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Annual SolarWinds Study Reveals Opportunities for Business and IT Collaboration in Managing Enterprise Risk Driven by Internal and External Security Threats

SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2021: Building a Secure Future examines how technology professionals perceive the evolving state of risk in today’s business environment following internal impact of COVID-19 IT policies and exposure to external breaches 

SolarWinds introduces Secure by Design program as a guide for industry-wide approach to help prevent future cyberattacks

SolarWinds (NYSE:SWI), a leading provider of simple, powerful, and secure IT management software, today released the findings of its eighth annual IT Trends Report. This year’s report, SolarWinds® IT Trends Report 2021: Building a Secure Future, released eight months after the broad and highly sophisticated SUNBURST cyberattack, is part of the company’s commitment to leading industry collaboration and transparency to prevent future cyberattacks and help technology professionals navigate the new threat landscape. It examines how technology professionals perceive their organisations’ risk management and mitigation readiness after a year of rapid transformation fueled by the global pandemic. The study analyses the state of risk within the IT industry today and provides guidance on workplace strategy, tool sets, preparedness, and leadership for companies as they work to construct an organisation built to withstand risk.

Over the past year, tech pros were tasked with enabling a distributed global workforce and managing the adoption of public cloud services, as organisations quickly pivoted to implement a range of technologies to keep their businesses up and running during the pandemic. Against this backdrop, nearly every industry was confronted with the acceleration of high-level cybersecurity breaches, which highlighted the potential risk of incomplete security policies and procedures across the industry. This unprecedented upheaval has served as a critical catalyst for a broader exploration of organisations’ exposure to enterprise IT risk of all kinds—including risk introduced by the implications of remote, distributed work—and the degree to which organisations are prepared to manage, mitigate, and prevent risk in the future.

The findings of the SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2021 uncover a reality in which exposure to enterprise IT risk is common across organisations but perceptions of apathy and complacency surrounding risk preparedness are high as businesses exit a year of pandemic-driven “crisis mode.” Tech pros have outlined key areas of technology investment and upskilling to prioritise AI/machine learning and automation—demonstrating an inherent awareness that falling behind is potentially the greatest risk of all. This year’s study reveals the immense opportunity ahead for tech pros and IT leadership to align and collaborate on priorities and policies to best position not only individual organisations but the industry at large to succeed with a future built for risk preparedness.

“Technology professionals today are under even greater pressure to ensure optimised, secure performance for remote workforces while facing limited time and resources for personnel training. When it comes to risk management and mitigation, prioritising intentional investments in technology solutions that meet business needs is critical,” said Sudhakar Ramakrishna, President and CEO, SolarWinds. “More than ever before, tech pros must partner closely with business leaders to ensure they have the resources and headcount necessary to proactively address security risks. And more importantly, tech pros should constantly assess their risk management, mitigation, and protocols to avoid falling into complacency and being ‘blind’ to risk.”

2021 Key Findings 

SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2021: Building a Secure Future explores how tech pros perceive the state of risk in today’s business environment, and how the global pandemic impacted technology investments across IT teams. Key findings show:

Security threats associated with external breaches and the internal impact of COVID-19 IT policies emerged as the leading macro trends influencing enterprise IT risk today.

  • 33% of overall tech pro respondents state their organisations have had medium exposure to enterprise IT risk over the past 12 months.
  • Security breaches are perceived to be the biggest external factor influencing an organisation’s risk exposure, with 23% of tech pros surveyed citing external security threats – like cyberattacks – as the top macro trend influencing their organisations’ risk exposure.
  • However, COVID-19 also had a critical impact on organisations’ risk exposure, with tech pros flagging these top associated risk-inducing factors:
    • Distributed workforce/employee relocation (18%)
    • Remote work policies (18%)
    • Exponential growth of data as a result of new WFH needs (15%)
  • Likewise, 15% of tech pros surveyed said the accelerated shift to remote working was one of the top aspects of current IT environments considered to increase an organisation’s risk exposure, as well as incomplete or inadequate security policies (13%).
    • 40% of respondents say security and compliance ranked in the top three technologies most critical to managing/mitigating risk within their organisations, followed by      artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning (35%) and network infrastructure, automation, DBaaS solutions, and ITSM and/or ITAM solutions (25%, respectively).
  • Although external security threats are a leading risk factor, internal vulnerabilities as a result of remote/distributed environments cannot be overlooked in today’s work landscape.

Surveyed tech pros are confident in their risk management and mitigation preparedness strategies although enterprise IT risk exists within their organisations.

  • 76% of tech pros surveyed “agree” or “strongly agree” their IT organisations are prepared to manage, mitigate, and resolve risk factor-related issues due to the policies and/or procedures they already have in place.
    • This finding is echoed by organisations’ careful approach to technology adoption and implementations in response to shifting demands of COVID-19 distributed work environments: despite the accelerated timeline, 55% of respondents said standard or heightened risk management protocols were followed.
  • That said, as detailed in a recent McKinsey report, tech pros and their IT organisations must be careful to avoid complacency in today’s ever-evolving risk landscape and be sure to refresh and strengthen their approach to risk management for the future.

While tech pros prioritise investments in AI/machine learning and automation as core technologies to help manage risk, implementation is hampered by dwindling resources and access to sufficient IT management solutions. 

  • 6 in 10 (63%) of tech pros surveyed “agreed” or “strongly agreed” technology is the best way for organisations to manage, mitigate, and resolve issues related to risk.
  • IT teams prioritised investment in AI/machine learning and automation (18%, respectively), followed by DBaaS solutions (15%), to accommodate the unprecedented demands of COVID-19 and the shift to remote work.
  • However, despite understanding technology can play a critical role in enterprise IT risk management, barriers to its adoption and implementation exist. The top three challenges when to utilising technology to mitigate and/or manage risk within organisations reported by surveyed tech pros are:
    • Currently offered IT management solutions lack features/functionality to meet tech pro needs (48%)
    • Lack of IT management solutions/tools available within organisation (40%)
    • Poor management/lack of direction (40%)
  • Implementation is further hampered by 40% of surveyed tech pros admitting that while some of their monitoring/management tools are integrated to enhance visibility across their IT environment(s)—whether on-premises, cloud-based, or hybrid—other tools are still siloed.
  • Tech pros are overcoming these barriers by:
  • Improving alignment between IT business goals and company leadership (35%)
  • Developing policies and processes (28%)

Tech pros are capitalising on an opportunity to foster greater alignment and collaboration with senior leaders who will best position their organisations to manage and mitigate risks in the future. 

  • 48% of respondents are confident or extremely confident their IT organisations will continue to invest in risk management/mitigation technologies over the next three years.
  • 48% perceive their organisation’s senior leaders or decision-makers to have a heightened awareness of risk exposure, believing it’s not “if” but “when” they will be impacted by a risk factor. But while 15% believe their organisation is prepared to mitigate and manage risk, 33% said their senior leaders have difficulty convincing other leaders of this reality, ultimately limiting resources to address risk.
  • This reinforces how more than one-third (35%) of tech pros surveyed state their IT organisations are improving alignment between IT business goals and corporate leadership in response to other tech adoption barriers like a lack of training for IT personnel, and a lack of budget/resources.

To explore and interact with the 2021 findings, please visit the SolarWinds IT Trends Index, a dynamic web experience presenting the study’s findings by region and additional insights into the data, as well as charts, graphs, and socially shareable elements. This year’s study features an interactive component where visitors to the web experience can see how they compare to the results.

The findings of this year’s United Kingdom National Government report are based on a survey fielded in March/April 2021, which yielded responses from 40 technology practitioners, managers, directors, and senior executives from public-sector small, mid-size, and enterprise organisations. All regions studied in 2021, as reported on the SolarWinds IT Trends Index, were North America, Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and the United Kingdom, with 967 respondents across all geographies combined.

SolarWinds Outlines Secure by Design Principles for a More Secure Future

To address the industry-wide ramifications of the SUNBURST cyberattack and help strengthen its own security posture going forward, SolarWinds has introduced an initiative to become Secure by Design. Under this approach, SolarWinds is focused on further securing its internal environment, enhancing its product development environment, and ensuring the security and integrity of the products it delivers as it seeks to evolve into an industry-leading secure software development company.

The learnings resulting from the SUNBURST investigation have also presented an opportunity for SolarWinds to lead an industry-wide effort around transparency and collaboration, and for SolarWinds to develop a new model for secure software environments, development processes, and products. In partnership with former CISA leader Chris Krebs and former Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos (co-founders of the Krebs Stamos Group), SolarWinds is developing best practices to enhance the SolarWinds security posture and policies, while also serving as a guide for other organisations as they work to prevent future attacks. Customers, partners, and tech professionals can follow along with the SolarWinds Secure by Design blog content and join live webcasts hosted by members of the SolarWinds executive team, its Head Geeks, customers, partners, and industry cybersecurity experts to learn more about Secure by Design best practices and learnings from the SUNBURST attack.

Additional Resources

Past SolarWinds IT Trends Reports

Connect with SolarWinds

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