October that IT shouldn't be considered a separate entity and that IT leaders need to work in partnership with all business unit leaders within a company.

"Digitalisation embraces every part of the organisation. A challenge [within organisations] is categorising what is and what is not [within the domain of] IT. But there is technology in every budget. What we need is a collaborative approach -- we need to be able to say: 'How can we manage all of this IT spend without duplication, redundancy, and waste?'," Roberts said.

"When a department outside IT has a technology project, then the IT department may well provide resources into that project. For example, the project might need someone with security knowledge or someone who's a database expert. The project will also need input from the [relevant department] leaders so that [outcomes of the project] are in line with the needs of the department."

Heald wasn't able to pinpoint a common reason as to why some Australian organisations might be holding back from moving their workloads onto a hybrid cloud environment. He said organisations are evolving their IT infrastructure at different paces depending on their unique circumstances and needs.

"The transition to a digital business can be a jarring one for most businesses due to legacy systems and processes but if organisations don't kick-start this digital journey today, they risk being disrupted," said Heald.

It was clear from the Microsoft study that Australian IT leaders are looking for simplicity when it comes to managing cloud solutions, according to Heald.

"In the past, hardware and infrastructure has really been the centre of the customer's universe. After they move to the cloud, the apps and the workloads really take centre stage," he said.

Microsoft estimates that on average 370 apps are in use per organisation in Australia, compared to 340 in the broader Asia-Pacific region.

"What IT professionals are looking for are tools to manage the apps on-premise and in the cloud," Heald said.

Microsoft's study also found that IT leaders are spending about 53 percent of their time on maintenance, compliance, and operational issues; 24 percent on developing next generation digital capabilities; and 23 percent working with business leaders on digital transformation initiatives.

The Telsyte Australian Digital Workplace Study 2017, on the other hand, found that Australian enterprises are spending more of their IT budgets on the development of new products, making it their first priority compared to two years ago when their focus was on reducing operational costs.

Telsyte's research indicates a greater uptake of emerging technologies among Australian enterprises, with 24 percent using 3D printers or having exploratory projects in place. Gartner also forecasts significant growth in the 3D printing market -- nearly 456,000 3D printers will be shipped globally by the end of the year, doubling the 219,000 units that were shipped last year, with 44 percent growth in enterprise shipments alone.

In addition, one in three enterprises intend to use robotics, while 25 percent of organisations with more than 500 employees are already using robotic process automation, according to Telsyte's research.

Augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) are also of high interest, with 57 percent of enterprises currently using or intending to use AR/MR technology. Interest in Microsoft's HoloLens has been claimed to be "very high".

Telsyte's research also found that 22 percent of enterprises have IoT programs or pilot programs in production, while 29 percent have IoT devices and a strategy, but nothing in operation.

In the Microsoft survey, Australian IT leaders identified skills shortage as a concern. The top three skills needed most within their organisations was said to be security with 63 percent, data analytics on 58 percent, and cloud app management at 50 percent.

Security was also identified as a concern by Australian IT leaders. Local cybersecurity experts have said the growth of cybercrime in Australia has been exponential.

The top three reasons driving this concern include malware and data theft by criminals; employees connecting their personal devices into the organisations' networks; and shadow IT.

The Microsoft study found that organisations in the Asia-Pacific region are using on average 40 security products. In Australia, 67 percent of the respondents agreed they need to invest more in IT security solutions and services, while 62 percent agreed on the need to reduce complexities around managing the increasing portfolio of IT security solutions and services.

Last month at the Everything IoT Summit in Sydney, professor Jill Slay, director at the Australian Centre for Cyber Security at UNSW in Canberra, said there's a common belief among Australian organisations that they simply need to purchase the right cybersecurity tools and their systems will be secure. She promptly debunked this idea, cautioning organisations about vendors making unrealistic promises and advising them to have a proper cybersecurity strategy internally.

She did, however, acknowledge the difficulty of this task given the local cybersecurity skills shortage.

Slay said existing network security staff need to be upskilled, while a new generation of security professionals need to be trained from the ground up.

"Just as we have a huge shortage of data scientists, we have an equivalent shortage of cybersecurity professionals, and even a greater shortage of those who deal with big data and cybersecurity," Slay said.

While traditionally IT leaders would focus on protecting a business' assets from external security attacks, they are now realising the growing risk organisations face in the form of potential internal security threats.

Specialist recruiter Robert Half recently published its Cybersecurity - Defending Your Future report, which found that more than one in three Australian CIOs consider lack of employee knowledge and skills around data security to be the most significant security risk their organisations will face in the next five years, in light of the increasing use of bring your own device (BYOD) practices.

According to Telsyte, 84 percent of Australian organisations have at least one system in place to allow their staff to be mobile workers, whether it's providing a secure VPN system or supporting BYOD and bring your own apps (BYOA).

BYOD has presented the added internal cybersecurity risk of data theft and loss to Australian workplaces. Robert Half's report claims more than three-quarters of Australian CIOs, 77 percent, allow their employees to access corporate data on their personal devices; however, risk consulting firm Protiviti claims that basic controls may no longer be effective on mobile devices.

One in four CIOs in Australia think their non-IT senior management don't have enough knowledge about information security exposures, indicating a lack of awareness across the business about IT security risks.

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