Acceleration in ICT virtualisation changes business operations fundamentally

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What fundamental technological developments will help shape the future of businesses in Belgium? Benoît Simon, Enterprise Market Strategy Lead at Proximus NXT, explains.

In theory, things are simple and I am not telling you anything you do not already know. A company's success depends on its ability to adapt to internal and external risks. These might be geopolitical in nature and disrupt supply chains. Still, they could also be macroeconomic issues such as the climate and energy crisis, or organisational problems such as capital restrictions. In ICT, the risks are essentially linked to the rapid emergence of disruptive technologies and access to the skills needed to implement and exploit these.

A company that systematically tackles all these challenges will be more resilient and will stand out through its operational excellence. ICT can play a decisive role in both these objectives, and innovation is essential in this respect. Within a company, innovation can improve productivity, bring greater automation (and therefore reduce the risk of error), enable end-to-end integration of processes and facilitate the transition to new systems.

It is very apparent that innovation cycles are getting shorter and shorter. In less than a year, ChatGPT has attracted 100 million users. In comparison, it took 75 years for the telephone, over 15 years for mobile phones and 5 years for Facebook. This acceleration is even visible if we limit the comparison to recent innovations. ChatGPT had 5 million users after only five days. That took Netflix more than three years.

IT as a virtual service

Virtualisation has undoubtedly contributed to this acceleration. It is a concept that we have seen conquer the ICT world over the last few decades. The emergence of hypervisors has made it possible to virtualise servers and dozens or even hundreds of virtual servers can now run on a single physical machine. This development then continued with the rise of containers. The same thing happened with storage, network components, etc.

In a second phase, all this virtualisation no longer took place in the operators' own data centres, but at external partners. This happened with the rise of the public cloud. The fact that we now have virtually unlimited computing power and storage capacity is based on the virtualisation of the infrastructure that we use for this in the cloud, and encourages businesses to use and consume ICT as a service.

It is thanks to this advanced virtualisation and the possibilities offered by the cloud that the real and virtual worlds can come together. I believe that many companies could benefit from the advantages of digital twins. Some industrial sectors, such as air transport or construction with BIM (Building Information Modeling), are already using it extensively. A digital twin, for example, makes it easy to run simulations without the need for physical models or prototypes. This leads to significant savings in cost and time, not only in the product design phase, but also later on, from production to maintenance.

Cyber resilience

Migration to the cloud brings with it new challenges in terms of data sovereignty, but also the reliability of access and controls. Companies today have a larger digital footprint, and therefore a wider attack surface. While hackers are using AI, among other things, to detect flaws in this footprint, security solution providers know how to respond to this phenomenon by employing AI too.

The result of this is that we are no longer talking about cybersecurity, but about cyber resilience. The basic idea is clear: be ready to resume business as quickly as possible in the event of an incident and to limit the damage caused to the absolute minimum. This is an entirely logical approach, given that 50% of Belgian businesses are expected to experience at least one cyber incident this year.

Data confidentiality in a post-quantum world

My prediction is that within 7 to 10 years, cybercriminals will be able to crack conventional encryption using quantum computers. Various parties – hackers, but also security services – are currently backing up encrypted data with a view to using quantum technology on this data at a later date to recover the encrypted information. In the near future, I am convinced that quantum technology will become accessible to the general public, thanks to the acceleration of IT developments.

In the short term, certain technologies will already make it possible to improve the security of transactions. For example, the use of quantum technologies in data transmission over fibre, such as quantum key encryption, which should provide an extra degree of protection when encryption keys are exchanged. Other technologies such as blockchain can also be used to guarantee the authenticity of transactions between remote parties.

ICT and CO2 emissions

The use of new technologies goes hand-in-hand with the need for sufficient computing power, which in turn requires more and more energy, despite advanced virtualisation. This is certainly a major challenge for the ICT world.

According to a study by Agoria ICT, the IT sector in our country is responsible for 2% of CO2 emissions. At the same time, ICT services can also contribute to reducing emissions, whether by facilitating remote communications, limiting physical operations thanks to digital twins, or optimising the use of resources by exploiting data. IT remains part of the problem, but its potential as part of the solution is far more important.

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