The pandemic has forced many organizations to reconsider their projects for the rest of the year — and beyond. While a lot of plans have been put on hold, some companies have elevated IT training to a priority project. According to the 2020 Netwrix IT Trends Report, 38% of CIOs and IT directors now plan to invest in the education of IT staff, compared to 20% who had it on their top five list before the pandemic.

We asked Ilia Sotnikov, VP of product management at Netwrix, to discuss this and some of the other IT trends revealed in the report.

Why organizations are prioritizing investment in IT staff education

It’s no secret that IT skills are in short supply; however, with millions of additional employees now working from home, there’s been a dramatic increase in the need and shortage of these skills. “We have seen organizations moving their infrastructures to the cloud in a rush with the ultimate goal of ensuring business availability,” Sotnikov says. He notes that once the pandemic hit, IT teams had to purchase and start working with new technologies under extreme pressure.

“And they will have to continue supporting it while many organizations are in so called ‘hybrid mode’ with many of the employees still working remote.”

But most organizations won’t be able to move forward until their IT teams acquire the necessary level of skills. And there’s another factor driving companies to prioritize training. “Consider the number of breaches that were recently reported around data leaking from misconfigured cloud storage or other services.” Sotnikov says these types of incidents help IT leaders become painfully aware that a lack of knowledge can be costly.

But not all organizations are prioritizing training

Although 38% of CIOs and IT directors have IT training high on their lists, that percentage represents much less than half of the organizations surveyed. And it may not necessarily be a result of negligence. “A lot of companies are in a tough situation and IT teams are under pressure to review and reduce operational costs,” Sotnikov explains. He believes that it can be difficult for IT leaders to justify spending money in the current economy. “Also, IT education takes the time and effort of the employees, and when you combine these factors, this is not something some organizations can afford right now.”

Trends by organization size

So, was there much variance in trends depending on the size of the organization? Among companies with up to 5,000 employees, the top three IT priorities are focusing on network security, focusing on data security, and raising cybersecurity awareness among remote employees.

“Organizations with 5,001 to 10,000 employees showed the largest increase in security trainings for employees, from 33% at the end of last year to 64% right now,” Sotnikov says.

However, the trend is different among larger enterprises. “They have more complex IT projects on their radar, such as digital transformation and data privacy.” And there’s a reason why they’re focusing on these areas. “Investment in both of them could help adapt business processes to the new situation faster and prevent organizational compliance failures.”

That’s because regardless of the pandemic, these organizations know they need to comply with privacy legislations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). “Also, larger companies likely have more legal staff, so they pay closer attention to new regulations and associated risks of non-compliance.”

U.S. trends vs. global trends

Among countries, the survey doesn’t show critical differences in the most common IT priorities. However, Sotnikov says the U.S. seems to have adapted well to remote work — more so than some other countries. “If we look at France, we see that many organizations are leaving strategic projects, such as digital transformation or IT automation in favor of employee education, cloud migration, data privacy and IT hiring.” And when looking at the priorities that have increased over the past months, he sees a sharp contrast. “We can assume that many French organizations were not ready to run their business digitally, unlike the U.S.”

Other interesting trends

The survey also reveals trends by industries. For example, in the education sector, data security, employee cybersecurity awareness, and automation of manual IT processes have decreased in importance as a result of the pandemic.

In the healthcare industry, regulatory compliance has dropped in importance.

Finance organizations have placed a lower importance on data privacy.

Government agencies have put automation of manual IT processes and cloud migration on the back burner.

Manufacturing has shifted away from data privacy and automation of IT processes.

In the retail and wholesale sector, data security has decreased slightly in importance, but it’s still in the top two priorities.