5G and digital transformation for IT professionals: Q&A with Sascha Giese

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A: “5G” is a huge buzzword as we begin 2019, with many businesses clamouring for airtime about how their technologies will be even better on a 5G network. This year is expected to be all about 5G, but there is one element largely absent from the discussion: many companies are claiming 5G-readiness, but without the infrastructure to support it, we’ll be left with the same bandwidth speed as before.

Let me reiterate: the theoretical max speed of 5G is 10 Gbps, and we are looking at a latency of 4ms. That’s for the connection to a single endpoint, of course, before even talking about backbone.

Q: What should organisations’ expectations for 5G be? 

A: Each generation of technology opens up a world of possibilities for telecommunications companies. However, when 4G launched in 2009, mobile operators didn’t see the great returns they’d captured with earlier generations. According to McKinsey, revenues showed flat or tepid growth, since there is a large investment to be made on the infrastructure side to successfully deploy a new generation.

To be able to take advantage of all that 5G will have to offer, telco companies will need to increase their infrastructure investments. Operators will have to upgrade their 4G networks to cope with the growing demand in 2019.

Q: Are there any examples of this in the industry today? 

A: Some major players in the mobile space are highly aware of the latency issue. Apple announced that they will not be introducing an iPhone capable of faster 5G cellular data networks in 2019. Apple might believe the move to 5G is premature, as it’s not the first time Apple has come late to a new wireless technology. In the past, the company said the networks were too nascent when launched and offered inadequate coverage until they were built out more.

Q: When can we expect to see end-to-end 5G implemented?

A: While 5G promises one of the biggest leaps in cellular data speeds yet, it will be rolled out in a similar way to previous generations, beginning in major cities and slowly rolling out to national and global coverage.

Low frequency will be deployed first, but there will be a time delay, similar to when we all bought phones with LTE capabilities years before the benefits were fully available. In the year ahead, we predict there will be a growing awareness that while 5G innovation exists, the infrastructure will need significant time and investments to catch up.

Q: It is interesting to hear your thoughts on 5G.  It would be great to also hear from your own experience, what you are currently seeing in the industry for today’s IT professionals?

A: Our world is only growing ever more complex, and digital transformation remains top of mind for businesses in every industry. Meanwhile, IT professionals are tirelessly working around the clock to solve any problem thrown their way, no matter the issue’s size—from helping an individual send a large file, to patching critical enterprise vulnerabilities, to solving latency issues beyond the firewall, or fixing application performance problems. IT professionals are often the unsung heroes of modern business.

Our own research found that two-thirds of IT pros surveyed respond to one-off user requests on a daily basis, and over half of IT pros optimise systems and respond to help desk tickets on a daily basis (56 per cent and 51 per cent, respectively).

And, based on my experience speaking to customers, let’s not forget about the elephant in the room: ongoing budget constraints.

Q: What is it that IT professionals aren’t given the time to do? What’s being left as a result?

A: Sadly, while IT pros are fighting fires, it tends to be the truly transformative stuff that gets left on the back burner. Respondents of the same survey pointed to artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), deep learning, and cloud computing as the technologies that would transform IT environments. Critically, if they had more time, these were also named the top three technology advancements that IT pros would use to solve challenges within their IT environment in our IT Pro survey earlier this year.

IT pros say they would use these technologies to uncover more actionable insights for business leadership, make repeatable tasks quicker and more accurate, and scale easily and cost effectively by using the public cloud.

Q: What should business leaders and end users be mindful of in light of these findings?

A: While we certainly appreciate IT pros year-round, there’s often a lack of understanding by business leaders and end-users as to just how critical their responsibilities are, and the complexities associated with their day-to-day roles. The problem is, the job is never done. In fact, according to the SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2018, IT professionals have so much on their plates, over half of all IT pros surveyed spend less than 25 per cent of their time on proactive optimisation of their environments.

Q: Finally, how can IT professionals make a better business case for investment of time and resource into emerging technologies like AI, machine learning, deep learning, cloud computing, and even 5G?

A: The hype around AI and its potential business impact is huge. However, players are throwing around bold claims of smart algorithms, machine learning capabilities, and predictive technologies without truly understanding these buzzwords. Many supposed AI- or ML-powered initiatives actually boil down to little more than the automated crunching of extremely large data sets. Some of these solutions pull in hundreds of different strands of data, which are analysed and then used to draw conclusions to help inform high-level business decisions. This is no mean feat—it’s just not AI.

IT professionals need to take on the role of educators: identify ways to discuss the basics and the specific cost-benefit analysis of how the current and near-term reality of these technologies will benefit the business, the cost to adopt those new technologies, and what it means for current efforts to improve service integration and service delivery.   

Sascha Giese, Head Geek, SolarWinds
Image Credit: O2