9 tech trends that could dominate business in 2021 and beyond

The top technology trends are people centric, location independent, and provide resilient delivery.
Feature Tech Trends 2021 Panel

Forecasting is never an exact science, and we need to look no further than generations of beleaguered meteorologists to know that the further out we try to predict things, the less likely they are to actually happen the way we predict them.

Add to the mountain of evidence 2020, the year which started out normally enough and then went completely off the rails before the first quarter was even over. Still, enough time has passed during the COVID-19 pandemic that some early predictions about 2021 aren’t completely implausible. Certainly, it seems safe to say that technology, already a vital component of nearly everything we do before the pandemic, will play an even larger role in 2021 as professionals remain at work remotely, companies continue to eschew in-person events in favor of safer, more certain virtual gatherings, and cybersecurity takes on an even more important role within organizations.

Late last month, Gartner Inc., a leading research and advisory company, announced its predictions for the top strategic technology trends that organizations need to explore in 2021.

“The need for operational resiliency across enterprise functions has never been greater,” says Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner. “CIOs are striving to adapt to changing conditions to compose the future business. This requires the organizational plasticity to form and reform dynamically.

“As organizations journey from responding to the COVID-19 crisis to driving growth, they must focus on the three main areas that form the themes of this year’s trends: people centricity, location independence, and resilient delivery,” adds Burke.

Here then are the top nine strategic technology trends to look for in 2021:

Internet of behaviors

The internet of behaviors is emerging as many technologies capture and use the “digital dust” of peoples’ daily lives. The internet of behaviors combines existing technologies that focus on the individual directly — facial recognition, location tracking, and big data, for example — and connects the resulting data to associated behavioral events, such as cash purchases or device usage.

Organizations use this data to influence human behavior. For example, to monitor compliance with health protocols during the ongoing pandemic, organizations might leverage the internet of behaviors via computer vision to see whether employees are wearing masks or via thermal imaging to identify those with a fever.

Gartner predicts that by year-end 2025, over half of the world’s population will be subject to at least one internet of behaviors program, whether it be commercial or governmental. While the internet of behaviors is technically possible, there will be extensive ethical and societal debates about the different approaches employed to affect behavior.

Total experience

Move over user experience, customer experience, and employee experience. Last year, Gartner introduced the idea of multiexperience as a top strategic technology trend. In essence, multiexperience is thought to replace technology-literate people with people-literate technology for the purpose of interacting with customers at as many touch points as possible to offer a consistent customer experience across the web, mobile, app, and other modalities. This year, things are going a step further with total experience (TX), a strategy that connects multiexperience with customer, employee, and user experience disciplines.

Organizations need a TX strategy as interactions become more mobile, virtual, and distributed, mainly due to COVID-19. TX strives to improve the experiences of multiple constituents to achieve a transformed business outcome. These intersected experiences are key moments for businesses recovering from the pandemic that are looking to achieve differentiation via capitalizing on new experiential disruptors.

Privacy-enhancing computation

CIOs in every region face more privacy and noncompliance risks than ever before as global data protection legislation matures. Unlike common data-at-rest security controls, privacy-enhancing computation protects data in use while maintaining secrecy or privacy.

Gartner believes that by 2025, half of large organizations will implement privacy-enhancing computation for processing data in untrusted environments and multiparty data analytics use cases. Organizations should start identifying candidates for privacy-enhancing computation by assessing data-processing activities that require transfers of personal data, data monetization, fraud analytics, and other use cases for highly sensitive data.

Distributed cloud

Distributed cloud is the distribution of public cloud services to different physical locations, while the operation, governance, and evolution of the services remain the responsibility of the public cloud provider. It provides a nimble environment for organizational scenarios with low-latency, data cost-reduction needs, and data residency requirements. It also addresses the need for customers to have cloud computing resources closer to the physical location where data and business activities happen.

Anywhere operations

Anywhere operations refers to an IT operating model designed to support customers everywhere, enable employees everywhere, and manage the deployment of business services across distributed infrastructures. It is more than simply working from home or interacting with customers virtually — it also delivers unique value-added experiences across five core areas: collaboration and productivity, secure remote access, cloud and edge infrastructure, quantification of the digital experience, and automation to support remote operations.

By the end of 2023, Gartner estimates that 40% of organizations will have applied anywhere operations to deliver optimized and blended virtual and physical customer and employee experiences.

Cybersecurity mesh

The cybersecurity mesh enables anyone to access any digital asset securely, no matter where the asset or person is located. It decouples policy enforcement from policy decision-making via a cloud delivery model and allows identity to become the security perimeter. By 2025, the cybersecurity mesh will support over half of digital access control requests.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the multidecade process of turning the digital enterprise inside out,” says Burke. “We’ve passed a tipping point — most organizational cyberassets are now outside the traditional physical and logical security perimeters. As anywhere operations continues to evolve, the cybersecurity mesh will become the most practical approach to ensure secure access to, and use of, cloud-located applications and distributed data from uncontrolled devices.”

Intelligent composable business

“Static business processes that were built for efficiency were so brittle that they shattered under the shock of the pandemic,” says Burke. “As CIOs and IT leaders struggle to pick up the pieces, they’re beginning to understand the importance of business capabilities that adapt to the pace of business change.”

An intelligent composable business radically re-engineers decision-making by accessing better information and responding more nimbly to it. For example, machines will enhance decision-making in the future, enabled by a rich fabric of data and insights. Intelligent composable business will pave the way for redesigned digital business moments, new business models, autonomous operations, and new products, services, and channels.

AI engineering

Gartner research shows only 53% of projects make it from artificial intelligence (AI) prototypes to production. CIOs and IT leaders find it hard to scale AI projects because they lack the tools to create and manage a production-grade AI pipeline. The road to AI production means turning to AI engineering, a discipline focused on the governance and life cycle management of a wide range of operationalized AI and decision models, such as machine learning or knowledge graphs.

AI engineering stands on three core pillars — DataOps, ModelOps, and DevOps. A robust AI engineering strategy will facilitate the performance, scalability, interpretability, and reliability of AI models while delivering the full value of AI investments.

Hyperautomation

Business-driven hyperautomation is a disciplined approach that organizations use to rapidly identify, vet, and automate as many approved business and IT processes as possible. Although hyperautomation has been trending at an unrelenting pace for the past few years, the pandemic has heightened demand with the sudden requirement for everything to be “digital first.” The backlog of requests from business stakeholders has prompted more than 70% of commercial organizations to undertake dozens of hyperautomation initiatives as a result.

“Hyperautomation is now inevitable and irreversible. Everything that can and should be automated will be automated,” says Burke.

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