Blockchain is attempting to recover from a considerable disservice—the rise and descent of cryptocurrency (as of this writing). At Bitcoin’s zenith, so much hype was generated by the financial world that its real value was obscured. And as cryptocurrencies have retreated, some pundits wrote off blockchain with guilt by association. That’s unfortunate, because blockchain provides something truly new in IT technology—an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions in a verifiable and permanent way. Moreover, blockchain—like cloud, containers, and software defined infrastructure—needs to be part of real IT conversations, not just noisy buzzing from the HODL crowd.

Blockchain offers truly beneficial advantages in many industries, even as financial services put it through early production use cases. These range from cross-border payments and share trading, to smart contracts and identity management.

However, despite endless industry hype for its potential, research by SolarWindsIT Trends Report: The Intersection of Hype and Performance,” revealed that just 8% of IT professionals surveyed were prepared to hail it as the most important technology to an IT organisation’s strategy today. What’s more, this number only increased to 15% when IT professionals were asked the most important technologies for digital transformation over the next three to five years.

However, the results from the C-suite told a different story. In fact, the survey exposed a disconnect between the business leaders charged with setting the company’s vision and the IT professionals tasked with executing that vision. Where the C-suite considers artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and deep learning to be key important elements of digital transformation, IT professionals are looking toward the technology and processes that underpin continuous integration and delivery—which ultimately enable enhanced performance and digital experience in today’s environments. Let’s dig into those a little deeper.

Cloud at the core

It comes as no surprise that cloud computing and hybrid IT will remain IT professionals’ top priority for the next five years. These meet today’s business needs while serving as the foundation for, or are at least are closely related to, trending technologies like blockchain and AI. In fact, 95% of IT professionals surveyed indicated that hybrid IT and cloud is one of the top five most important technologies in their organisation’s technology strategy today. 66% listed it as their number one.

If you haven’t already begun consuming different service delivery models—like moving from Microsoft® Exchange Servers to Office 365® and migrating more of their mission-critical applications to the cloud—it’s probably front and center on your roadmap. It’s also likely driving new nomenclature. For example, “observability”—leveraging combined metrics, logs, and application traces for controllability—has been added to regular conversation about an organisation’s cloud monitoring strategy.

As always, IT is expected to maintain a high degree of fidelity, and to monitor with discipline, while carrying forward the same level of granularity and source of truth that has existed in on-premises environments for decades. Though painful at first, finally establishing a baseline of observability across all elements of hybrid IT pays huge dividends.

Containers for speedy delivery

The “IT Trends Report” shows a substantial uptick in new technology adoption and increasing mastery of new technology, containers in particular. IT professionals are throwing their hard-won—and often shrinking—budgets at containers after discovering their utility addressing the challenges of cloud computing and hybrid IT. In many ways, they’re “containers in the coal mine,” reassuring skeptical IT organisations that they’re not just hype.  

49% of IT professionals surveyed view it as a very important technology priority today. And so, they should. While the array of possible use cases for blockchain, AI, ML, robotics, and IoT are grabbing headlines at the moment, the true reality for IT professionals on the ground is different. IT still must deliver clear business value, and until their application is clearer, their potential still falls slightly shy of getting on the project board today.

IT professionals, under increasingly pressure to show immediate value, should continue to prioritise container deployment, both from an investment and skills-development perspective. In many ways, containers are a catalyst—insert storage joke here—that entrain multiple new skillsets: automation, scalability, distributed applications, and orchestration. They drive not just high-level understanding of these techniques, but real-world production experience with technology that is the KIP of an organisation’s ability to transform.

Your first step is to check to see if IT is already working with the technology. If so, get to know who is involved and engage with them. If IT is not working with containers, it’s simply a case of going to Docker® and grabbing Docker CE for Mac® or Windows® for laptop-based experiments, learning from the tutorials provided by Kubernetes® (especially Minikube), or consuming a platform like Amazon® ECS. There are also many communities like GitHub® that allows container experts to freely share their knowledge.

The hype still lives on

It’s natural for business leaders to be eager about implementing new technologies that promise to meet the growing demands of their organisations, unlock additional revenue streams, and set them on the path to digital transformation. Of course, these emerging technologies should be on every IT professional’s radar, but never at the expense of laying the all-important groundwork—cloud, hybrid IT, and containers.

The IT professional is ultimately responsible for keeping businesses on a practical track when it comes to implementing technology. Although blockchain, AI, and ML are currently a top priority for the IT professionals, engineers in operations are optimising cloud/hybrid IT environments now with the tools at hand. They’re creating a critical pathway, enabling them to seize the potential of these emerging technologies as soon as their organisations are ready. It’s about prioritising investments in technologies that will deliver business value well beyond IT.