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Emerging Technology Trends to Watch in 2021

Remote work and automation will flourish in 2021, among other interesting trends.

As the end of the year approaches, we go through the impressive work market leading industry analysts have done to bring us the latest reports on technology trends that we should watch in 2021.

Emerging technologies as well as other young technologies have led the way businesses have taken to advance and implement their digital transformation throughout the decades. The ones that follow, are some of the trends that will shape the way we work and live next year and beyond. 

Those of us who have been following industry analysis trends for over a decade know the importance of staying tuned with what is happening in all spheres of technology.

2021 will mark the start of a decade that will require CIOs to both respond to digital acceleration and proactively manage uncertainty. The 2020's Covid-19 pandemic has helped us all become very much acquainted with uncertainty. It has also shown us the importance of technologies that we thought were more developed than what they perhaps are. Such is the case of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

According to market research company Forrester Research, rapidly changing consumer trends, complex security concerns, the ethical use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the increasing impacts of climate change will drive businesses to incorporate systemic risk into their long-term planning.

The Forrester report Top Trends and Emerging Technologies, Q3 2020 highlights important trends for the upcoming year, and organizes emerging technologies into seven key domains that will play a big role in accelerating this shift:  

  • Artificial Intelligence 

  • Business automation and robotics

  • Enterprise risk management

  • Human experience and productivity

  • New computer architectures 

  • Next-generation communications

  •  Zero Trust security

Key trends include:

Rising demand for ethical AI

In the past, firms that adopted machine learning and other Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies paid little heed to their ethical impact. Today, however, values-based consumers and employees expect companies to adopt AI in a responsible fashion.

Over the next few years, firms will deliberately choose to do business with partners that commit to data ethics and adopt data handling practices that reflect their own values as well as their customers' values.

Recasting of automation roadmaps

Covid-19 is changing firms' automation agendas rapidly toward back-office processes and business resilience. Intelligent automation will represent the infusion of robotic and digital process automation with pragmatic AI and low-code tools.

These technologies will help businesses become more efficient and resilient while expanding their operations.

Moving toward hyperlocal business operations

In the next decade, large enterprises will improve their ability to operate hyperlocally, with regional mid-size businesses growing and expanding to new geographies.

Organizations will need to design architectures that can strategically distribute customer engagement and business operations systems to important geographic regions while retaining centralized technology management benefits. Zero Trust security will help clients navigate this shift.

Driving innovation everywhere using cloud-native technologies

Emerging cloud-native technologies, born from open source and incubated in public clouds, drive fast innovation --and in more locations than just the public cloud.

From 2021 and over the next five years, cloud-native technologies such as container platforms and serverless computing will herald a new era of distributed enterprise software--from cloud providers, edge providers, and software vendors alike.

Shifting cloud strategies toward the edge

Interest in edge computing has been historically tied to the Internet of Things (IoT). In 2020, innovations in next-generation communications, cloud-native technologies, and edge computing architectures have come together to create breakthroughs in cloud-to-edge integration.

Over the next three to five years, firms will shift their cloud strategy to include more edge services from more vendors, challenging public cloud vendor market dominance.

According to Brian Hopkins, VP and principal analyst at Forrester, the recipe for successful tech innovation is changing. "The strategies that worked in the 2010s will not work in the 2020s. Firms that make big bets on new business models, new ways of working, and new talent will be more adaptive and resilient to the disruptive forces that will characterize the 2020s. To sprint forward, CIOs must renew their organization's resolve to digitally transform and turn these efforts into must-have foundational investments."  

Employee experience: Remote work will permanently increase  

Also, predictions for 2021 according to Forrester Research's principal analyst David Johnson, include flourishment of remote work, automation, and HR tech. "Employee experience in 2021 will be defined by long-term remote work and crisis management. Success will pretty much depend on the strength of an organization's employee experience (EX) strategy as well as technology investments." 

Remote work will permanently increase to 300 percent of pre-pandemic levels. Johnson says that fewer than one-third of companies conduct employee experience surveys at least quarterly, and only slightly more have a voice-of-the-employee program --both of which are foundational for employee experience initiatives.

He says that "when the pandemic hit, two-thirds of organizations were effectively blind to what their employees were experiencing or what they needed to stay engaged in their work."

According to Johnson, in 2021, "companies will need to bolster their EX initiatives even more just to keep their employees engaged as they enter the second year of the pandemic. He says that "the challenges that were manageable in the short term, such as maintaining productivity as their people suffer burnout, escalate intensely as these unexpected conditions lead to crisis fatigue."

According to David Johnson, in the future, most companies will employ what Forrester calls an "anywhere-plus-office hybrid” model in which more people will work outside the office most of the time.

While there is no clear end point to the pandemic yet, the number of employees working remotely will begin to dwindle, eventually settling in at 300 percent of pre-pandemic levels at the minimum.

In other words, this means that with that many people working remotely long-term, companies will need to rethink what that experience is like --not just from a technology and environment perspective but also from leadership, change management, and career-growth perspectives.  

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