There’s no denying that Covid-19 has been pretty transformative. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has even suggested that the virus has accelerated the planet’s digital transition, something that was likely to happen with or without Covid-19, although it was bound to happen at some point in the future.
Despite Covid-19 likely remaining with us for some time, now that vaccines are finally rolling out, it’s time to discuss what’s next. What exactly will things look like in a post-Covid world? Well, we reached out to some experts to find out.
This is part two of our 2021 expert predictions, but stay tuned over the next few weeks to read even more.
Tech opportunities in a post-COVID-19 era from Nick Offin, head of operations at dynabook Northern Europe
Remote business will open up new, unexpected use cases for wearables and mixed realities
The unprecedented working environment created by the pandemic has propelled technologies like assisted reality (AR) forward beyond proofs of concept, opening up new, perhaps less obvious, cases and demonstrating the potential of wearables in driving collaboration amongst remote teams. Smart glasses provide a vehicle for interactive remote communication through document retrieval, workflow instructions and real-time data capture – bringing people face-to-face, so to speak. COVID-19 has provided a unique opportunity for business leaders to re-assess and re-imagine their need for a traditional four-walled office, paving the way for 2021 to be the year that digitally savvy businesses double down on smart technologies to enable remote business. We’ll even see businesses who have not yet imagined using wearables start to experiment with the technology.
Mobile edge computing will reach more sectors
Edge computing has continued to gain significant traction in recent years, yet it’s this coming year that we’ll finally see where this technology can bring real benefits. While public 5G is still years away from mainstream adoption, Forrester sees immediate value in private 5G – a network dedicated to a specific business or locale like a warehouse, shipyard, or factory. This technology is here now and is ready to drive edge computing in 2021. The evolution of 5G and mobile edge computing technology will also provide a platform for enterprise wearable technologies to really come to the fore. Smart glasses allow field workers to carry out tasks hands-free, while still having access to the information and tools they need. With mobile edge computing solutions acting as the gateway, smart glasses are a natural next step and close to becoming mainstream for frontline and field-based workers.
2021 will bring quicker proof of concept to roll out
This year we’ve seen business pivot to deal with a great deal of changes in the face of COVID-19. A fifth of businesses have dialled up investment in digital transformation initiatives, with many making the impossible happen overnight or taking decisions in a matter of days rather than months. In this extraordinary time, businesses have learnt how to adapt, and progress more quickly than ever expected. As we move into 2021 and beyond, we expect this trend to come with us as businesses continue at an accelerated rate of learning. Yet while proof of concepts for new technologies will be much quicker from experimentation to roll out phases, businesses will need to keep an eye on three key factors: data security, scalability and usability.
2020 has highlighted the need for accelerated automation in 2021
Unsurprisingly, 2021 will see a new and changed workplace, and technology will be needed to support it. Automation has been on the business agenda for years now, but as social distancing rules remain in place going into 2021, automation and robotics will likely become a core competence of multiple sectors in the foreseeable future. However, in an effort to push out automation during the pandemic, many businesses have found themselves patching failures that have arisen since. In 2021, Forrester predicts that up to 30% of businesses will ramp up their focus on quality by better planning and testing their automation before deploying it in production or exposing it to employees.
The cloud will be critical to all firms, as will sustainability and AI says Pip White, managing director UK & Ireland at Google Cloud
The unprecedented working environment created by COVID-19 led boards and executives to accelerate their digital transformations. Until now, cloud migration has been an infrastructure decision, promising to change the way business devices and information systems interact with each other. But cloud migration brings another type of transformation too – of a company’s culture – and it’s coming to the forefront of conversations.
As we enter 2021, cloud migration will be increasingly driven by the need to establish a culture of continuous innovation to keep pace with rapid change. Untethering staff from low value, labour-intensive tasks and allowing them to focus on innovation and high-impact projects. Companies will move away from what might have been top-down corporate strategies, to fully infusing transformation and letting every person in an organisation transform. Businesses will also need to embrace an “anywhere operations model”, as coined by Gartner, that allows for business products and services to be accessed, delivered, and enabled anywhere. New ways of working will emerge, as will new ways to create, collaborate and innovate.
2021 will be a move towards a more ‘open’ cloud.
Unsurprisingly, 2021 will see a new and ever-evolving workplace, and businesses will need to remain agile, responsive, and able to adapt to survive. More businesses will opt for an “open” cloud approach to avoid vendor lock-in and foster innovation across environments in the cloud and on-premises faster. There will be a greater desire by companies to not bring the problems of the on-prem world into the cloud and by not being “open,” businesses will not want to repeat past mistakes.
As businesses continue to stabilise themselves post-pandemic, a renewed focus will be placed on projects that enhance employee and customer experiences, reduce costs, increase operational efficiencies and boost revenue. To enable an “open” cloud, build new environments and modernise old ones, the open-source community will dial-up investment in container and serverless functions, creating a spike in global demand.
Cloud will reach more industries and uncover some less-obvious use cases.
The shift to remote work and business operations has propelled businesses’ digital transformation strategies forward beyond just our usual industries. COVID-19 has provided a unique opportunity for businesses in every sector to reassess and re-imagine their needs, opening up new, perhaps less obvious cases. For instance, industries like insurance, which are still dominated by legacy systems and old technology systems, are increasingly recognising the cloud’s potential, turning to AI to build real-time risk models. Brit Insurance, a Google Cloud customer, recently collaborated on Ki, a fully digital and algorithmically-driven syndicate, to drive greater efficiency, responsiveness and competitiveness. Elsewhere, in retail, the adoption of cloud-based contact centres that use chatbots and rapid response virtual agents will increase, delivering more immediate, personalised customer support in response to complex customer service issues.
Sustainability will remain top of the agenda next year.
Just four or five years ago, corporate sustainability was a nice-to-have. But thanks to the ‘Attenborough effect’ and the growing awareness of the negative impact of global warming, the 2020s have been named ‘the climate decade’ by the GLOBE Forum. As a result, sustainability has become one of the top priorities for businesses and pressure is increasing from customers, business partners and shareholders who demand positive action.
In 2021 we’ll see more companies make carbon neutral pledges, and those that already have will put their words into action. For instance, Google Cloud recently committed to running its business on carbon-free energy everywhere by 2030. New strategic partnerships will take shape as cloud providers increasingly work with end-user companies to do more for the planet. Google Cloud recently collaborated with Stella McCartney and the WWF to enable the pair’s use of data analytics and machine learning, giving fashion brands a more comprehensive view into the impact of their supply chains. Companies will increasingly leverage similar capabilities to improve the eco-friendliness of operations.
AI and ML will become central to every business strategy.
To emerge successfully from COVID-19, the organisations that will succeed are those who not only put an emphasis on a great user experience, but also predict changing user habits and course-correct, fast. Technologies like AI and ML will be crucial to extracting meaningful insights from data sets. For example, the banking industry has dialled up AI investment to enhance personalisation, deliver financial well-being insights and better manage risk. Even industries who are not already using AI or ML will start to experiment with technology to create tailored experiences, from anywhere.