The end of the year is always a good time for looking back on what happened during the year while reflecting on the trends of the coming year. Reviewing the IT trends of the next year is also a good basis for planning IT projects, including investments in relevant infrastructures and services. Nevertheless, predicting the future is always difficult, as things rarely evolve in a linear fashion and unexpected events occur. As a prominent example, 2020 did not turn out as predicted during the last weeks of 2019. The COVID19 pandemic outbreak has shifted the focus of IT investments and priorities. 2020 was undoubtedly the year of digital infrastructures, which become the main pillars of economic activity worldwide. Likewise, IT Managers and CIOs (Chief Information Officers) saw their roles changing, as they had to innovate on several fronts and to drive activities in sales, marketing, human resources, business continuity, and other areas.
2020 is expected to leave its shadow in 2021. The pandemic is not yet over, and companies are still trying to define and implement the “new normal” i.e., how they will operate post-COVID19. Furthermore, the 2020’s digital acceleration is expected to continue in 2021. This will boost the adoption of cutting-edge IT technologies, which were already in the foreground, yet projected to have a slower evolution. Moreover, an increased number of companies is likely to ride the wave of digital transformation, as 2020 has proven that physical activities are set to be reduced in favor of digital ones.
During the last couple of years, many enterprises invested in automation technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Machine Learning (ML), and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Likewise, there has been a rising number of Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) deployments in industrial environments, including for example drones, industrial robots, and Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs). These deployments have helped enterprises to validate and evaluate the economic benefits of increased automation while providing them with opportunities for understanding human and social issues (e.g., employees’ resistance). Therefore, 2021 will be a year of maturation of automation deployments, including their transfer from the realm of pilots and small-scale systems to larger-scale deployments in production environments. 2021 is likely to build a basis for a shift towards hyper-automation, which could lead to substantial productivity improvements.
Despite the rising number of enterprises that have started their digital transformation journeys, there are entire sectors that are lagging. This is for example the case in industrial sectors (e.g., oil & gas, mining) where IT is still having an auxiliary role, while most enterprise data are still underexploited. The Coronavirus crisis could act as a catalyst for the digital transformation of these sectors, as it unveiled the importance of having trusted, scalable, cost-effective, and high-performance IT infrastructures. Specifically, an increased number of industrial enterprises will actively engage in digital transformation activities in 2021. This engagement will take different forms: Some will establish a Digital Transformation division that will centralize the digitalization of activities under a Digital Transformation Manager (DTM). Others will take more focused approaches such as data-driven transformation initiatives that will be supported by proper Data Analytics centers and divisions. Beyond industrial enterprises, smaller enterprises will also increase their digital activities. For instance, the number of retailers that will offer an e-commerce channel will increase substantially. Likewise, a “Buy” button will be placed in almost every product or service that is presented or promoted on-line.
As digital channels become ubiquitous and easily accessible, enterprises will start competing on the quality of the user experience. This is already happening based on conventional UI/UX technologies such as personalized dashboards and ergonomic interfaces. In 2021, enterprises will start offering more advanced features based on technologies like deep personalization and Augmented Reality (AR). Deep personalization techniques will be powered by AI to offer individualized marketing messages to customers, as a step towards mass customization of marketing activities. On the other hand, AR technologies will break the time and space barriers in accessing the physical product, towards a digital experience that resembles physical shopping as much as possible. In this context, new IT-related roles are likely to emerge in 2021, such as creators of User Journeys based on AR technology. The development of such journeys will become a core competency for some companies, which will set them apart from their competitors.
COVID19 led companies to apply teleworking policies at scale. Entire business units were able to operate with only a fraction of employees being present in the office. Moreover, enterprises gained practical insights on the benefits of massive teleworking, including for example reduced operational costs and improved environmental performance, without any essential loss in productivity. Therefore, teleworking is already considered a part of the post-COVID19 new normal. This trend will be reinforced and extended in 2021, based on the advent of “Anywhere Operations”, a term recently introduced by Gartner. Specifically, enterprises will become ready to support employees, customers, and business partners to interact with their systems and services, regardless of time and their location. “Anywhere Operations” go beyond the conventional vision of a Digital Firm. They will virtualize fully IT and business operations and will give complete freedom and flexibility to all relevant stakeholders (e.g., customers and employees).
In recent years, the agile Continuous Development and Integration (CI/CD) paradigm has dominated software development and deployment activities. Likewise, the DevOps model is the prevalent software and operations engineering paradigm. In 2021 these activities will be extended to other aspects of enterprise software development. For instance, the number of DevSecOps and AIOps projects will proliferate. DevSecOps will facilitate software teams to embrace security requirements across the entire software lifecycle, while at the same time accelerating the implementation of security decisions and actions (e.g., making daily patching of critical software products possible). Similarly, the AIOps model enables the production of data-driven insights about how to optimize the software development lifecycle and how to enable data-driven infrastructure management. Overall, software product development will become more intelligent and secure, while remaining automated and effective.
The shift from conventional licensed models to pay-per-use models has signaled a significant change in the way services are priced and offered to customers. Pay-per-use models have provided more flexibility, even though they cannot always guarantee that customers get the value they want. Thus, 2021 might be a turning point for a new shift from use towards value. Specifically, pricing models driven by the ability of the vendor or consultant to meet certain business outcomes are likely to emerge. After all, businesses care more about business targets than about IT performance and use. This new shift in the pay structure of IT products and services will introduce significant changes in the planning and budgeting of IT projects. The change will not happen overnight: It may take several years to become implemented at scale, yet it might start in 2021.
The COVID19 era unveiled a need for a more scalable provision and delivery of IT services. At the technical level, this will signal a proliferation of cloud deployments. In 2021 many enterprises, including Small Medium Businesses, will realize their shift to the cloud. However, scalability is not only about infrastructure. Rather it entails the provision of a host of services like software development and integration. The latter span a wide range of areas from the connectivity of devices to the implementation of deep learning algorithms. 2021 will be a year where IT consulting firms will scale up their services portfolio towards meeting clients’ needs across different industries. This portfolio expansion will not be limited to the world’s most prominent IT consulting firms. It will rather extend to medium-sized consultants as well.
At the dawn of 2021, we hope that the new year could be much better than in 2020. However, as 2020 was full of surprises, 2021 may have its own unexpected events as well. Business managers, IT Directors, and CIOs must build on 2020’s lessons and prepare for delivering better, more scalable, and more cost-effective IT services. In this direction, they have better consider some of the above trends. These trends are likely to impact how IT benefits businesses not only in 2021 but also in the years to come.
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