#68: 2021 Predictions

Happy New Year and welcome to 2021.  In this episode I share my predictions for the year ahead. With Covid-19 doing more to drive technical disruption last year than any of the leadership team, I expect the trend to continue. Listen to hear my predication on becoming more people centric, more security, IR35 disruption, cloud, and Microsoft Blazor. 

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Published: Wed, 06 Jan 2021 21:57:29 GMT


[00:00:36] Hello, welcome back to The Better ROI from Software Development podcast and welcome to 2021.

[00:00:45] In this first episode of The New Year, I want to take some time to look at some predictions for the year ahead.

[00:00:53] Following a year where Covid-19 has probably had more impact on digital transformation and I.T. innovation than any member of the executive team, it's not surprising that 2021 is probably going to follow a very similar direction.

[00:01:13] So let's talk about predictions. For me while we see I'm a technologist, I'm only going to briefly touch on technology. The four things I'm going to touch on our people, security, briefly IR35, and towards the end, a small amount about technologies.

[00:01:34] So let's talk about people, it's always been important that people come first in an organisation. That our people matter and that we're looking after them.

[00:01:47] Sometimes that gets lost. And if nothing else, hopefully the pandemic is a reminder of how important our people are and that we actually have a way to make sure they looked after engaged and at the best they possibly can be.

[00:02:03] Covid has been something that's actively made us think more about people. We can't see them in the office anymore. We can't interact with them quite as easily as we used to. So we need to think about how we engage with them.

[00:02:18] Now, that's been, for me, quite a positive out of 2020 in terms of thinking more about our people and how their work life balance is in their day to day work. Making sure that they're comfortable. Making sure they're secure. Making sure they're able to do their best work.

[00:02:35] Now, that's going to carry on through 2021, and I hope that many of these skills, many of these mindsets continue long into the future.

[00:02:45] We should certainly remember. That during these times. It is very unsettling for people.

[00:02:54] As managers, traditionally, we've probably been looking at if our teams doing enough, are our staff working hard enough. Now, oddly enough, in this situation, we should be thinking almost in the reverse - are we making sure that our staff aren't looking too hard?

[00:03:14] We have a duty of care to make sure they are maintaining a healthy work life balance, maintaining a level of mental health. It is very unsettling in these current periods for people when they're worrying about their health, the health of their family, the health of their friends. They may be in a very disruptive environment. They may be home schooling. That could be very many things preying on their minds at the moment. So work should not be one of those things.

[00:03:42] Work should be structured & safe and allowing them to produce their best. Not forcing them into a situation where they're overworking and making themselves ill. I've always a great believer in putting those people first.

[00:04:03] Great people create great teams, great teams create great outcomes, and I think some businesses have forgotten that along the way.

[00:04:12] I really do hope that with so much focus, and having to be so much more people centric (mainly forced by the virus) that businesses returned to understanding that generally that is a better way to work.

[00:04:29] And I do think that as we go through this year and potentially years to come, if we're not looking after those good people, they will move on.

[00:04:39] So even if you're just thinking about this from a self-serving point of view, you need to be thinking about how good people will move on if you're not treating them well. They will move on and the mediocre will stay, and that's a terrible place to be when running an organisation.

[00:04:55] It's not about bums on seats - it's about having great people, building great teams, building great outcomes. Just having a number of people there, especially if they're very mediocre, is going to produce poor outcomes.

[00:05:13] And maybe off the back of all of this, we start thinking about homeworking as a standard. How we can make sure that we can make environments where people feel safe to work from home. That they have that psychological safety. Providing them a better work life balance. Helping them to engage more with their work. Making sure the work is suited to them. Making sure the work feels fulfilling to them.

[00:05:45] And this goes back to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, once you've fulfilled the ability for individuals to have their basic and psychological needs met, you need to be looking at how they can feel self fulfilled. How they can be confident in their work. How can they feel that they've got autonomy, purpose and mastery in what they do.

[00:06:06] That all comes back to taking people into that good category, which helps us create to good teams and good outcomes.

[00:06:15] So certainly a lot of this year is going to be about being people centric. It's being able to provide all of that groundwork to be able to provide people to work their best. So whether that's just simply making sure that your team aren't working too hard, making sure your team are getting a good work life balance, or maybe you're making sure they've got the right equipment, the right systems, the right tools to work with each other properly, all of those things will be crucial this year to make sure you get the best out of your teams.

[00:06:52] Security is my next big piece.

[00:06:55] Again, security is another one of those topics, that's a big topic and it should be important anyway.

[00:07:02] For my own thoughts, I've probably not covered it anywhere near enough in my podcast series - and its something I'll address later this year.

[00:07:08] But security is important. And maybe more so off the back of that pandemic and the homeworking.

[00:07:16] We had to make a lot of changes very rapidly last year to allow people to work from home, to be able to continue our operations, our businesses, to be in a position where we would keep the lights on.

[00:07:30] And some of that needs to be revisited. We need to think about how we've allowed people to work from home. We've almost certainly taken shortcuts so that we can get people working from home quickly and effectively because we weren't expecting it.

[00:07:43] So we need to go back and look at where we may have potentially inadvertently created security problems.

[00:07:51] Longer terms, I think that's probably going to be the way that we work, more people will be working remotely. So we need to make sure that we're in a position where we can still make sure that we're keeping our data and our employees secure.

[00:08:06] And as we become more people centric, again that changes how the organisation operates, whereas traditionally you may have thought a security is like protecting a castle.

[00:08:15] So maybe on your office building you may have security, you may have card swipe systems, you may have some sort of logging system.

[00:08:24] You don't have that in people's homes - you can't assume that everything's going to be as safe as a guarded vault.

[00:08:32] Security is often seen as a cost, but we have both a moral and legal imperative to protect our customers and our staff and our organisations.

[00:08:41] So, again, security, I think while is always a big perennial topic, I think because of actions we had to take last year and probably still taking to enable our people to work, we need to go back and revisit what we've done and actually probably plug some holes in there.

[00:08:59] I wanted to touch on IR35.

[00:09:02] IR35 is only going to relate to UK staff, it's to do with a rules around contractors.

[00:09:12] So traditionally, there's been a problem with contractors working within a business, doing roughly the same job as a paid employee, but receiving significantly greater take home by virtue of the fact they have different tax breaks.

[00:09:29] This has obviously been frowned upon as a means of trying to avoid paying appropriate levels of tax, and I've certainly seen it myself, where two people could be sat next to each other doing pretty much exactly the same job. But one of us is being paid as an employee when one was being paid as a contractor. The contractor is paying significantly less tax and is taking a lot more money home.

[00:09:50] It's always traditionally been up to the contractor to decide whether or not they fall within what is called IR35. IR35 is designed to say, if you're actually employed, you should be paying in employee taxes. Even if you're working as a contractor, if in all intents and purposes, you may be being paid differently, but because you're acting and behaving in exactly the same way as an employee, then you should be paying the same taxes.

[00:10:24] The change this year is that the organisation that's actually employing, it's their decision now as to whether or not the role of the work the contractor is doing is inside or outside IR35.

[00:10:40] Personally, I actually think this is quite a good thing because I think many, many organisations have employed contractors not really understanding the difference and leaving it up to the contract to take the risk as to getting that right. And I'm certain there will be a number of contractors out there who have potentially been overoptimistic in their assessment as to whether or not they are outside of IR35 and thus able to pay less tax.

[00:11:09] And the business may or may not be treating them in an appropriate way. And the work they may or may not be doing may or may not be correct based on that assessment.

[00:11:20] So personally, I actually think this is a good thing. I actually think probably, unlike most contractors, that having the employment agency be part of that exercise to decide whether or not the role is inside or outside of 35 and them also being part of the liability of getting that wrong, I think is much better for everyone involved. I think it takes the risk away from the contractor, and it also means that the engaging organisation makes sure the role is fit and suitable for a contractor and not just using a contractor as another member of staff.

[00:12:00] This was due to come in last year, but was delayed because of Covid-19, which I actually think was the wrong thing to do.

[00:12:07] Many organisations went through the exercise of understanding their contractors, understanding the rules and actually preparing for it. So going through it and spending reasonable effort in terms of understanding is the role was inside or outside IR35.

[00:12:24] And for those organisations that have invested time, money and effort and doing that and have been very correct and been very forward thinking, they seem to have been penalised because it never happened.

[00:12:38] Whereas organisations that didn't bother, that haven't done the work, were effectively rewarded by not having to implement it.

[00:12:47] So I think that was a little bit unfair last year.

[00:12:49] I actually, as I say, probably one of the few contractors that is looking forward to this coming in and actually believes it's the right thing to do.

[00:12:57] Many contractors, I believe, are nervous. This year, it will cause problems again, as last year, obviously, it caused problems with many organisations either having to spend a lot of time, effort and money trying to work out what the right position was. Some organisations are taking quite a knee jerk reaction and effectively removing all contractors, refusing to deal with contractors. And then, of course, as I said, there's some that were refusing to actually engage at all, which led to a lot of uncertainty.

[00:13:30] So I do expect there to be problems this year off the back of IR35.

[00:13:36] Of course, we've already been a difficult year off the back of Covid-19. We still have Covid-19, and IR35 - the contract market is obviously struggling anyway.

[00:13:47] But we'll have to see how it pans out with so many impacts to it in one go.

[00:13:57] OK, so I'm going to briefly talk about few technologies. I wasn't really going to spend too much on technologies, but it's an IT based podcast, so it seems stupid not to talk about some of them.

[00:14:09] It's not going to come as a surprise, there's going to be more cloud, again.

[00:14:12] More AWS, more Azure - using those services in the cloud. Over the years, that's been an ever growing theme.

[00:14:21] People are becoming less concerned about having stuff on site and putting them in the cloud were it be easier and cheaper to run.

[00:14:29] I expect there'll be much more a case of people using multiple services. Bits from AWS, bits from Azure, bits from Google Cloud.

[00:14:39] I expect them to mix and match services more than they have done traditionally. And I expect those services to become easier to integrate. And I think that's just almost a given that that's going to continue to be the trajectory going forward.

[00:14:55] There had been some speculation that potentially people were going to try and move things back in-house for control. I think given the problems we've had with Covid-19 and people being able to be on site, having your own team build your own data centre, I feel very much that's probably one of the last nail in the coffin for on premise data centres for most organisations.

[00:15:20] In terms of development technologies, I'm not seeing massive changes coming for JavaScript, which is one of the main development technologies, it will continue to be very prevalent. It will continue to do as it has done for the last few years in terms of various different styles and approaches, mainly small innovations.

[00:15:42] Microsoft recently released a technology called Blazor that may be quite interesting in terms of Web development. It brings a new audience, a new set of developers to be able to produce websites. So this could potentially be quite an interesting change. Microsoft is backing it - but it wouldn't be the first technology that they've backed and has unfortunately failed.

[00:16:03] But it'll be an interesting one to see what happens with that one. I've used it myself briefly. I use it for the software survey site that I did.

[00:16:13] Certainly at this stage, it's probably still in its infancy, but it actually opens the ability to produce websites to a whole class of developer that traditionally hasn't been doing them - more your corporate developer.

[00:16:25] So it could be a very good route into more technology for the Web.

[00:16:31] And I think we're seeing more and more movements to being able to produce consistent systems across desktop, web and mobile. Consistent experiences, especially if you think about people working from home, more so where traditionally it's been the consumer style app (think about Slack, Facebook, WhatsApp) you've been able to use a very consistent feel and work process through whether you're on desktop, leave your own web or on mobile.

[00:17:02] We're going to see much more of that now for internal facing applications. So business applications. We'd already seen that quite a bit at the senior level in terms of being able to access systems from things like iPads, but now with so many people working from home and working remotely, it makes sense that that's actually rolled out to the entire staff.

[00:17:28] And there are a number of technologies out there that allow you to create a shared experience, depending on whether your desktop, web or mobile. I'd be lying if I said any of them are perfect. I expect them to get better. And there are definitely ways you could provide a decent level of experience.

[00:17:47] No talk of technology at this stage would be complete without talking about something like blockchain or A.I. Both of these are technologies that we're seeing more practical uses for them.

[00:18:00] Up to now, so much use of blockchain and A.I, they're being used as buzzwords on other products. I think as we go forward now, we're starting to see some proper, real implementations of those technologies rather than just exciting technologies.

[00:18:18] And I think that continue to go through this year.

[00:18:23] OK, well, I think that wraps up my predictions for this year.

[00:18:28] I'd love to hear your thoughts. If you have any thoughts of anything you're expecting to see this year or anything you really disagree with, it'd be great hear, so reach out to me and let me know.

[00:18:39] Thank you for listening. I look forward to speaking to you again next week.