The top 5 IT priorities for 2021

What does the IT world look like when we return to the new normal after a wild and unexpected 2020? The answer: In 2021, IT priorities will be different but not drastically. 

This is one of many findings of IoT Analytics’ latest 36-page publication titled Industrial IT Outlook 2021 which surveyed 50 senior IT decision-makers in the manufacturing, energy, and transportation sectors during September / October 2020. 

IT priorities before and during Covid-19


Strategic IT projects ranked on the top of the CIO agenda before the pandemic. This changed dramatically with the start of the pandemic in early 2020. The implementation and organization of remote work and collaboration tools became the #1 focus jumping 9 spots in the IT priority ranking. With employees working from home and the number of cyberattacks drastically increasing, IT departments also put additional effort into securing their systems against those attacks (#2 priority) and making sure the IT infrastructure would continue to be up and running (#3 priority). Having data sets widely accessible in the cloud and being able to scale applications to new users via the cloud became important so that scattered teams had widespread access (#4 priority).  

The IT priorities for 2021


Strategic IT projects will be back at the top in 2021 as CIOs take on a long-term strategic perspective. In general, the picture does not look massively different from pre-Covid but there are some subtle and notable changes:

  • Cybersecurity has climbed in importance (from #3 to #2). Therefore, it is also not a surprise that CIOs in the report forecasted that cybersecurity vendors like Palo Alto Networks and Check Point Software will rank among the companies that will see the biggest spending increase in 2021. (See also IoT Analytics previous coverage on the topic as well as the upcoming Cybersecurity Adoption Report – due out for publishing in December 2020) 
  • The importance of IT infrastructure is set to decline sharply (#8 priority vs. #2 pre-Covid). As many companies are cautiously right-sizing their business to deal with the economic slowdown caused by Covid-19, they are increasingly avoiding Capex-heavy expenses, also in their future planning. Therefore, expensive IT infrastructure such as hardware, storage, routers, and switches are not on top of the agenda for many in the foreseeable future.  
  • Digital customer experience will rise (from #4 to #3 priority). This includes tools such as CRM systems, social media management software, and customer feedback management tools. 
  • Remote work remains a top IT priority. For many companies, “work-from-anywhere” policies extent well beyond the pandemic. Some firms, including Twitter, have even introduced policies to let employees work-from-home forever.  
  • New tech-enabled business models enter the top 5 (up 1 spot vs. pre-Covid). Companies are putting an enhanced focus on using IT technology to develop new connected products (as opposed to just having IT departments look after infrastructure and software that supports ongoing business operations). The Internet of Things plays an important role in any smart, connected product. IoT Analytics had reported earlier in 2020 that advances in IT and IoT technology is now allowing some companies to bring new connected products to market in 8 months. The average time-to-market has been declining significantly in the last 5 years.

The role of IoT, AI, and 5G

With 92% of respondents confirming that company-wide digitization has become more important for their companies due to Covid-19, it is becoming clear that technology as a whole will play a much more important role in the coming years. Emerging topics such as IoT, AI, and 5G were also mentioned by respondents but have not (yet?) entered the top 5 IT priorities. IoT remains priority #9 on average, AI/ML climbs one spot from #11 to #10 and 5G moves from the last spot (#13) up to #12, although only very few IT departments (outside of telecommunications companies) seriously consider their own 5G deployments at this point. 

More information and further reading

Are you interested in learning more about global IT priorities and spending behavior in the Industrial sector

The “Industrial IT Outlook 2021” is a comprehensive 36-page report assessing global IT priorities & spending behavior in industrial end-markets including an outlook for 2021. It also includes a comprehensive summary of hot topics discussed by CEOs and a view on the adoption of enterprise applications in the cloud and current cybersecurity themes. It is part of IoT Analytics’ ongoing coverage of Industrial IoT and Industry 4.0 (Industrial IoT Research Workstream).

Industrial IT Outlook 2021 - Cover

This report provides answers to the following questions (among others):

  • What the top IT priorities are right now and what are the top priorities expected to be in 2021 
  • How much overall IT spending has changed in 2020 in comparison to 2019 and how it is expected to change in 2021  
  • How spending is changing for the top 38 IT vendors 
  • Which other themes have gained importance post-Covid 
  • What CEOs discussed during Q3/2020 
  • Which applications are expected to move to the cloud in the next 2 years and how 
  • And more … 


The sample of the report gives you a holistic overview of the available analysis (outline, key slides). The sample also provides additional context on the topic and describes the methodology of the analysis. You can download the sample here:

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<a href="" target="_self">Knud Lasse Lueth</a>

Knud Lasse Lueth

Since founding IoT Analytics in 2014, my focus has been to build a team that produces high-quality research in areas such as IoT, AI, Cloud, and smart manufacturing. Throughout my journey, I have authored or co-authored over 100 reports, always with a commitment to delivering analyses that are not only trustworthy but also rich in insight and uniqueness.

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