The year ahead: 5 key tech trends for 2021

We highlight the biggest tech trends that IDC expects to play out over the next 12 months — as well as the weak spot that could impact hybrid workforce and business automation efforts.

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The biggest technology story of 2021 will obviously revolve around biotech — as in COVID-19 vaccines — but predicting what lies ahead for information technology is a trickier business.

Rick Villars acknowledged this uncertainty while kicking off IDC’s annual webcast of top 10 tech trends for the global IT industry.

“(COVID-19) has certainly redefined the priorities. It has changed the course of the economy, of the world, of all the pieces in it,” said Villars, group VP for worldwide research at IDC, sounding just a tad Shakespearean in making that pronouncement.

IDC’s overall theme for the year ahead in enterprise IT? Adaptation. That means preparing for the unexpected. Pivoting swiftly yet strategically. Embracing flexibility. Connecting customers — and coworkers — with seamless ubiquity.

While we’ve listed some of IDC’s 10 separate predictions below, we’ve also consolidated some of them to highlight five key tech trends that IDC expects to play out over the next 12 months.

1. COVID fuels IT spending

At the beginning of the pandemic, most tech analysts believed COVID-19 would decimate nearly all IT budget items except for cloud. Now, IDC predicts COVID-19 will accelerate investment in digital transformation this coming year, fuelling $6.8 trillion in IT spending between 2020 and 2023.

According to Villars, COVID-19 exposed the weak spots within existing IT systems, showing organizations exactly where they need to invest in order to stay competitive as the pandemic wears on. Will cloud dominate? Yes, says IDC, predicting:

  • 41 per cent of IT spending will go toward cloud between 2020 and 2023
  • by the end of 2021, 80 per cent of enterprises will put mechanisms in place to shift to cloud-centric infrastructure and applications — a rate twice as fast as the pre-COVID era
  • through 2023, 80 per cent of edge computing investment will be related to work-from-home enablement due to coronavirus

This massive, warp-speed cloud adoption won’t happen without growing pains, Villars warned.

“The big challenge for the next two, three, four years is going to be how do we manage this increasingly diverse set of cloud-based resources and data sets, and do that in a way that is operationally efficient and scalable?”

2. Work-from-anywhere IT

By 2023, IDC predicts 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.

As Villars explained it, this hybrid-by-design work model means employees, regardless of their location — be it factory, field or office — “will all have equal access to information, to resources and to interacting with each other.”

What will that look like?

  • by 2023, enterprises will boost productivity 30 per cent by re-architecting networks to include a ‘branch-of-one’ operating model enabling the same secure application experience they get on-premise
  • by 2024 more than 33 per cent of Global 2000 companies will have deployed smart assistant-driven WFH solutions for frictionless collaboration and higher employee productivity

3. Digital resiliency vs. disaster recovery

tech trends for 2021

In the pandemic era, traditional disaster recovery and business continuity planning just don’t cut it anymore. Digital resiliency is the new goal.

“Companies are rethinking the whole idea of what resiliency means, to be more about adaptation and that rapid response,” said Villars.

Villars described some potential implications for IT departments:

  • IT will need to allocate more resources to evaluating the risks and potential benefits of taking greater advantage of as-a-service-based solutions for infrastructure, data and process resources
  • IT should segment its portfolio of IT/network assets (those you own/operate and those you consume as a service) into priority lists based on business criticality, tangible/intangible brand value and vulnerability to external shock
  • the rise of network admin: IDC predicts that by 2024, “85 per cent of G2000 (organizations) see the network admin as strategic since it involves working with app developers, the CISO office and line of business to ensure business continuity, compliance and resiliency”

4. IT ecosystem overhaul

COVID-19 has upended how enterprises use technology. IDC expects this to spark a complete restructuring of the IT ecosystem:

  • 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

“So we’re not saying that everybody’s going to run away from their existing partners,” Villars clarified. “But they may change what they expect those partners to do and what their value is. And they’ll also be looking at new partners and new providers to be a part of it.”

Villars said this should motivate IT departments to:

  • look for acquisition targets
  • view IT providers as partners “in delivering the digital service to their end customers” rather than as mere vendors of IT products and solutions
  • view IT providers as full partners in running and growing the business
  • involve the CEO, CTO and line-of-business heads in the IT partnering process rather than leaving it up to the CIO

Read more:

COVID-fuelled tech trends that could be here to stay
10 tech trends that will impact your job in 2020
Enterprise networking trends to watch in 2020

5. People still matter

While organizations are scrambling to invest in technologies like cloud, AI and automation, Villars urges them not to scrimp on their greatest asset: human beings. As Villars pointed out, technologies have performed well during this pandemic — but people are the ones who really made it all work.

IDC’s gloomiest prediction is that “through 2023, half of enterprises’ hybrid workforce and business automation efforts will be delayed or will fail outright due to underinvestment in building IT, Sec and DevOps teams with the right tools (and) skills.”

Addressing this weak spot in the midst of a global skills shortage during a global pandemic is going to be … one heck of a challenge. Perhaps that’s why Villars ended with this parting advice for IT teams and leaders: “Always be making sure you’re bringing people and what they’re doing into the conversation.”

Images: structuresxx/iStock; chaofann/iStock

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