Trends 2021

2021: A bluffers’ guide to what may happen in technology

Future-gazing in a time of pandemic, regime change, populism and wave after wave of new technologies. Piece of cake.

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Trends 2021

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Well, what a great year it’s been for everybody, so long as by ‘everybody’ we mean Zoom shareholders, Jess Bezos and Joe Biden. Usually, the end of December is “the most wonderful time of the year”, especially for hacks asked to churn out 500 words on what’s going to happen next year. You can’t go far wrong and if you do, nobody will notice because they’ve been at the eggnog. Letting daylight in on magic for just a second, here’s the MO: lists, bullets, strong opinions, pub. And this year many of us maybe won't even get the pub, which rather takes away the fairy-tale ending.

In this space last year, I failed to mention a pandemic shutting down businesses, occasioning massive IT disruption and the complete re-engineering of how IT and technology serve we wage slaves. My bad. This time around, calling 2021 is as slippery a task as juggling eels but these pixels will look lonely without some wordage on top, so let’s go hard or let’s go home. And we’re all sick of home now, aren’t we?

Transformation everywhere

I think it’s going to be a year when smart companies innovate their way out of a tight spot. They already accelerated rather than paused digital transformation and should double-down in 2021 because there’s no viable alternative. So, fresh apps, portals, supply chains, channels to market and beyond it is, because if you think change is tough, bankruptcy is 10 times worse.

AI, let’s go, to paraphrase The Ramones

AI has been doing the alluring dance of the seven veils for years now but 2021 is the right time for its eagle-flight into the mainstream, if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor. The ecosystem has been built and now’s the time to plough in resources, equipped with case studies, best practices and knowledge of how to avoid what happened to those that went in early.

Wellness is real

Even the most old and old-fashioned of us must now have had our cerebellums permeated with the obvious recognition that mental health is a key part of how we function. Many companies in the lockdown created sessions and provided apps and tools that helped their people stay positive and happy during lockdown. It’s OK not to be OK, OK? In 2021 there’s really no excuse for making sure you share that.

Multi-cloud management

Maybe the biggest technology opportunity available to CIOs today is to put the smorgasbord of deployment models into order. The ability to manage on-prem, in private clouds, public clouds and co-lo facilities from the fabled single pane of glass must become reality. Ideally, we need to be able to switch workloads with a flick of a (software) switch too.

Schrems II

Missing the pulse of the throbbing headache that accompanies another data protection law change? Feeling a sense of loss over the salad days of Sarbanes-Oxley or GDPR? Fear not, there’s lots of complex, opaque, goalpost movement and IT implications in the Schrems II case, and it’s coming to you in bucketloads in 2021.

An on-prem bounce-back

If and when we have a post-pandemic pause in 2021, don’t be surprised if some of the cloud apps get moved onto corporate servers. Security, governance and an inability to handle new threat vectors mean that some companies will vouch for a return to the old order. As for ‘the new normal’ with its implication that pandemic life in IT continues as it was during the pandemic after the bug is squashed? I very much doubt it.

Rules of the road for remote working emerge

We can’t have a return to offices without some structures and guidelines in place or we will see deserted offices on Fridays and Mondays and a collapse in ad hoc meetings and collaboration. It’s likely that more of us will work from home: so be it but let’s retain offices as crucibles of inventiveness and camaraderie. To do so, we need rules and controls on who works where when and how. Also, expect progressive companies to grant more tools to get the job done: think printers, security tools, reliable bandwidth capacity and ergonomic furniture.

Lots of M&A

Many small tech firms will have been hurt by Covid; many large companies have surged amid the cranage. Carrion, meet crow.

An end to US immigration woes

Tech companies depend on open borders and H1B visas to hook the talent that makes them competitive. That’s why it was so absurd to see the blunt instrument of travel bans being used in the land of the free. These won’t happen under the incoming president and the US will once again have an advantage over many rivals.

And, as is traditional, what about a few trends that won’t shift? 5G cellular is clever tech and it will be huge but there’s no need to rush to it. Ditto, autonomous cars. I also can’t see changes on freedom of speech on social networks. Plus ça change and all that, as M. Karr almost said.