IT Priorities and Budgets for Q1 2021

IT Budgets & Strategy

March 15, 2021
min read
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Pulse surveyed 144 verified IT leaders to understand what are IT’s priorities right now, and what budget are they operating with to make these decisions.

For IT leaders, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic meant pivoting to remote work overnight. Priorities were immediate and decisions had to be made quickly, despite the spectre of economic uncertainty that followed the pandemic. If they weren’t already using them, businesses needed to rapidly deploy remote meeting and collaboration tools, and enable a secure remote working environment. Choosing the right tools was critical to maintaining workflows and employee satisfaction while securing a new default remote working environment.

The end of Q1 2021 signposts a year since the onset of the pandemic. Those shifts IT leaders made a year ago have become normalized. Yet, economic uncertainty remains while vaccine rollouts pick up pace, offering hopes of a return to “normality.” What are IT leaders prioritizing right now? And what budgets are they working with to achieve these goals?

Cybersecurity top of mind this quarter

Following Q4 2021 that featured major security breaches such as SolarWinds, the scale of which continues to unfold, most leaders are prioritizing cybersecurity (58%) as their top priority in Q1 2021 (fig. 1). 

Reducing costs (50%) and workflow automation (50%) ranked next. Remote work enablement ranked low (22%), suggesting that many are satisfied with their remote office environment. Hiring ranked bottom (19%), suggesting workforce growth isn't a priority for IT currently.

(Fig. 1) What are your top IT priorities this quarter? Cybersecurity (58%), reducing costs (50%), workflow automation (50%), business transformation (45%), cloud infrastructure (40%), Innovation (32%), data analytics/business intelligence (31%), business continuity/ data recovery (27%), remote work enablement (22%), hiring (19%).

87% of IT leaders report that their priorities are at least mostly the same as the previous quarter (fig. 2).

(Fig. 2) How are these top priorities different from last quarter? They're exactly the same (16%), they're mostly the same (71%), they're mostly different (10%), they're completely different (3%).

Seeing as cybersecurity is the top priority for most IT leaders, it follows that security-related tools would top shopping lists. Data security (48%) and Identity and Access Management (48%) tools are the most sought after (fig. 3).

(Fig. 3) Which tools are you considering purchasing this quarter? Data security (48%), Identity and Access Management (IAM) (48%), Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML)(41%) data analytics/business intelligence (37%), Remote desktop (23%), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) (22%), SaaS Management Platform (SMP) (21%) Low-code/no-code (19%), conversational intelligence (17%), Robotics Process Automation (RPA) (12%), VPNs (3%), Other (2%).

The move towards cloud adoption seems set to increase for most businesses, as more than half (56%) of IT leaders anticipate that cloud expenditure will increase this quarter (fig. 4). 

(Fig. 4) How do you expect your cloud and managed services spend to change this quarter compared to last quarter? Increase significantly (8%), increase somewhat (48%), stay the same (41%), decrease somewhat (3%).

Budgets: increases for many but most expecting no change

37% of IT leaders report that budgets are rising through this quarter, with the majority forecasting an increase of < 5% (27%) (fig. 5). 

The majority (40%) are expecting budgets to remain unchanged, however.

(Fig. 5) How is your IT budget changing in this quarter compared to the last quarter? Decrease of >10% (4%), decrease of 5-10% (5%), decrease of <5% (14%), unchanged (40%), increase of <5% (27%), increase of 5-10% (6%), increase of >10% (4%).

Most leaders (33%) expect IT tool expenditure to account for 4-6% of revenue this quarter (fig. 6).

(Fig. 6) In your best estimation, what will be your IT spend as a percentage of revenue this quarter? <1% (13%), 1-3% (28%), 4-6%(33%), 7-9% (13%), 10-12% (9%), >12% (4%).

Most making a >$100K purchase this quarter

IT tools often require significant investment on crucial third party software that can form the basis of operational infrastructure. 

This quarter, almost two thirds of leaders (63%) will make a purchase over $100K (fig. 7).

(Fig. 7) Do you plan on making any IT purchase over $100K this quarter? Yes (63%), no (37%).

Choosing the right tool requires research, possible consultations and internal conversations about which tool from the ever-evolving vendor landscape will deliver the greatest ROI. 

The majority of decision makers (46%) take 1-2 months to finalize these big ticket IT purchases (fig. 8).

(Fig. 8) On average, how long does it take your team to finalize any IT purchases over $100K? <1 month (7%), 1-2 months (46%), 3-4 months (36%), 5-6 months (5%), >6 months (6%).

When it comes to figuring out technology demands within the organization, decision makers largely go on Manager or Director-level requests (67%), followed by Executive-level request. Despite the fact that the end users are the ones on the ground using IT tools and perhaps well placed to notice the gaps, end user request ranked lowest at 33% (fig 9.).

(Fig. 9) How do you plan to evaluate new technology needs for the organization this quarter? Manager or Director-level request (67%), Executive-level request (44%), end user request (33%), other (1%).

For IT leaders making the right choice of the vendor when purchasing a new product is crucial to achieving goals. With the number of vendors and tool categories forever increasing, how do decision-makers choose? Most turn to their peers (74%). After all, who knows more about what tools are needed than those doing similar work under the same pressure? Analyst reports also scored high with almost two-thirds of respondents (63%), suggesting IT leaders are still turning to tried and tested resources (fig. 10).

(Fig. 10) Which resources do you rely on for vendor recommendations? Peer recommendation (74%), analyst reports (63%), technology blogs or publications (55%), online IT communities (53%), social media (e.g., LinkedIn, Twitter) (15%), internet advertisement (9%), other (1%).

As vaccine rollouts begin and lockdowns lift, IT may be navigating the return to the physical office or a hybrid remote/office model. If economies start to grow, budgets may increase, giving decision makers an opportunity to reassess priorities and explore new tools. 

We’ll be tracking how these priorities and budgets shift throughout 2021. See you in Q2.

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