Everyone’s a pundit this time of year, and I’m no exception. Let’s start with three key themes from 2016 that will drive new trends this year: Public cloud, the growing data landscape, and shifts in application development.

Public Cloud is Mainstream. Now What?

As predicted by industry pundits in CIO Magazine, public cloud adoption hit a critical point of maturity last year. Digital businesses are increasingly looking to public cloud for the scale, agility and elasticity it affords. Gartner says that enterprises are leaving behind the cloud “experimentation” stage. With cloud going mainstream, businesses are now seeking long-term strategic partnerships with broad-based providers of cloud technology and services.

What’s ahead: the mainstreaming of initiatives to help IT deliver and navigate in a cross-cloud world while beginning to redefine the role of private cloud. As cloud strategies mature, businesses will look for breadth in a cloud service provider’s portfolio, including support for cross-cloud environments and a strategy that makes “cloud first” a reality. From where I sit, that means more than moving workloads from data center to public cloud and back again; it requires a unified management platform that focuses on orchestration for the high levels of responsiveness (even anticipation) required in this dynamic environment. And it makes cloud operations more important, particularly the automation that delivers services across clouds and between applications and infrastructure.

So, public cloud has gained its place in the enterprise. What will play out in 2017 is the role of the private cloud in response to that. What’s clear in this new era is that cross-cloud management is essential. What’s required is a common operating environment for both private and public clouds, so that developers and line of business gain the freedom they demand, and IT gets the cost containment and control it requires. Cloud is not the end of the data center; in fact, its centrality as a place of orchestration and monitoring becomes even more necessary.

(What are we doing in this regard? Check out the Azure and AWS connectors in the latest release of vRealize Automation.)

Data+Analytics=Brand: What does that mean for IT?

This is the year that businesses well outside “tech” truly become, in practice, software companies. GE, Coca Cola, Nike and many others have thrown their weight behind a software-defined approach to business through IT that’s modern, flexible and agile across multiple clouds. While that journey is still in its early days, software is what enables these huge brands to create experiences that that build lifelong customer relationships.

If we are in the midst of a new industrial revolution, it’s defining element this time is not coal or oil, but data. When you think about the need for digital businesses to connect with their customers in meaningful ways, we see that when that mounting universe of data combines with increasingly powerful analytics, companies learn new ways to build trust and differentiate their brands. That’s why all this data matters, and public cloud excels at delivering the “burst” capacity in bandwidth and storage that’s needed to run those analytics, but automation is imperative to manage workloads and optimize their placement.

cloud management

Hybrid Cloud Gets Easier. For whom?

This was a prediction from the pundits rounded up for the CIO article.  It’s true that moving workloads between private and public clouds has gotten easier; indeed, it’s now doable by less technical people and is accessible enough that line of business and sometimes developers are likely to run around IT (container-based application development is another big driver to public cloud, and I’ll be using this blog more in 2017 to address what this means).

All well and good, but it makes more urgent the need for IT to safeguard data and assets through policy-based management to automate that movement without human intervention. The need to simplify operations with comprehensive visibility across on-premise, SaaS and cloud-native applications, physical infrastructure components and public clouds, already more than a “nice to have,”—will become an operational imperative; in a hybrid world, IT is on the hook more than ever.

Finally, not everything will go to public cloud. Some workloads are actually more expensive to run in the public cloud (We’ll be publishing the results of some research on this topic later this year).

So hybrid cloud has gotten easier as the roles and best use cases for public and private are better defined. But Cloud in and of itself is a source of huge innovation and that means constant change. Enterprises must continually assess what mix of cloud resources best fits their own continually changing digital business. In that sense, 2017 will be a year of operations refinement and optimization across the enterprise.