Big data and business intelligence will continue to be at the top of mind for IT leaders as we head into 2016, according to new research from TEKsystems.

In its just-released annual IT forecast, TEKsystems found that business intelligence and big data holds the number two spot for technology topics that will have the biggest impact on the enterprise in 2016, a repeat of the 2015 findings. Business intelligence and big data had held the number one spot in 2013 and 2014, but IT security has risen to take over the top spot in the past two annual studies.

Information Management spoke with Jason Hayman,TEKsystems research manager who runs the annual forecasts, for more insight into what is in store around big data and business intelligence. We also wanted to know what is happening with IT budgets in 2016, and how confident IT departments are in meeting the demands of the business.

Information Management: Your study finds that more IT leaders expect budgets to 'stay the same,' with a decline in those expecting a budget increase. What are the top factors driving IT spending?

Jason Hayman: In our 2014 IT forecast we saw a pronounced spike in expected spending that indicated organizations were finally spending post-recession on neglected legacy systems and other areas of infrastructure that suffered when the economy was down. What we’ve seen since then is a stabilizing of spending expectations as organizations get return on those investments.

The increased percentage of IT leaders who expect their budgets to stay the same next year reflects this “steady state” that the IT department is experiencing in terms of a natural cycle of IT investment, implementation and utility, and then possibly another spike in investment down the road.

Another factor contributing to this is decentralized spending. Fifty-eight percent of IT leaders expect a functional area other than IT to spend the most on technology next year. Despite the expectations of IT budgets to stay the same, other parts of the business are taking on more technology spend.

This goes to show how important technology is to the overall business—IT is not losing momentum in the enterprise, but the IT department is losing a measure of control over overall organizational technology.

IM: Confidence by IT to meet business goals has also dropped some. What are the primary reasons cited by survey participants, and according to your sense of it?

JH: Overall confidence in IT’s ability to support organizational objectives has dipped slightly for the first time in IT Forecast history. Confidence in IT’s ability to meet core IT demands is very healthy, indicating that IT’s internal house is in order. But, the line of sight may be limited to more ‘keep the lights on’ types of demands since only about half of IT leaders are confident and nearly a quarter are unconfident in their ability to support new initiatives in 2016.

Because of decentralized technology spending, IT has less control of which new initiatives are funded and when they happen, contributing to the uncertainty.

IM: Security and big data remain the top two impact areas in IT. Please expand on why participants continue to cite these two areas every year.

JH: With more IT initiatives spread throughout the enterprise, organizations are changing the way they look at security. As a critical underlying component of all initiatives, it is imperative that security be approached not as a monolithic function embedded within centralized IT, but as an ongoing, continuous exercise. Security can’t just be the IT department’s concern anymore; other lines of business must be cognizant of how their behaviors can put the company at risk.

Big Data likewise drives business goals across lines of business and functional areas. Part of the technology spend that is moving away from IT and into other functional areas is a result of other parts of the business looking to harness the power of Big Data. These functions are looking for ways to increase efficiency, gather new insights and improve processes. The many projects and initiatives its outcomes serve are a driving factor in its ranking as one of the consistent top areas of impact.

IM: With perhaps slightly declining IT budgets, how will that impact needs in the data and security areas cited above?

JH: In addition to budget from the IT department, some spend will likely come from areas across the enterprise depending on who owns that piece of the project. This is a key reason why organizational alignment is so critical. Because technology is no longer solely owned by core IT, other areas of the business are gaining responsibility for their technology initiatives’ maintenance and outcomes.

The majority of IT leaders expect budget to stay the same, and the percentage of IT leaders expecting budget decreases is down 4 percent. In light of the decentralized nature of IT spending across the organization, evidence indicates that spending is shifting rather than decreasing.

IM: In 2013 big data and analytics pros made the top list of most difficult to find hires, but they haven't shown up in the top five since. What is your sense of demand for these professionals?

JH: In 2013, Big Data initiatives were still relatively new for the enterprise. At a time when most organizations were likely just getting their Big Data initiatives off the ground, they were building up their teams and brining that data analytics skill set in this kind of role for the first time. A sense of immediacy around getting Big Data projects off the ground before the competition may have also driven up demand.

Now that these projects are implemented, acquiring Big Data skills is less of an imminent priority, compared to skill sets like security which has risen up the hardest-to-fill ranking for the past four years. Demand is still certainly high for these skill sets as organization continue to turn their data into actionable insight. As evidenced by the amount of technology spend that sits outside of IT some of these skills could also be hired by other lines of business and not always the responsibility of IT.

It’s also worth noting that as a list of the “hardest-to-fill” skill sets, it’s not to say that Big Data analytics roles are not difficult to fill—they might simply be relatively less difficult to fill compared to other priority roles.

IM: What were the most surprising results of the study in your mind?

JH: Salary expectations were the most surprising data points to come back, as only about a half of IT leaders expect to increase salaries for their staff—but there are some of the hardest-to-fill IT roles. There’s clearly a disconnect between needing critical skills and being willing to pay for them.

Of the IT leaders who expect to increase IT salaries next year, most were only expecting a cost of living increase in the range of 5 percent or less. That was certainly unexpected. Especially since technology spending is moving to other functional areas, you would expect that salary increases would ramp up, but that doesn’t look like it will be the case.

IM: What do you think are the most important messages to come out of the study for IT leaders with regard to data analytics and information security?

JH: The core four technology trends that have been at the top of most priority lists the last several years, security, Big Data, cloud and mobility, are in many respects dependent on one another for success. Big Data and security may be the most heavily intertwined.

Failing to secure an organization’s data and getting victimized by a data breach is no longer simply an embarrassing episode that the company’s PR team is asked to fix. A data breach can result in the complete financial ruin for the company and individuals, jail time for senior leaders, even blackmail from terrorist organizations. The threats are very real and attempting to harness the value of Big Data initiative can only increase the risk. Internal company data and external resources are married together to provide real-time access to sensitive data and information across the enterprise, making security absolutely critical.

Because of the increasing breadth and depth of cyber risk, organizations are fundamentally shifting the way they look at security. CISOs have bigger pull in the C-suite than ever, and security is now a board-level issue. Like security, Big Data’s consistency as a top ranked area of impact indicates that it isn’t yet fully mastered or understood. As opposed to mobility, which is so ubiquitous that it’s baked into the fabric of the organization, Big Data still needs to show tangible return on investment.

Whereas a couple years ago, organizations were focused on Data hygiene and getting different systems to “talk” to each other in order to aggregate data, they are now figuring out the business takeaways from these Big Data projects. What is the data saying? I don’t think we’ll see Big Data falling from the top five any time soon, as it is playing a key role in how organizations better understand, target, and engage with their customers. Gartner recently stated that CEOs expect 41% of their revenue to come through digital channels by 2019, almost doubling since 2014, where only 22% of total revenue was digitally attributed.

Data and the ability to leverage it towards the customer experience underpin all of that. Given how many people, systems, functions, partner organizations etc. will access all that data, security has become a hot topic for not just CIOs, but CEOs as well. Target and Sony are just the biggest examples of many where the potential of new technologies was overshadowed by their risks.