It’s December and with the world and its dog seemingly casting their eyes into the future, I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring and gaze into my LCD ball to see what the future might bring. So, at the risk of having more egg than a poultry farm on my face in 12 months’ time, here are my IT predictions for 2021.
Things can only get better… if you’re prepared to be nimble
The past year has been so bad that Netflix has commissioned the team behind futuristic black comedy Dark Mirror to produce a one-off special called Death to 2020. Starring Samuel L Jackson and Lisa Kudrow, it’s bound to paint a picture of a dystopian future, and while that will be exaggerated for dramatic purposes, I feel much more optimistic about what’s coming. That’s not limited to the hope that the new vaccines will help things return to normal either… For me, the overriding theme of 2020 is that the businesses emerging most successfully from the other side of the Covid crisis are the ones that have proven themselves nimble enough to be able to adapt quickly to changing situations. That can manifest in many different ways: negotiating software/hardware agreements and keeping an eye on staffing levels are two that spring to mind. If we can all adopt a bit of that need for agility moving forwards, we can deal with anything 2021 throws at us.
Working from home is here to stay
Make no mistake, people are bedding in – and not just for winter. On a recent home shopping trip, there seemed to be a huge demand for wood-burning stoves and giant-screen TVs – things that make staying at home all the time a lot less bland. But even if the vaccine brings an end to Covid, there’s unlikely to be a huge rush back to office life: working from home and home/office blends have become the new norm. From a business point of view, many companies will be seeing $$ as they can shrink their real estate by employing things like hot desking – and I can’t see many CFOs not taking advantage of a huge savings opportunity when times have been tough.
Staying safe to top the IT agenda
“Stay safe” became the goodbye greeting at the heart of the Covid crisis. While you hear it much less now, it’s also relevant when it comes to cybersecurity. One of the main issues with homeworking is how to make sure people can do it safely when everything from the kit they use to their broadband connection will have different specs. As such, robust API and VPN security will be key in 2021. (On that note, I recently told the tale of how two merging clients saved more than $1million by sorting their VPN out after they ran our IT Pulse survey with their staff. You can read about that here if you missed it first time around.)
Virtual learning on the rise
Studies show that those working from home (read almost all of us) have had to get used to working with a host of new hardware and software over the last year, so offering virtual tutorials for new kit makes a whole heap of sense. It’s not just in the business world either. It’s going to take a while for things to return to pre-Covid levels – and many universities and schools are having to offer online lessons too. Once they’re an embedded way of working, they’ll be here to stay.
Transform or die…
Face-to-face interactions in business have decreased massively over the course of Covid – in both the B2B and the B2C spaces. Many companies have picked up on this and have moved to digital business models faster than they otherwise might have. The gap between those with a strong digital way of doing business rather than a weak or non-existent (yes, some still exist) one is only going to get bigger. It’s time to move quickly with the times if those in the digital desert want to survive…
IT to use innovation to plug skills gaps
A global survey of line-of-business employees published this week showed that just 37% of them felt their staff had the skills and tech to keep pace with increasing digital projects during Covid-19. It also found that half of business users are frustrated by the speed at which their IT team can deliver on projects. There’s clearly a skills’ gap here and IT departments need to innovate by working closer with a business’s functional team, upskilling them in appropriate areas, to make sure it’s plugged. A side benefit is IT’s place in the business structure will solidify as relationships with the functional teams improve.
Sharper focus on the bottom line (an opportunity for IT budgets?)
Yes, productivity is falling meaning businesses have to slash and burn as the bottom line becomes ever more important. The crisis does mean some savings can be made though. I mentioned real estate above, and let’s face it, so few of us are on the road for work, travel expenses are down dramatically. CIO’s could use this as an opportunity to attempt to grab a larger slice of the pie. There are valid arguments that robust, innovative and forward-thinking IT will be crucial to enterprise success moving forward – so it’s a perfect time to be bold, just make sure you have the evidence to back up your requests. If you don’t ask, you don’t get (or that’s what I was always told).
Wearable Covid tests
When my aunt got a Fitbit and started measuring her activity it became obvious there was no going back: wearables were here to stay. That kind of anecdotal evidence is backed up by a study earlier this year that showed the global market for electronic health devices was a whopping US$ 33 billion in 2019 and is predicted to grow by more than 15% year on year over the next decade. Meanwhile, as much as we love our Apple Watches, no one even remotely likes having a swab stuck up their nose, so there’s a race to come up with a non-invasive Covid-19 test, with saliva and breath testing seemingly the frontrunners. With that in mind, who’s to say this can’t incorporate wearable technology: changes in heart rate variability and oxygen levels are two markers that could be incorporated.
Step back to disrupt?
Every business model has been disrupted by Covid – even the disruptors. Take companies like Deliveroo and Uber Eats for instance, who turned the traditional delivery service on its head. Now it seems that contact restrictions are facilitating an increase in “old-fashioned” click- or call-and-collect services as people look for any excuse to get out of their four walls. It will be interesting to see if similar changes take place in other business areas.
AR to really take take off at home
Another repercussion of us spending more time in our abodes, is that we need more things delivered. That’s all well and good if you’re looking for a new pair of jeans – try before you buy means you can just send the ones you don’t want back. Lugging a huge sofa down to the Post Office though means you’re more likely to slip a disc than look hip. Step forward augmented reality and apps like Wayfair and Ikea Place that allow you to photograph the room and insert images of furniture into the space you want. While AR for the home has been around for a couple of years, the technology to date has been glitchy – expect that to improve massively moving forwards.
So there you are: some of my IT predictions for 2021. Whatever the next 12 months has in store, let’s hope we emerge healthier and more prosperous than ever in a year’s time. In the meantime, have an amazing Christmas and New Year!