Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus once said, “The only thing that is constant is change.” That is certainly an apt description of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in sweeping changes across every industry and community. Organizations around the world had to fast-track their digital transformation to adapt to what has become known as the “new normal.” And while digital technologies enabled us to quickly adjust to new ways of working, learning, connecting with family and friends and more, the pace of change shows no signs of slowing down. In the midst of this rapidly changing landscape, it’s never been more important for organizations to understand the trends shaping the world around them.
To better understand the technology trends affecting businesses, Equinix captured insights from 2,600 IT decision-makers from diverse enterprises across 26 countries in the Americas, Asia-Pacific and EMEA regions. Now in its third edition, our annual Global Tech Trends Survey (GTTS) explores the impact of COVID-19 on digital infrastructure plans, cloud infrastructure and deployments, how 5G and sustainability are changing the IT infrastructure landscape, key digital priorities and threats, as well as interconnection use and benefits.
Equinix 2020-21 Global Tech Trends Survey
Exploring global digital leaders' views on the trends, challenges and opportunities shaping businesses around the world.Download the Study
GTTS reveals IT strategies shifting to improve agility:
Impacting expansion plans: While more than half (57%) of companies still plan to expand despite the disruption brought by the pandemic, nearly two-thirds (63%) of them plan to achieve this virtually rather than investing in physical IT infrastructure.
Accelerating digital transformation: Six in 10 said they have revised their IT strategy as a result of COVID-19. Eight in 10 said digitizing their IT infrastructure was a top priority, and nearly half (47%) reported they accelerated digital transformation plans.
Investing in agility and flexibility: Nearly 6 in 10 (58%) of respondents are planning to invest in technology to make their businesses more agile post-pandemic. A key component of this increased agility is moving to the cloud – 68% plan to move more functions to the cloud.
Re-architecting for hybrid working: 51% of businesses have rearchitected their IT infrastructure to meet new remote and hybrid working demands, and nearly two-thirds (64%) believe there will be long-term changes to where and how people work within their organizations.
Utilizing interconnection for success: 58% of IT leaders see interconnection as a key facilitator of digital transformation – up 9% from last year’s results. The top benefits cited were the increase in connectivity flexibility, followed by improving network optimization. Facilitating digital transformation (31%) and connecting to digital ecosystems (21%) both grew significantly from last year’s results.
Figuring out 5G: Half of respondents agreed the biggest impact of 5G is the ability it gives businesses to take advantage of new technologies, but 36% are also worried about the need to rearchitect infrastructure to take advantage of 5G capabilities.
Searching for sustainability: The majority (54%) said sustainability is a major focus for their organization, and most (57%) have a long-term sustainability plan in place for their IT infrastructure. At the same time, only half said the greenness of their supply chain influences purchasing decisions, but this has increased by eight percentage points since last year.
The Americas are ahead of the curve on digitizing the user experience in the cloud
A set of related digital transformation priorities have emerged across key verticals in the Americas. For example, top priorities for financial services include omnichannel experiences, managing costs and efficiencies and modernizing digital infrastructure. User experience is also a major focus in the content and digital media (CDM) sector, particularly around improving remote collaboration for content and game creation, as well as the creation of customized experiences. The need to consolidate customer data and develop agile business models is also driving the CDM industry to expand digital infrastructure. Similar priorities appear in healthcare and life sciences as organizations focus on improving patient and staff experiences, developing cloud-based services and solutions, and more effectively utilizing business intelligence (BI), data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
The unifying theme here is all about improving access to information and applications. In a recent LinkedIn article, Randy Bean, CEO of NewVantage Partners LLC, notes “…firms have been undertaking new investments in infrastructure and capabilities, most notably in customer self-service. The investments are expected to have a lasting impact and represent a vision for the future which combines ease, speed, and simplicity of response to support remote work and remote customer access.”[i]
As part of the research for the GTTS, we surveyed 500 IT decision-makers across the Americas – 100 digital leaders each from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Mexico and the U.S. The research confirmed that digitizing IT infrastructure (82%), improving user experience for customers (82%), and cutting costs and increasing efficiency (80%) were top priorities, along with improving cybersecurity (83%) and complying with data regulations (82%).
Looking at wider business priorities, 61% of organizations across the Americas are currently expanding, though it is more common in Latin America than in North America. Certainly, the impact of COVID-19 was felt in many areas of business, with 54% of companies accelerating their digital transformations and 49% saying their IT budgets were increased to satisfy the rapid growth of digital. Similar to the global average, nearly two-thirds expect to expand virtually rather than investing in physical infrastructure.
To achieve their priorities, digital leaders across the world are planning to move more to the cloud, but the Americas are ahead of the curve – nearly three-quarters (73%) say they will move more functions to the cloud, compared with 68% globally. Moreover, nearly four in five (79%) indicated they will do so over the next 12 months.
IT decision-makers across North America and Latin America are great advocates of the value of interconnection. Nearly three in four (72%) agree that interconnection will help them navigate a post-pandemic world, compared to 58% globally. They also view interconnection as a key facilitator for digital transformation (69%) and competitive advantage (67%) – compared with 57% and 54% globally. The top Americas verticals expected to benefit from interconnection are financial services, healthcare and professional services.
5G and cybersecurity are top of mind in Asia-Pacific
Over the last year, leading companies in Asia-Pacific (AP) were able to see the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity, with both mature and emerging markets looking to take advantage of it. A few trends in AP helped power this perspective. Asian users in many regions are younger, driving digital adoption. And while Asian businesses typically take a long-term view on investment,[ii] a boom in e-commerce (accelerated by the pandemic) is fueling a surge in online banking and digital payments. Regulators are actively fostering this growth with license allocations and new banking standards. New entrants into the banking space, such as Tencent/Alibaba in China and Kakao in Korea are starting to dominate.[iii] Other key focus areas for AP businesses include 5G, cybersecurity, AI, ML and big data analytics.
This aligns with the findings from the GTTS for the AP region, which gathered insights from 600 IT decision-makers across six countries including Australia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. Top priorities for IT leaders in AP include digitalizing IT infrastructure (76%) and improving cybersecurity (75%), followed by cutting costs and increasing efficiency (71%), complying with data regulations (70%) and improving network optimization (68%).
Comparable to the global results (57%), most AP businesses (60%) plan to expand, although the reliance on virtual vs. physical connections is slightly lower – only 57% of AP businesses planning to expand will do so virtually vs. 63% globally. COVID-19 is also accelerating digitization in the region, with 46% fast-tracking their digital transformation and 44% increasing their IT budget.
Significantly, two-thirds (66%) of IT decision-makers in AP say they plan to move more functions to the cloud, and 69% of those expect this to take place over the next 12 months. The move to hybrid and multicloud deployments also goes hand-in-hand with increasing corporate concerns over cybersecurity and the need to extend cyber resilience across the supply chain, as well as the desire to cut costs and increase efficiency.
While slightly more conservative than the Americas, IT decision-makers in AP value interconnection – 61% agree it will help enterprises move forward in a post-pandemic world. They also see interconnection as a key facilitator for digital transformation (61%) and competitive advantage (56%) – compared with 57% and 54% globally. And the sectors believed to most likely benefit from interconnection in AP include financial services, healthcare and professional services.
Cloud is heating up in EMEA as new shopping, work and media experiences emerge
In EMEA, no doubt fueled by the pandemic, digital technologies are re-shaping the CDM and retail industries in particular. Over the top (OTT) streamers saw record subscriber growth across all regions, with Western Europe growing by 15.6% in 2020, leading to increased competition among streaming services.[iv] To improve collaboration and productivity, AI and virtual reality (VR) are being applied across all stages of the media workflow – from content creation, post-production and content distribution.
In the retail sector, e-commerce and social commerce – the process of selling products directly on social media platforms such as TikTok – continue to rise, as does the use of AI and VR to improve touch-free, online experiences. For example, H&M launched a styling app using ML to offer users unique, personalized suggestions to match everything from body type to eye color.[v]
To understand how trends like these are affecting EMEA businesses, we surveyed 1,500 IT decision-makers across 15 markets (100 per country).[vi] The EMEA GTTS survey results show that IT leaders placed a slightly higher priority on complying with data regulations (83%) than those globally (80%), but identified other top priorities similarly – improving cybersecurity (82%) and digitizing IT infrastructure (82%).
The results reveal that the pandemic did have an effect on expansion plans – 54% of companies in EMEA plan to expand this year, which is four percentage points lower than last year. However, of those planning to expand, 65% plan to do so utilizing virtual connections, rather than investing in physical IT infrastructure. Nearly half (45%) of digital leaders in EMEA say they accelerated their digital transformation plans as a result of COVID-19, and 67% expect to move more functions to the cloud. However, only 39% say they increased their IT budgets to satisfy the rapid growth in digital demands, compared to 42% globally.
One reason why this may be the case is that EMEA organizations felt better prepared for the shift to remote working than other regions – 54% reported they already had the IT infrastructure in place to support remote work, compared to 49% globally. Another telling sign: cloud deployments had expanded from last year, contributing to improved flexibility and agility. Nearly half of EMEA companies’ infrastructure (47%) is in the cloud, up from 41% last year. Meanwhile, the use of hybrid cloud leapt from 30% to 42%, and reliance on multicloud jumped from 17% to 27%. This was similar to the global results, where hybrid cloud and multicloud adoption increased by 12 and 11 percentage points, respectively. EMEA is still the only region where private cloud is more prevalent (44% vs. 41% globally), but this is a decrease from last year (52%).
While more conservative than their global counterparts, over half (53%) of EMEA IT decision-makers value the role of interconnection in helping their organizations navigate the challenges they face as a result of COVID-19. They also see interconnection as a key facilitator for digital transformation (51%) and competitive advantage (49%) – compared with 57% and 54% globally. The verticals expected to benefit the most from interconnection in EMEA are financial services, healthcare, professional services, education and engineering.
As we look to a brighter future beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, we hope these insights provide useful guidance for your own digital transformation strategy.
To learn more, read the Equinix Global Tech Trends Survey.
[i] LinkedIn, Randy Bean, Accelerating Digital And Data Transformation In A Remote-Work World, July 2020.
[ii] McKinsey, Emerging stronger, fitter, faster: The rise of the Asian corporation, Dec 2020.
[iii] McKinsey, Joining the next generation of digital banks in Asia, Jan 2021.
[v] Charged, H&M launches AI-powered personal styling app “Sorted”, Mar 2021.
[vi] EMEA countries surveyed: N=1500, 100 per country for FLAP markets (Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam, Paris) and growth & emerging markets (GEM) (Bulgaria, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and United Arab Emirates).