2020 has been quiet a year. Hijacked by a global pandemic and exposed to major disruption, the world has experienced a lot of heartache and even more uncertainty.
But as a result of all this chaos, there have also been leaps and bounds in innovation. Organisations across the globe are accelerating their digital transformation initiatives at breakneck speeds in a bid to reset and survive.
For better or worse, we can all agree, this year will be memorable. So, as 2020 draws to a close and we enter 2021, here are some of the technologies that are expected to come around and define this next normal.
Cloud's reign continues
Even before the events of 2020, cloud had already established its value for many businesses by providing improved agility, scalability, and cost efficiencies across industries.
This year, however, the technology is helping add a layer of resilience to many organisations by making the sudden shift in working habits less disruptive. This has sealed cloud's place as an essential piece of enterprise tech. In the next five years, the cloud computing industry is expected to grow from $371.4 billion in 2020 to $832.1 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 17.5%.
Next year specifically, businesses will focus more on managing their cloud costs better and look to unify their different cloud environments.
In the face of increased competition due to greater prevalence, cloud providers will need to focus on enhancing and integrating security, compliance, and privacy into their offerings.
Cloud will also grow in popularity as the ideal execution venue for new and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), blockchain, and edge computing. Thus, making it integral to the digital transformation journey many more businesses are now on.
Intelligent networks are the new normal
The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing businesses to innovate reactively and creatively in order to make work pattern shifts that they thought would take years, happen in mere weeks.
While it might have been a necessity that got them there, the results of this mass experiment have been eye-opening. Despite many preconceptions, remote working has largely been a success.
Some 77% of remote workers say their productivity has increased this year, which is great for employers. According to one study in the US, 75% of those surveyed said they would like to continue to work from home in at least a partial capacity, while 40% of respondents said they feel strongly that their employer should give employees the choice to opt-in to work remotely.
This new normal will put new pressures on companies, as there will be an increasing need for networks capable of supporting hybrid architectures - be it cloud, on premises, or edge computing.
As a result, more organisations will start seeking intelligent and intent-based networks that offer integrated security - such as SD-WAN for the WAN with SASE and Zero Trust security or virtual networks for multicloud - to deal with the increased cybersecurity threat of their new perimeter-less ecosystem.
Similarly, the need to also improve customer experience (CX) will accompany the increased digitsation of businesses. Being able to offer platform stability, ease of use, and personalisation, while maintaining a human touch, will only grow in importance.
More onus will be placed on digital trust. Businesses capable of ensuring the safety of customers' identity, data, and transactions, as well as employee data and transactions, will be rewarded with customer loyalty.
IoT will play a greater role in securing and analysing data
There has been a spike in the amount of data organisations have had to contend with this year due to a combination of all the digital transformation that has happened in 2020 and the increased online activity due to lockdowns.
With more 5G rollouts expected in 2021, along with further growth in LP-WAN-based services, the amount of data created and handled by businesses is set to skyrocket.
So, to differentiate themselves from the competition, more companies will start focusing on data analytics technology capable of securely handling information as well as analysing and deriving greater insights from their mostly unused operational data.
For instance, many of the COVID-19 restrictions are expected to be lifted by mid-2021, meaning hard-hit industries, such as travel, may start to see some growth again. However, the ability to offer enhanced experiences by using data better will likely still be a strong deciding factor for many customers.
So, in all of this, IoT is expected to play a pivotal role - helping to automate processes and make more information readily available to enterprises. And as IoT becomes increasingly intertwined with AI, and more deeply embedded in organisational structures and transformation programmes, devices will become increasingly 'smart' and capable of driving greater intelligence.
Automation - a business imperative
The COVID-19 pandemic is significantly increasing investments in automated solutions (this year) such as AI, ML, and robotic process automation (RPA).
So, in the new year, more companies are predicted to become platform-driven digital businesses and use of these technologies will continue to rise. This will help them automate routine, repetitive, predictable tasks and unlock tactical benefits.
These innovations will strengthen operational efficiency, increase accuracy of platforms, and improve user experience across ecosystems. This will also drive cost efficiencies and realignments by helping businesses intelligently repurpose these savings in the right innovations.
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Looking forward to what poses to be an increasingly more uncertain future, expect businesses to continue to gravitate towards solutions that make them more resilient and agile.
Early adopters of cloud, IoT, and automation were the firms that fared best in 2020. But even as we hopefully say goodbye to COVID-19 in the new year, we only expect the benefits of digital transformation to grow.
(The author is Chief Digital Officer at Tata Communications.)
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