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By Chris Ehrlich

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Thousands of chief information officers (CIOs) and IT decision makers across the world recently shared their priorities in a Cisco survey.

The survey is part of the report “Accelerating Digital Agility” by Cisco that was released in March.

Over the last year, Cisco said IT leaders have been challenged to “accelerate their digital and cloud capabilities, while protecting their organizations from a growing list of expanding security threats.”

The report identifies a set of “core priorities” for IT leaders today that are “essential to “IT success”: collaboration and security for a hybrid workforce; delivering the best end-user experience to customers and employees; embracing cloud and “as a service”; driving innovation and security in a cloud-first world; and leveraging technology to invest in employees and tackle societal issues.

Budget-wise, IT leaders said they’re investing in these categories in 2021-2022 to address their challenges: cloud applications (56%); network security (56%); cloud security (51%); and multi-cloud infrastructure (45%).

“Even as questions remain and new challenges will surface, CIOs and IT decision makers are telling us they need to accelerate digital agility for their teams, so they have the speed, flexibility and choice to consume services across both traditional and modern environments,” said Liz Centoni, Cisco’s chief strategy officer and GM of applications. 

Survey methodology

The survey for the “Accelerating Digital Agility” report was conducted by the market research firm Censuswide on behalf of Cisco.

London-based Censuswide obtained responses from over 23,000 CIOs and “IT decision makers” in November 2020.

The respondents work in 34 geographic markets across the world:

• Asia: China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, U.A.E.

• Australia

• Europe: France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, U.K.

• North America: Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, U.S.

• South America: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru

executive looks out window of highrise while talking on smartphone

Priorities for IT leaders

Creating optimized end-user experiences for distributed IT environments 

More than three-fourths of the respondents agree that user experience should focus on delight versus satisfaction.

• To deliver a great user experience, 89% think it is important to ensure a consistent application performance across both the application and infrastructure.

• And 86% believe it is important to make infrastructure as dynamic as application software to meet the changing policy and optimization needs of the application and developer.

• While the user experience should aim to delight, nearly all (90%) say it is important or very important to maintain application-to-infrastructure security to meet compliance without slowing down the business.

Adoption of hybrid cloud environments and secure access service edge (SASE) solutions

Respondents are using cloud to achieve business resilience. However, there is no one-size-fits-all cloud solution.

• While most respondents (84%) agree it is important to offer freedom of choice when it comes to cloud environments, whether on premises, public cloud, private cloud or SaaS, 86% think offering a consistent operational model across these environments is essential.

• Nearly 70% of respondents have adopted SASE solutions because they were investing in cloud applications that needed to be secured (61%), they like to stay up-to-date on industry best practices (56%) and/or their workforce is going to stay distributed (37%).

Customers expect cloud-consumption experience — leading to adoption of “as-a-service” solutions

• Of those surveyed, 73% have adopted “as-a-service” solutions and 76% use flexible consumption models.

• Three fourths of those surveyed believe that “as a service” will help deliver a better experience for the end user and a better experience for IT teams, helping their organizations achieve operational consistency.

• In addition, 76% say “as a service” will provide better business outcomes, and 77% want “as-a-service” solutions to simplify processes and remove risk.

Hybrid workforces need secure access for collaboration 

• While a majority (61%) of respondents are unsure of what the future of work looks like, 89% believe that maintaining security, control and governance across user devices, networks, clouds and applications is essential.

• Most (86%) agree it is important to empower a distributed workforce with seamless access to applications and high-quality collaborative experiences.

• Securing the expanded threat landscape created by a distributed workforce is paramount — 88% believe it is important to secure remote work tools and protect customer or employee data in the distributed work environment.

Technology driving initiatives on broader societal issues

• Most respondents (85%) believe the ability to attract and retain talent in the all-digital world will be critical.

• Nearly half of those surveyed said they are upskilling current talent (49%) and investing in talent in new areas (46%) over the next 12 months.

• Most respondents (90%) plan to tackle internal initiatives in 2021, including sustainability (50%), employee mental health (50%), privacy (47%), diversity and inclusion (47%).

• In addition, 85% will tackle external societal issues in 2021, including digital divide (39%), health care (37%), climate change (35%), social justice (34%), human rights (33%), misinformation or “fake news” (31%), poverty, hunger and homelessness (28%).

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