Top Technology Trends for 2021

Gartner Research has released its annual insights around the anticipated strategic technology trends that will most widely be embraced by businesses in 2021. Coming off the back of such an unusual and disruptive year, the nine trends identified will not only drive efficiencies, productivity and profitability. They will also fortify users with the flexibility required to adapt and meet the challenges of COVID-19, and all its upheaval and uncertainty.

Common themes running throughout these trends cover people-centricity, location independence and resilient delivery. Smart adoption of the technologies identified could prove vital to placing a business in the strongest position to overcome further challenges, accommodate ongoing changes, and recover quickly in a post-pandemic world.

 

Internet of behaviors

The internet of behaviors (IoB) is a term that describes the use of data captured via existing technologies, and connecting it to associated behaviors. The IoB can capture information from endless sources including commercial customer data, cash purchases, social media, location tracking and device usage.

It’s a concept that yields the potential to provide organisations with the ability to influence our behaviour. And although it might sound like a terrifying prospect to some, as organisations work to improve the ways their data is collected, interpreted and used, the IoB will continue to impact how businesses interact with people.

While it certainly has its advantages – for instance, monitoring compliance with health protocols during COVID-19 – there are many ethical conversations that need to be had before commercial entities can further and more openly embrace this concept and put it to use. The varying privacy laws across regions will also have an impact on the rate of adoption.

Whatever the outcome, you can guarantee the debate around IoB will gain increased momentum throughout 2021 and beyond. And if Gartner’s prediction proves correct, by the end of 2025 more than half of the global population will be subject to at least one IoB program.

 

Total experience

The tech-savvy amongst us will probably have heard much chatter during the past twelve months about something called the multiexperience. Fundamentally it’s about the expansion of the computer experience from a single point of interaction to incorporate extra touchpoints. This might include blending the likes of virtual and augmented reality with smart technologies and sensors, to create a multi-channel user experience.

Total experience (TX) takes this idea a step further by combining multiexperience technology with the customer, employee and user experience, in order to drive a particular business outcome. This has the potential to improve the experiences of all involved, and provides opportunities to differentiate from the competition. 

In the age of COVID-19, this trend will allow businesses to take full advantage of disruptors such as remote working and virtual customer experiences. And a good TX strategy will become increasingly important as our interactions remain increasingly remote and virtual in a post-pandemic world.

 

Privacy-enhancing computation

The most effective privacy-enhancing measures in the current environment will incorporate three distinct means of securing the privacy of your data:

  • a trusted environment in which sensitive data can be processed or analysed
  • a decentralised approach to data processing and analytics
  • the capability to encrypt data and algorithms before processing or analytics begins.

This trend will enable secure collaboration across regions (and even amongst competitors!), without foregoing confidentiality. This is only going to become more vital as companies face an ever increasing level of privacy and noncompliance risk.

If you haven’t already, you should seriously consider assessing all data processing activities within your business that require the transfer of personal or sensitive information. Organisations on the front foot will be those committed to identifying areas of their operations that could benefit from privacy-enhancing computation.

By 2025, Gartner predicts half of all large organisations will have implemented some sort of privacy-enhancing measure for data processing in untrusted environments, or where multiple parties are involved in data analytics.

 

Distributed cloud

Gartner defines the concept of the distributed cloud as “the distribution of public cloud services to different physical locations, while the operation, governance, updates and evolution of the services are the responsibility of the originating public cloud provider.”

Distributed cloud computing is essentially a model that incorporates the physical location of cloud-delivered services, which stands in stark contrast to the traditional idea of cloud services not being attached to any specific location. 

The concept uses elements of the public cloud (known for its ability to support customers across multiple regions), while also drawing in hybrid solutions for the distribution of services via specific physical locations. The big difference here is that the responsibility for all services remains with the public cloud service provider, representing a significant shift away from the virtually centralised public cloud service model.

Distributed cloud creates strategically placed centres or ‘substations’, shared by more than one organisation, bringing cloud access physically closer to the customer than traditional public cloud data centres. It therefore offers a solution to one of the major bugbears of public cloud users i.e. latency frustrations, without foregoing key advantages associated with the cloud including flexibility, innovation and support.

 

Anywhere operations

The term ‘anywhere operations’ is used to describe IT infrastructure designed to support customers and enable employees, regardless of location. At the same time, it supports business operations across various sites. Operating under the ethos of ‘digital first, remote first’, anywhere operations are likely to see digital environments increasingly favoured over physical ones, and physical environments enhanced with digital technologies. 

According to Gartner, by the end of 2023, 40 per cent of organisations are expected to have adopted anywhere operations. Access to this type of set-up will become increasingly important as we continue to spend more time working from home and interacting virtually, in a post-COVID-19 world. Over and above this, advantages include improved collaboration and productivity, secure remote access, the incorporation of both cloud and edge infrastructure, quantification of the digital experience, and opportunities for increased automation. All of this will allow for the effective blending of virtual and physical experiences for customers and employees.

 

Cybersecurity mesh

As the concept of ‘anywhere operations’ continues to evolve, and with so many virtual business assets now located outside of the traditional physical security perimeter, the cybersecurity mesh will play an increasingly important role. 

It provides enterprises another tool to enable secure access to all digital business assets, regardless of their location and that of the individual accessing it. Delivered via the cloud, the cybersecurity mesh offers a more responsive security approach through centralised policy orchestration and enforcement. It works to refocus the security perimeter from a physical location, and onto the identity of a particular person or thing. By 2025, it’s thought this system will be supporting more than 50 per cent of the world’s digital access control requests!

 

Intelligent composable business

If the pandemic has taught us anything about effective IT delivery, it is the importance of having technologies in place that can adapt to suit the current situation. An intelligent composable business is one which strengthens its decision-making through access to better information, and is set-up to respond quickly and effectively to it. 

The technologies we use to run our business operations already capture vast amounts of data. It makes sense, therefore, that companies capitalise on this information and look for ways to improve how it is used. Through better access to and augmentation of information, improved insights can be formed, meaning decisions can be made quickly and confidently, making for a more agile business.

 

AI engineering

To date, Artificial Intelligence (AI) projects in business have tended to meet with issues around maintainability and governance. As a result, they have traditionally been viewed as too much of a challenge by many organisations. In fact, Gartner research suggests as few as 53 per cent of AI projects make it from prototype to production.

AI engineering offers a new approach, and one which places AI at the heart of everyday operations, rather than being used for specific projects. A strong AI engineering strategy that incorporates various techniques (which might include anything from machine learning to knowledge graphs!) will ensure businesses have a better grasp on the life cycle management of their AI investments, and enjoy the full range of associated performance, scalability, interpretability and reliability benefits.

At the same time, concerns around governance and AI engineering can be addressed through a commitment to ‘responsible AI’, which is focused on trust, transparency, ethics, fairness and compliance.

 

Hyperautomation

The technology solutions we rely on to run our businesses often comprise a mish-mash of different technologies, introduced independently over time for varying reasons. The fact they are not streamlined, optimised, connected or lean has the potential to bring a host of costly legacy issues that can impact efficiency and agility.

Business-driven hyperautomation hinges on the idea that if it can be automated, then it should be automated. Adopters are committed to thoroughly identifying and automating as many business and IT processes as possible. It’s a trend that has been gathering momentum for some time. However, the pandemic and corresponding necessity for a ‘digital first’ approach has seen more organisations than ever turn to automation to refine, adapt and improve their processes.

The nine technological trends outlined above do not and should not operate independently of one another. Quite the opposite, they should be used strategically in tandem, each strengthening the impact of the other. That way, they can best enable the flexibility that will prove so vital for businesses over the next five to ten years, and beyond. 

The good news is, companies don’t need to go it alone when figuring out which of these trends to adopt and how to adopt them. A good IT consulting partner will provide expert advice on the set up that will best support the specific desired outcomes of your business.

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