For a year that was full of so much uncertainty, 2020 has actually made it easier to predict the biggest enterprise technology trends for 2021.
That’s because COVID-19 turned IT upside down in 2020, and it will continue to shape the sector in 2021. Some tech predictions for this year are almost shoo-ins due to the pandemic.
Cloud will continue to grow. Remote work will become a here-to-stay norm instead of a short-term fix. Digital transformation will accelerate even faster. AI will bring more automation to IT and CX. Healthcare will get more virtual.
If this was a weather forecast, those would be the obvious predictions based on simply glancing outside the window. But what else could play out this year? Here’s a roundup of other crucial tech trends to watch in 2021, courtesy of the IT analyst community.
Supply chain shakeups
Physical distancing has upended supply chain ecosystems, and both the B2C and B2B streams will seek tech-based solutions this year.
In B2C, Deloitte believes manufacturers, retailers and distributors will “extract more value from the data they collect, analyze and share across supply networks. Some of these organizations are exploring opportunities to use robots, drones and advanced image recognition to make physical supply chain interactions more efficient, effective and safe for employees.”
On the B2B front, IDC expects enterprises to seek IT vendors who can serve as strategic long-term partners providing stability and continuity in the uncertain era of COVID-19, not just sellers of disparate tech products and services.
“By 2024, 80 per cent of enterprises will overhaul relationships with suppliers, providers and partners to better execute digital strategies for ubiquitous deployment of resources and for autonomous IT operations,” according to IDC.
As enterprise IT teams remain stretched razor-thin, AI will have to become much more DIY this year.
“User-friendly AI platforms that allow business employees to quickly build models, easily understand and trust their output, and confidently make decisions will be critical in the deployment of AI at a larger scale,” Bain and Co. analysts write in their 2021 forecast.
To deploy and scale AI in a more iterative, efficient way during the next 12 months, enterprises will embrace MLOps, according to Deloitte.
“The era of artisanal AI must give way to one of automated, industrialized insights,” Deloitte suggests. “Enter MLOps: the application of DevOps tools and approaches to model development and delivery to industrialize and scale machine learning, from development and deployment to ongoing model maintenance and management.”
The Internet of Behaviour
Gartner predicts organizations will harness data from wearables and IoT devices specifically to change people’s behaviour.
“The same wearables that health insurance companies use to track physical activities to reduce premiums could also be used to monitor grocery purchases,” Gartner analysts explain. “Too many unhealthy items could increase (health insurance) premiums.”
Researchers at Bain and Co. similarly describe how a company called TrueMotion already uses smartphone data to influence the behaviour of drivers and set their insurance rates.
“(One) of the company’s products uses smartphone sensor signals to detect car crashes and provide context data on accidents. Customers can file a claim from their phones, streamlining the insurer’s claim processes. On TrueMotion’s app, users can see their driver behaviour score and how many times they drove while distracted, hit the brakes too hard or found themselves in dangerous situations.”
AI, CX, UI and UX as brand differentiators
Customer interactions have gone almost entirely virtual due to the pandemic. That means every online customer experience has taken on a boring sameness. In 2021, companies will use CX, UI and UX to stand out from their competitors in a dull digital landscape.
“Organizations must reconsider design, content, audience and the interaction between them to inject greater excitement, joy and serendipity into screen experiences,” Accenture analysts say.
Forrester sees AI-based sentiment detection as a potential CX game-changer this year, predicting customer intelligence (CI) managers “will shift 10 per cent of their budgets” to emotion analytics. Forrester expects the trend to include sentiment analytics of text-based communication as well as tools to analyze customer emotions using biometrics and facial recognition technology.
In the words of Forrester analysts, emotion analytics could give companies a “competitive advantage in the ‘why’ behind consumer behavior, not just the ‘what’ that data analytics addresses.”
Virtual work tech
Solving the Jenga puzzle that is remote work will preoccupy enterprise IT this year. Among the predictions surrounding remote work:
- “By 2023, 75 per cent of G2000 companies will commit to providing technical parity to a workforce that is hybrid by design rather than by circumstance, enabling them to work together separately and in real time.” This will include AI ‘smart’ assistants for WFH staff, plus re-architected networks to enable a ‘branch-of-one’ operating model giving remote staff the same security and application performance they enjoy on-premise. (IDC)
- HR will deploy workforce management technology to accurately monitor employee absences and availability (both in-office and WFH) in real time and immediately adjust staffing levels as needed. (Bain and Co.)
- One in four remote information workers will receive help from software bots, robotic process automation and AI,while some frontline workers will receive help from physical robots when physical distancing isn’t possible. (Forrester)
From what I could tell, one of the hardest lessons enterprises learned from the 2020 pandemic was the need to invest in EX (employee experience), not just CX (customer experience). In 2021, let’s hope that lesson translates into initiatives that make all workers safer, healthier and more productive, wherever their workplaces are.