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Increasing Diversity, Adapting to ‘No Normal’ Among 2021 Channel Trends

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Adapting to no normal, embracing zero trust and increasing diversity are among 10 trends to watch in the IT industry in 2021.

That’s according to CompTIA’s IT Industry Outlook 2021. The industry will morph in 2021 in response to the “chaos” of 2020, it said.

Just over 60% of firms said the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on business.

Carolyn April is CompTIA‘s senior director of industry analysis. She said COVID-19 is the “elephant in the room” that can’t be ignored.

Keep up with resources for supporting partners and customers during the COVID-19 crisis.
CompTIA's Carolyn April

CompTIA’s Carolyn April

“Business decisions in terms of new investments, hiring, entering new markets, etc., are certainly going to be done through the lens of the pandemic,” she said. “That’s smart caution. But as many companies play it safe right now, not all are. There are some avenues of opportunity, including support for remote-work environments and a continued exploration of emerging tech.”

Top Trends

The 10 trends to watch are:

  • There is no normal. The concept of an established pattern will be more elusive for businesses. That will force them to juggle a multitude of options, from employee locations to supply chain components, to customer demands.
  • Organizations will adopt a cloud-first mentality when it comes to building or upgrading IT infrastructure.
  • The need for flexibility by channel firms has never been greater as customers work their way through uncertain times.
  • Vendor/partner relationships will become a marriage of equals, with cloud computing as the primary matchmaker.
  • Emerging technologies find their place inside business solutions. Organizations will build solutions on top of the platforms they’ve built on cloud and mobile options.
  • Zero trust shapes cybersecurity initiatives. Verify everything will guide cybersecurity practices.
  • More MSPs will redefine their businesses almost exclusively around security, adding advanced services.
  • The tech industry will prepare for regulation. Regulation will affect all firms.
  • No longer relegated to the help desk, IT pros’ need for professional skills is accentuated and often required.
  • Increasing diversity will be a higher priority. It’s time for companies to move beyond awareness of increasing diversity to accountability with deliverables that are public and certifiable.

Increasing diversity is a long-overdue mandate for not only the channel, but the industry at large, April said.

“The best way to look at expanding the fabric of your workforce is to think not about quotas, but about innovation and new types of ideas, which diversity brings,” she said. “That’s a business benefit. The other mantra we preach at CompTIA is the diversity of not just humans, but of skills, which in 2021 is going to be essential to any successful business.”

SMBs’ Health Crucial to Channel

Next year won’t necessarily be a year of recovery for the channel, April said.

“This comes under the chapter of the great unknown,” she said. “We hesitate to say that the channel needs a recovery. Many firms have weathered the nightmare of 2020 fairly well to this point. But the impact on small business customers, on whom most channel firms rely, is undeniable. Their viability in 2021 will mean much to the health of the channel overall.”

The keys to success are innovation, flexibility and smart cash management.

Companies expect to alter their business models next year, CompTIA said. They’ll do so by offering more services, getting more involved with emerging technologies, exploring vertical market opportunities and stressing their cybersecurity expertise. Each of these steps is part of their plans to bounce back from 2020’s challenging environment.

When asked about 2021 prospects, 37% of firms expect to grow revenue in excess of both their 2020 and 2019 results. Another 25% expect revenue to remain stable with 2020 levels. But for some firms that might be less than 2019 because of the effects of the pandemic.

Four in 10 companies anticipate keeping their budgets at 2020 levels, with a quarter predicting somewhat higher spending and 13% somewhat lower.

Existing Customers Key to Growth

Seth Robinson is CompTIA’s senior director for technology analysis.

CompTIA's Seth Robinson

CompTIA’s Seth Robinson

“One of the more surprising findings is that channel firms largely expect their 2021 growth to come from their existing customers,” he said. “It makes sense that there are untapped opportunities within an existing customer base, but companies everywhere are accelerating their digital transformation. Diving deeper with existing customers may require new technical skills, whereas expanding to new clients would demand more sales/marketing efforts. The sales/marketing activities may be new for many partners, but there are best practices to follow and the skills may be easier to find.”

Nearly 80% of firms feel good about their role as a technologist. The majority see a bright outlook thanks to the high demand for skills.

However, there’s also uncertainty over technology spending. Forty-four percent feel budgets are too small. And they expect to be asked to do more with less. Three in 10 companies are retraining existing staff to fill open positions or address new areas of focus.


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