The 10 Biggest Tech Trends Businesses Must Be Ready For
Business tech will still be affected by the pandemic through 2021
The ability to adapt to changing conditions was a make-or-break proposition for companies in 2020. Across the board, enterprises had to go digital in a hurry. Leading research and advisory company, Gartner, says going forward, top strategic technologies will continue to be influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Artificial Intelligence is a main theme in continuing to help businesses interpret and forge ahead in our digital future.
Surveying input from top industry experts, here are some of the latest technology trends that will drive business in 2021.
1. A Paradigm Shift for Computing Technologies
Gartner predicts that by 2025, traditional computing technologies using AI will hit a digital wall. New models, such as neuromorphic computing, may provide the answer to AI’s “brittleness” problem. Brittleness is the edge between brilliance and catastrophe in AI programming. It is how an image, altered by a single pixel can be misinterpreted or stickers on a street sign can boggle an autonomous vehicle.
Our human brains can compensate for such anomalies, and so can neuromorphic computing. Emulating the human neural structure, systems being tested by Intel employ 130,000 neurons combined with probabilistic computing to address noise in natural scenes, evaluating, compensating and correcting input.
As the silicon processors of today hit performance, economic and sustainability limits, new solutions will be needed to continue innovation and business growth.
2. The Growth of Cloud Computing and Need for Digital Literacy
Big data, and how companies large and small can take advantage of the asset, have grown massively. Leveraging data allows companies to better understand their customers and to improve their decision-making, gaining an edge on competition. Cloud computing—accessing servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, and intelligence—over the internet offers faster innovation and flexible resources for handling big data and other process needs. Since businesses only pay for what they use, operating costs can be managed as needs change.
The global public cloud infrastructure market is predicted to grow 35 percent to $120 billion in 2021. However, various challenges persist in the chase for faster processing of data, including privacy of user information.
Growing cloud capabilities are not limited to handling big data. Expect to see cloud based “As-a-service” become more widely available to broader range of industries. This an efficient way for to develop, manage and deliver customized applications to businesses without the start-from-scratch cost. Customers are able to use a suite of prebuilt tools to develop, customize and test their own applications. As a Service is the reason AI and robotics are a possibility for just about any size organization. It is not just the cloud giants like Google, Microsoft, Amazon offering As a Service either—startups and spinoffs will give businesses more access to cutting-edge tech with little upfront investment.
Companies are advised to do research and training. Being well versed in the stack of cloud computing services—infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), serverless, and software as a service (SaaS) will make it easier to accomplish business goals. While there are various learning resources out there, Amazon offers free training for researchers wishing to learn more about cloud computing.
3. Internet of Behaviors (IoB)
Combining technologies focused on tracking individuals such as location and facial recognition with data gathering, IoB maps an individual’s behavior and can then predict wants and needs. By 2025, Gartner predicts half the world’s population will be subject to an IoB commercial or government tracking program.
While businesses may see this as a supreme tool to target customers, expect to see ethical and societal debates crop up on IoB in 2021. The stark reality is, even as more awareness occurs, entities are already tracking our every interaction. Personal privacy has passed a tipping point.
Automation has already picked up steam for a variety of business functions from warehouses and supply chains to autonomous vehicles, trucks and ships. AI and Machine Learning will continue to leap forward in this arena, taking people out of the process.
The new buzzword for 2021 is hyperautomation. Businesses that are lagging behind because of outdated or a patchwork of technologies could benefit from an end-to-end system. Combining robotic process automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence, a complete suite of business processes are addressed by hyperautomation. Companies that don’t update may be left behind by competitors with more efficiency and agility.
5. Decentralized Finance
Businesses looking to raise capital or start a new endeavor have been stymied by challenges in capital markets due to economic fallout from COVID-19. In 2021, we’ll see companies and startups look to crowdfunding, blockchain and other decentralized financing options. It may seem odd to consider a business loan made between strangers in different parts of the world via an uploaded “smart contract.” However, these apps built on decentralized blockchain technology (called dapps) are available today.
6. Virtual Interfaces
Retail had to make a major shift when people stopped walking into stores during lockdown. Operations turned to digital technology to replace and increase sales. From virtual “try before you buy” apps and self-service kiosks to customer service chatbots, these tools will continue to be an essential part of consumer shopping behavior going forward.
7. Reevaluating Supply Chains
Even before COVID-19, supply chain disruptions due to global trade tensions caused supply concerns and product shortages. Going forward, expect companies to continue to rethink where they are sourcing and selling goods. Companies are looking at more localized manufacturing and distribution options, also giving producers an opportunity for a smaller carbon footprint.
8. Big Tech Company Woes
At the end of 2020 Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple faced some major turbulence that will carry on into 2021.
Federal regulators and over 45 state prosecutors sued Facebook, accusing the social media giant of illegally stifling competition by buying up rival companies. Some would like to see big tech firms like Amazon broken up.
Tech industry watchers are also wondering how things might change under the new administration. President Biden has supported repeal of Section 230 in the past—legislation that protects social media firms from being responsible for illegal or offensive things users post on them.
Big tech is also under scrutiny for data privacy. California already implemented a strong data privacy act, and we likely will see some efforts toward national policy in the near future. In the meanwhile, Apple implemented new privacy polices that are blocking a significant portion of Facebook ads, causing a public battle between the two companies.
9. Continuation of Remote Workforces
In my related article this month, we explore the rise of telecommuting as a result of the pandemic. Now that companies have put systems in place and see the benefits of a remote workforce, many employees won’t be going back to the office. Dropbox, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter recently committed to work from home programs.
This work place shift opens up a new market for technology applications and equipment. Beyond the basic home office setup of an internet connected computer, collaboration software is already seeing tremendous growth as are smartboards. Also, businesses are looking to better capture data from their teleworking employees to help increase productivity and efficiency.
Security is another pressing issue. Securing company data when there was little outside access was already a significant challenge. Add to that distributed teams logging in via a variety of access points using different types of equipment, and there is a whole new level of security issues to be addressed. A company’s IT person or department was likely not set up to support a primarily remote workforce.
Since industry experts predict continued growth in telework, look for companies to evaluate the tools and resources necessary to increase the benefits of a remote workforce.
10. Sustainability Technology
To the delight of environmentalists, the global pandemic has shed new light on the climate crisis. Many leaders are pledging to “build back better.” Even though many green initiatives were growing before COVID-19, it is more accepted to integrate sustainable technology into business practices. Chalk it up to people taking stock of what is important and prioritizing humanity and the environment. On a more practical side, companies are recognizing the climate crisis could be more financially devasting if not addressed than anything else we have faced.
Scientists believe one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities is burning fossil fuels for transportation. In the coming year we will see new sustainable transportation emerge that could benefit business.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, will continue to improve the practicality of parcel and cargo delivery. We’ll see the emergence of hydrogen fueled aircraft. Also in 2021, we will see an all-electric aircraft developed by Rolls-Royce called the Spirit of Innovation, capable of flying at more than 300mph.
In addition to some remarkable EV passenger vehicles hitting the road in 2021, cities are looking at electrified Autonomous Vehicles (AV) for intercity transportation. In the near future, you could hail an Uber like service, only to catch a ride without a human driver. Currently in the U.S. there are experimental AV programs by the following companies: Waymo in Phoenix; Cruise and Uber in San Francisco; Apple in Cupertino, California. Expect more AV programs, followed by personal electric AVs.
Artificial Intelligence, including human-like computing are becoming more prevalent for all levels of business. This year we may witness a battle explode between tech giant’s drive to track and interpret our every move vs privacy. And we didn’t even talk about what’s hovering in orbit above earth, or mention Elon Musk once. So, I’ll leave you with this short, deep fake video that kind of sums up the New Year of 2021. Now go erase your cookies and fire up your VPN!