As we move into 2021, we’re taking a look at the world of technology and business — and what we can expect to see from the rapidly-adapting and transformational digital world, as it strives to support us through Covid-19.
For many, 2020 will become known as the year when we were grateful for connecting with our friends, family, and our wider community. In 2021, we’re exploring how technologies are set to evolve, how applications will develop and how these will help shape businesses. At a time when digital transformations are changing the way we engage with health, education, shopping, business services and each other.
We’ve seen how technology has been used to bolster and enable connection during lockdowns, including in the areas of:
- Telehealth and telemedicine via doctor-patient video chats, artificial intelligence (AI) avatar-based diagnostics and contactless medication delivery
- Online education and e-learning
- Modern manufacturing, operations and logistics management via industry 4.0 deployment
As many businesses delve into creating and improving their digital experience for their customers, suppliers and teams, we’re taking you through six of the leading technology trends in 2021 that are set to transform business as we know it. And how we can utilise these in our own businesses.
- Tech-Driven Strategies
Amid the current uncertainty, in 2021, business owners and IT strategists are focusing their efforts on exploring the market landscape to spearhead their annual goals with relevant, clear and ambitious decisions that drive future opportunities. Engaging in exercises, including SWOT analyses, are key, with businesses, eager to create competitive advantages and understand potential threats, now more than ever.
Businesses recognise the importance of enhancing their timely and smart decision-making capabilities. Leading from the top by formulating a clear strategy and bringing the whole team onboard, companies can adapt quicker, produce a sustainable and focused market position and commit to a courageous strategic direction.
To achieve this, companies need to integrate their overall corporate and technology strategies. These need to be flexible, nimble and creative to ensure IT strategists are on hand to spot opportunities as they appear and recommend the route forward to realising them. Agility is key, and we show you how to adopt this in your business as more and more of us move to complete or partial remote working. Technological tools can support experienced and knowledgeable IT partners in connecting the dots and producing strategic plans and subsequent results that will grow your business.
To successfully create an agile IT strategy, businesses need to have better access to information, glean vital insights and apply these to their unique environment.
- Personalising the Digital Experience
Online equivalents have replaced traditional face-to-face daily business calendar entries such as networking, meetings, events and conferences. And businesses have faced an uphill climb with implementing these digital solutions in order to stay relevant and appealing to their customers.
Moving into 2021, we see brands focus on this digital-first approach, with more impetus than ever before. Portfolios of products, services and features now often come with e-commerce offerings that combine video, webchat and growing technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR).
But it doesn’t stop there. Companies are also investing in Learning Management Systems (LMS) and other similar solutions to provide training for more sophisticated options in areas including software, electronics and automotive. These LMS offerings bring a tailored approach to video guides, training programmes and branded courses to provide a customised learning experience specific for a business’s customers. Using big data and analytics, a company can track users’ understanding throughout the learning process to develop and improve on a micro level.
As we expect to see digital learning experiences continuing to rise, the word on every business’s lips will be ‘experience’. From e-commerce to post-purchase, today’s complete experience involves a multi-layered, comprehensive approach for customers, employers and users. The ultimate aim is to ensure all moving parts come together to provide a technological solution that maximises the overall experience.
At the heart of the overall digital experience is how businesses can make online more human. Consumers have to adopt digital at a faster than possibly-preferred pace. As a result, companies are trying to balance the need for the convenience and on-the-go benefits of online with the communicative and engaging nature of the physical business environment. It’s a constant balance between making digital more physical and physical more digital. Omnichannel approaches and creating intrigue through human-assisted chatbots, interactive quizzes and games are paving the way to achieve the best of both worlds.
Looking ahead to beyond 2021, by 2022, we expect to see businesses investing and engaging in bespoke digital technologies by exploring human-focused design and digital technology to produce personalised-digital engagement for the mass market.
- Cloud Computing: Expansion of remote working and document management
As businesses are having to remain agile to keep pace with the digital-first landscape, more and more businesses are migrating to the cloud. Cloud computing is what gives your teams anytime, anywhere access. Using a simple internet connection, employees and entire supply chains are able to work remotely. There are various ways this can be achieved, so a bespoke and comprehensive strategy will need to be produced with your IT provider. Hailed as a cost-effective and efficient way to move their core assets, once transferred, businesses can then use these to form the basis of their strategy for innovation, sustainability and growth.
Business has taken one sizable shift, with many businesses needing to move from traditional on-site workspaces to mainly working from home. Unsurprisingly, this has a big knock on effect on organisational priorities and goals. Yet, it also provides immense opportunities. By embracing and working with an IT strategist and knowledgeable practitioner to implement cloud-based technology, businesses can modernise their technology systems to meet their core business needs and future objectives. Cloud-based technology generates data by tools and platforms, which provides information on how to optimise individual and team performance and customise the employee experience through personalised recommendations, for example.
E-commerce is only growing, and with cloud-based platforms, capabilities are too. Digital transformation will see a considerable surge in the reliance on cloud native technology. Designing technology for business will also centre on how businesses can shift, update and respond in agile ways.
Many businesses are opting for the distributed cloud model. Tipped as the future of cloud, distributed cloud is where cloud services are distributed to different physical locations. With this model, the public cloud provider remains accountable for the operation, overall governance and development of the services provided. This model is appealing to business owners as it enables their business to run with a remote team and systems, without the expense and complexity of a private cloud. It lowers data costs, provides legal assurance, and processes data with minimal technological delays (known as latency).
One big plus of cloud connectivity is document management. The decision-making processes must be documented and kept secure and accessible for all relevant personnel to reach when these are needed. Document management and automation give owners, directors and managers peace of mind that their documents are safe and can still be easily identifiable and reachable to those with access to them.
Document management enables transparency and compliance within business. Solutions such as Net Documents, a cloud-based document and email management service, take all company data and place it in the cloud. It offers a simple and effective way to work collaboratively and provide real-time feedback on any areas for improvement, disruptions and unworkable processes. Businesses are in the know and can then tackle any problems regardless of where their team is working from. This particular solution also optimises security as it creates audit trails and offers secure governance by simplifying storage and document protection.
As many businesses will adopt the digital-first, remote-first approach in 2021, we anticipate a significant rise in the number of businesses implementing solutions like these as increasing numbers of businesses will manage their entire operations and teams remotely place their documents into the cloud. For more information on NetDocuments, check out some information and tips here.
4. Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Automation Implementation
When businesses design their IT strategies, reliable artificial intelligence (AI) engineering solutions, machine learning and industrial automation are set to feature at the top of the agenda in 2021.
With AI front and centre of organisations’ robust strategic focus, businesses will be able to create models that prioritise performance, consistency and scalability.
Tipped as AI 2.0, “edge AI” or “AI on the edge” will make more of an impact in 2021, particularly as businesses will experience sharp changes in traffic relating to Covid-19 lockdowns and home working. The new age of AI refers to a network infrastructure that enables AI algorithms to run on the edge of a network. This means that they will be closer to, or on the devices, that are collecting the data. Edge AI computing helps to retain bandwidth and speed up processing times as the information is closer to both users and devices. With edge AI, data processing no longer has to take place in central locations in the cloud. Latency worries, connectivity loss and associated costs are therefore also reduced with edge AI.
Dubbed as AI engineering, this new IT strategy element enables AI to become mainstream and offer a clear and beneficial route to simplifying and automating operations. Rather than considering each relevant project on its own, it combines multiple AI techniques to maximise efficiency and innovation. It’s also renowned for its responsibility, with AI engineering tackling ethics, transparency, trust, fairness and technology compliance. In 2021, we’re expecting automation to become hyper automation.
The idea that anything that can be automated should be in an organisation will take off in a big way in 2021. Many legacy businesses have long-standing processes and systems that run off a mixture of technologies that do not operate in a clean, specific or connected way. Integrating and streamlining these will be a big area of focus for organisations to avoid expensive, complex and disruptive issues. By combining accountability and automation, businesses can enjoy smart solutions that utilise AI to enable their businesses to innovate and grow.
Smart machine learning (ML) models are also teaming up with the evolution of AI and automation technologies to help businesses quickly and successfully uncover patterns, identify anomalies, predict outcomes, make decisions and create information based on trends and insights.
Looking to 2021 and beyond, ML is ready to support and, in some areas,, take over from human decision-making. Throughout industry, chief data officers, CIOs, data scientists and IT strategists are working hard to innovate beyond traditional data organisation to AI-based decision making.
Data management is undoubtedly getting a makeover. By 2022, the IT industry envisages that some businesses will re-engineer how they handle their data. How businesses capture it, process it and interpret it will be updated. Advanced data capture and analytics are expected to produce connections in various random and cloud-based datasets to enable sophisticated predictive modelling.
- Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) Growth
2020 saw a rise in augmented reality (AR) applications and virtual reality (VR). Contributing to calls for a bespoke and enhanced consumer experience, these technologies offer immersion like no other. These place the user at the centre of activity, with personalisation a key draw.
Industries throughout the business world embrace them as they transform their digital capabilities to support remote working. The ability to communicate globally and collaborate on multiple projects have been supported mainly by AR and VR innovations.
We’re now seeing a whole selection of AR and VR use cases spanning sectors and indicating immersive transformation at its best. The expansion of the 5G network and internet bandwidth is also set to support the rise of AR and VR technologies. AR avatars, AR indoor navigation, remote assistance, mobility AR, AR cloud, eye tracking, facial expression recognition and the integration of AI with AR – it’s all coming in 2021.
- Cybersecurity Takes the Zero Trust Approach
Businesses are worried that with the rise of remote working, they are opening themselves up to scams. Authentication rights and network access are, therefore, at top of the agenda. The first step to bolstering cybersecurity is to identify any common IT security weaknesses or gaps. Equipped with this knowledge, businesses can create a comprehensive, modern and mature strategy that will produce a robust and resilient digital organisation.
Enter: Zero trust cybersecurity architecture. High on the priority list for cybersecurity strategies in 2021, this approach enables businesses to introduce this sophisticated and robust security model. It strives to simplify security management, allow contemporary IT practices and reduce the related security admin and management. It offers a consistent control layer that ensures only those you genuinely want to access your networks can.
With increasing cyber threats appearing, secure network perimeters and virtual private networks (VPN) for remote access do not prove resilient enough in the age of dynamic business workforces. Zero trust architecture engineering with solid and comprehensive design thinking can offer a simple and effective solution to manage and control user access.
This approach to cybersecurity not only reduces management time and hassle, but it also lowers the operational overheads and increases the potential for significant scalability. Onboarding team members and suppliers can also become more secure, efficient and adaptable.
The zero-trust approach in cybersecurity also micro-segments every technological element in your business including networks, data, applications, workloads and other resources. Thus, minimising the number of users and devices that have access to the information.
Cybersecurity mesh is a popular approach in 2021. It enables us to tackle cybersecurity control with distribution and architecture in mind. It lends itself to reliability, adaptability and scalability. In businesses, technology has a traditional security perimeter. A cybersecurity mesh effectively enables this security perimeter to be defined based on a person’s identity or what they are trying to access. This approach allows businesses to share data securely without impacting privacy.
Digital solutions such as cybersecurity mesh that enhance privacy will feature three specific technologies to protect data while it’s in use:
- A trusted environment where sensitive data can be processed or analysed
- Processing and analytics that is performed in a decentralised manner
- Data and algorithms that are encrypted before processing or analytics
How ait Systems can help
As many of the technological developments we will see in 2021 are an evolution of 2020, we’ll see the ongoing impact of Covid-19 influence behaviour and needs within businesses throughout sectors and industries. These behaviour changes will be what spearheads significant business innovation and digital transformation.