The purpose of IT Services is to keep information technology within a business reliable, secure, and aligned to evolving needs. But as we head into 2024 what does that mean for the average SME? Here we look at the IT Services trends we believe will emerge in the coming 12 months.
IT services in 2024 will continue to provide technology tools, infrastructure, and IT support that enables organisations to operate more effectively. This includes managing systems and networks, providing help desk assistance, implementing cybersecurity protections, delivering software applications, analysing data, and more.
However, as any small or medium-sized business leader will attest, the last 12 months have not been easy, and as socio and economic pressures continue to put a strain on stretched organisational resources, more will be expected from service contracts and agreements in the year ahead. Such pressures force the IT Services industry to innovate, react, and find new ways to support growth strategies and that is what we shall see more of in the coming months.
The Emergence of AI in IT Services
It has been impossible to ignore Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning in all its forms this year. It has grabbed headlines while at the same time created headaches for IT decision makers looking to incorporate the technology into company workflows.
Within the IT Services space we are very much about to see AI begin to make its presence felt for vendors and customers alike. For service providers, the next 12 months will very much be about trialling and testing AI services, exploring which efficiencies can be made using the technology.
We expect to see a range of tasks being automated that currently take people to do, which will reduce labour. This will give us the additional capacity for our team to focus on higher value work, rather than more routine basic work, which can be done by AI or workflow automation.
SMEs are understandably interested in how they can make the most of AI. To maximise its potential, we work with our customers to help them work smarter and work safer and this is something we will continue to apply with the potential of AI.
AI is my Co-Pilot
There is considerable interest in the business community for Microsoft Copilot for Microsoft 365, which combines the power of Large Language Models (LLMs) with an organisation’s data to provide real-time intelligent assistance, enabling users to enhance their creativity, productivity, and skills.
At time of writing, Copilot is not presently accessible by SME customers, and only available to Microsoft 365 Enterprise customers with a minimum of 300 licences. However, as the trend around AI accelerates, we do expect that the service will be introduced to SME customers sometime in the first half of 2024.
Once available, understanding how it can be applied securely and reliably within a business will come down to IT expertise. Copilot is something we at Sharp are educating our business clients around, offering consultancy advice and support on how it can be incorporated into their businesses.
Accelerating SME Cybersecurity
AI is also set to change the underlying need for cybersecurity across every business. Just as the technology will bring clear benefits to a business, it will also bring accelerated threats from bad actors as they too are going to become more intelligent and have more capacity by using AI. Therefore, the tools that clients need to have in place to protect their data and their businesses – both internally and in the cloud - need to be more than they currently have. What’s more, they need to be at the enhanced end of cyber protection, constantly monitored and regularly updated.
Beyond AI, as increasing amounts of information continues to be migrated to the cloud, data protection and cybersecurity will continue to be a critical focus for any business. While essential cybersecurity measures like antivirus and malware detection remain imperative, companies must also implement robust backup policies, as businesses bear the responsibility to regularly back up their own content.
The NIS2 Directive came into force in 2023 and will continue to impact businesses going forward. NIS2 is an update of the Cybersecurity rules introduced in 2016. In essence, the new guidance builds on the existing legal framework to keep up with digitisation and the evolving cybersecurity threat landscape by setting a minimum standard of service with regards to security, regardless of your business.
Consequently, education surrounding data security and ongoing technical support will continue to be a valuable trend in 2024. Recent Sharp research found that while 41% of firms across Europe have increased IT security training since moving to a hybrid model, with AI posing an increased threat, SMEs should look to incorporate more advanced cybersecurity training into their programmes next year to combat the potential increased in AI-enabled attacks.
Automation of Processes
Automation in business is nothing new, but it will continue to be a trend in 2024 as SMEs look to further streamline operations and introduce additional efficiencies around digital workflows.
One trend we saw emerge in 2023 and will continue going forward is the lowering of the cost-of-entry for many automation services. On one level this will be driven by the potential of AI, but for many right now it is about using power platforms to energise the core activities within a business and the processes being used. Tools such as Microsoft’s Power BI platform, which is a business intelligence platform providing nontechnical business users with tools for aggregating, analysing, visualising, and sharing data are delivering cost-effective business efficiencies across, which will only be accelerated in time with AI.
Enforcing Data Permissions
Automation brings benefits across the business, but the more access AI and digital processes have to business data the more opportunities to share that information arise. Therefore, one trend we see emerging this year is around data permissions – who and what has access to which data. Securing not only the internal environment but also cloud services with the correct access and permissions to files and folders is vital, otherwise confidential information on internal networks can unintentionally, and often quickly, be shared more publicly.
There is still a great deal of education that needs to be shared around this subject with SMEs, especially around file structures, permissions, and how data is shared to ensure that the correct protections and protocols are in place. This is especially true before AI automation is integrated into the business as any breaches will be potentially accelerated by the technology.
If you would like to know more about how Sharp is helping SMEs across Europe enhance business priorities using managed services, please Get in Touch.