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Managed service providers, cloud specialists and consulting firms cover myriad technologies, but grapple with a common challenge: the unrelenting pace of change.
Technology advisors, for starters, must deal with the steady rollout of new cloud services from infrastructure vendors such as AWS, Google and Microsoft. Frequent software vendor updates in the DevOps era contribute to the tracking chore. Emerging technology also requires vigilance, with AI developments from computer vision to chatbot integration expected to gain momentum. Against this backdrop, corporate IT training -- whether in-house or for clients -- will remain an important business consideration for service providers in 2020.
"Every day that goes by is the slowest day we are ever going to experience in the realm of technology," said Merim Becirovic, managing director and global CTO for Accenture's IT organization. "The proliferation of technology is going to continue and it's going to keep multiplying. There is only going to be more technology than there is today. The biggest challenge is how do we grow skills and capabilities to keep up with the innovation?"
Train early, train often
IT consultants said their corporate IT training approaches emphasize the need to familiarize employees with a promising technology well ahead of mass adoption.
Becirovic cited the example of cloud computing, which was in its infancy five years ago but is now in common use. He said AI and machine learning is on a similar trajectory, suggesting that organizations should start training their workforces now to get ahead of widespread deployment down the road.
"What can you do to learn those capabilities so IT can be more efficient in consuming them?" he noted.
IT organizations must assess what's coming three to four years ahead, noted Jeff Ton, senior vice president of product development and strategic alliances at InterVision, an IT service provider based in Santa Clara, Calif., and St. Louis. And leaders need to focus on the technologies most likely to influence their business, rather than chase the latest shiny object.
"Start now," is Ton's advice regarding training on technologies deemed important. "Start learning about that [technology] and be more prepared when you get there."
Ton and Becirovic said multiple training approaches and channels are essential for technology training. Traditional classroom training and conferences are still part of the mix, but online training has become a key tool for dealing with constant change.
"If I want to learn something new today, I'm effectively a few clicks away from starting that process," Becirovic said.
Accenture uses techniques such as "learning boards," which provide a Pinterest-like gateway into a package of training content, articles and YouTube videos, for example, around a given technology topic.
Merim BecirovicManaging director and global CTO, Accenture
Multiple training methods may prove necessary, but Becirovic advised establishing a common platform for delivery -- instead of creating a series of one-off training vehicles. The company's Accenture Future Talent Platform plays that unified-platform role.
"It's difficult to create a one-size-fits-all model for upskilling talent," Becirovic said of platform-building. "But the most effective approaches focus on 'learning anytime, anywhere' through digital technologies. Mobile- and tablet-based learning are gaining traction -- mobile learners study on average 40 extra minutes per week."
Becirovic also cited the power of social media and collaboration. "Engaging learners through social collaboration enhances learning," he said, noting employees have been found to spend three times more time on social-enabled tools.
Other business trends to watch
Beyond the near-constant need for tech training, service providers can expect to see the following business trends in 2020:
- Post-digital transformation
Look for a more mature phase of digital transformation to emerge in 2020. Michael Porter, managing principal at Perficient, a consulting firm based in St. Louis, recently led a CIO discussion on digital transformation. He noted one telling takeaway: Now that digital channels have become the key ways in which organizations sell their offerings and service their customers, the "digital" part of the digital transformation label may no longer be necessary to highlight. "It's really about transformation," Porter said. He said organizations increasingly recognize that transformation demands significant change, rather than a quick-hit project such as upgrading a website.
- Co-managed IT services
The partnering-with-your-customer concept has been around for a while, but the co-managed IT service concept lends a bit more formality to such arrangements. Co-managed IT enlists the customer's IT staff as an ally rather than an obstacle. The approach could open new doors for MSPs that have shied away from businesses with IT departments. For instance, an agreement between Accenture and Ajinomoto Co. Inc., a food and biotech firm based in Japan, takes co-management to another level. In April 2020, the companies plan to launch a joint venture to run the operations of Ajinomoto's corporate divisions. Accenture said it "might have a chance to consider the model with other enterprises."
- Cloud optimization
The chore of controlling cloud costs will continue as a critical business initiative in 2020. Willy Sennott, optimization practice manager at 2nd Watch, a public cloud MSP based in Seattle, cited optimization as the service saving his company's clients the most money. He pointed to reserved instances as one optimization method. Customers who reserve virtual machines receive steep discounts compared with a cloud vendor's on-demand pricing. Sennott called reserved instances "a quick way to generate savings without having to change the underlying infrastructure."
Helping customers deal with training
Accenture also offers its training platform, which the firm launched in-house in 2017, as an offering customers can adopt. Accenture Future Talent Platform aims to help companies train employees in areas such as AI, automation and IoT. Customers include a European bank and a U.S. energy retailer, according to the company.
PwC, meanwhile, has been engaged in an initiative to productize many of the internal implementation and upskilling processes it has developed over time. David Clarke, CxO experience consulting, digital and products strategy GTM leader at PwC, said the product series is "in some ways an automation of consulting services."
When picking tech winners isn't enough
An effective corporate IT training strategy depends -- to some degree -- on an organization placing the right technology bets. IT departments, however, will find it increasingly difficult to make investment predictions, with the simultaneous arrival of AI, cloud, IoT, virtual reality, mobility and 5G.
InterVision's Ton suggested companies have a way to hedge their investments amid this technology revolution: adopting as-as-service subscription models over capital outlays. This approach avoids sunk costs in outmoded hardware, while providing the agility to tap the next technical innovation.
A decade ago, an IT department would purchase a storage area network to house all of its data, making a huge capital investment, Ton noted. In contrast, the IT team can now purchase cloud storage. Acquiring storage as a service avoids the capital investment and provides the elasticity to grow capacity as the business expands, he said.
The as-a-service model eliminates or reduces some of the risk inherent in rapid technology change, Ton said. "It lets you be more agile and elastic in what you are trying to do."
One product, Digital Fitness, provides customers with an upskilling platform. Customers' employees can use Digital Fitness to assess their digital skills and receive a curriculum of "sniperlike" training exercises, Clarke said. The product grew out of PwC's experience with massive upskilling initiatives.
"We have to get 250,000 people learning new technologies," he noted. "It got to the point where [we realized] you can't do this in a traditional way anymore."
Another product, Adoption Central: Amplifier, offers education around adopting new enterprise technology systems such as CRM, ERP and HCM. The tool draws on the firm's own systems implementation successes, such as an organizationwide implementation of Salesforce, Clarke said. Once PwC's products are installed, the firm supports the implementation with managed services.