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Absolutdata 2021 Predictions: Top 10 Technology Trends

vmblog 2021 prediction series 

Industry executives and experts share their predictions for 2021.  Read them in this 13th annual series exclusive.

Top 10 Technology Trends for 2021

By Anil Kaul, CEO Absolutdata

We're coming out of a pivotal year, and 2021 requires a reset. As Gartner noted, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses and global economies in unprecedented ways, but it also forced organizations to consider a different future type.

This year, it became clear that businesses need a reset, not only due to the pandemic but because technological advances demand it. Organizations that don't relentlessly focus on efficiency, efficacy, and business agility will be left behind.

Here are some of the trends that will emerge and grow stronger in 2021, shaping how we live and work in the 2020s.

1.     Hyperautomation supercharges automation: Business-driven hyper-automation is a disciplined approach that organizations use to identify rapidly, vet, and automate as many approved business and IT processes as possible. Although hyper-automation 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."

Hyperautomation is now inevitable and irreversible. Everything that can and should be automated will be automated. The acceleration of digital business requires efficiency, speed, and democratization.

Hyperautomation can involve creating a digital twin of the organization (DTO), allowing organizations to visualize how functions, processes, and critical performance indicators interact to drive value. (More on the digital twin concept at #3.) The DTO becomes an integral part of the hyper-automation process, providing real-time intelligence about the organization, and driving significant business opportunities. 

2.     Headless tech: It sounds like something from a horror movie, but "headless tech" just means that businesses are now able to separate their front-end presentation layer from their back-end data functionality to create custom shopping experiences. This can be as simple as telling your Amazon Alexa to replenish your favorite coffee or being able to make instant purchases off of social media.

This is a significant trend because it's an increasingly popular type of commerce. Research shows that 86% of businesses say their customer acquisition costs have increased 24 months. This means two things: the first is that organizations need to maximize the ROI of their net new customer acquisition costs. The second is that it is more important than ever to also focus on customer development and retention.

By moving beyond the omnichannel experience to connect everything from warehouses to storefronts to online services, companies can become more efficient, more streamlined - and possibly get a leg up on competitors if they step up the pace of headless tech adoption in 2021.

3.     Digital twins for almost everything: Put simply, a digital twin is a virtualized model of a process, product, service, or other entity. NASA pioneered the concept to pair virtual and physical worlds and facilitate data analysis and system monitoring at a distance. It's a powerful concept because it allows users to identify problems before they even occur. In turn, it can help users prevent downtime, develop new opportunities, and even plan for the future by using simulations.

The digital twin concept has been applied in healthcare, manufacturing, and machine maintenance in addition to space exploration. Digital twins help companies improve supply chains, and the idea is being used now to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. It's possible to apply the concept in marketing and sales, creating digital twins representing entities like a consumer, a retailer, a store, or a product.

This generation of digital twins allows users to model and visualize a business asset and make predictions, take actions in real-time, and use current technologies such as AI and ML to augment and act on data in innovative ways. It can help business users make better, faster decisions by simulating outcomes, predicting consumer and market behavior, and delivering recommendations on actions.

4.     Consumer data platform (CDP) explosion: We have already seen an explosion of CDP in the last few months - and with good reason. Fragmented data from multiple sources can be notoriously difficult to organize, which isn't ideal for companies that rely on timely, well-curated data to operate optimally. IBM estimates that so-called "bad data" already cost U.S. businesses roughly $3 trillion annually, so addressing this challenge has become a priority for organizations of all sizes.

CDPs help solve this problem by collecting data from all available sources, organizing it, tagging it, and making it usable for anyone who needs it. Companies like Adobe, SAP, Oracle, Treasure Data, and Microsoft are already heavily invested in providing the market with powerful new CDPs. New entrants like Segment and ActionIQ have also rolled out impressive CDP services that offer the coveted 360 customer view.

Data warehouses and visualization tools - from Cloudera to Snowflake to SAS - won't lose relevancy, but the CDP's rise will catch fire in 2021. And now that business operations have become somewhat more fragmented due to work-from-home operational models and the acceleration of data collection across an expanding ecosystem of touchpoints, CDPs have become especially relevant.  

5.     Hybrid cloud declared the winning enterprise architecture: Over the past year, we have seen significant hybrid investments from large public cloud providers like AWS, Azure, Google, IBM, and Oracle. We also see OEMs like HPE, Dell (VMware), and Cisco increasing investment in building tools that enable more superficial connectivity between on-premises datacenters and the cloud. These investments are all about meeting the customer where they are at the moment.

Investments are also about addressing exponential data growth challenges while being proactive on issues like privacy, security, and compliance. The modernized approach to hybrid cloud is expanding from traditional IT to support industrial applications as well. For instance, Honeywell has built its Forge IoT platform using an open-source and hybrid cloud approach. The industrial data it manages can seamlessly integrate with traditional cloud data centers, applications, and workloads.

Hybrid cloud would have been on the top 10 list for 2021 even without the pandemic, but if nothing else, the widespread, sudden disruptions caused by the coronavirus have highlighted the value of having as agile and adaptable a cloud infrastructure as possible -especially as we see companies around the world expedite investments in the cloud to enable faster change in moments of uncertainty and disruption like we faced in 2020.

6.     AI democratized at scale: The coronavirus pandemic triggered an acceleration in the democratization of AI and data. Virtually overnight, companies, governments and other agencies found themselves needing to work together to create a faster solution to stop the virus's spread. Data, AI, and machine learning were the tools that they naturally turned to. The work that was begun in 2020 will continue into 2021 and will likely expand to a breadth of pressing opportunities that these types of groups are now uniquely equipped to tackle, like solving global and market problems faster, better, and at scale. 

While many feel that AI is something of a "future" trend, it is very much a part of our everyday lives, guiding what we see on social media to movies recommended on Netflix or suggested when we are shopping on Amazon. As computing power gets more affordable, and the cloud enables access to computing power and software and frameworks, more companies will benefit from AI.

The proliferation of AI will impact our lives, from how we shop to what we eat, how we hire, and what we do for entertainment. It will be fueled by masses of data that use powerful computing capabilities. AI will continue to require monitoring to make sure we use it for positive purposes, and this will be a joint effort of government and industry. But its use continues to increase, and we will see it scale even faster now that resources are becoming less expensive and more available to businesses around the globe.

7.     Internet of Behaviors (IoB) emerges: The IoB is emerging as many technologies capture and use the "digital dust" of peoples' daily lives. The IoB 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 IoB 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 IoB program, whether commercial or governmental. While the IoB is technically possible, there will be extensive ethical and societal debates about the different approaches employed to affect behavior.

8.     The confluence of AI & IoT: AI and the Internet of Things together is a match made in technical heaven! These two technologies, when deployed together, will usher a new era for actionable insights.

Sensor-powered AI will make predictive maintenance more commonplace in manufacturing. Smart home devices like Google-owned Nest will become more popular. Studies estimate that 28% of all US homes could become intelligent homes by 2021, bringing efficiency to new levels.

9.     Conversational AI moves forward: More organizations embrace the benefits chatbots bring to customer support, sales, and marketing. Although chatbots are becoming a requirement for leading organizations, their conversational performance remains distant from human interactions. Recent research aims to enhance the system's capacity to grasp complex relationships introduced in discussion with better use of the conversation history and context. 

Emotion recognition is an essential element for open-domain chatbots. Analysts are researching new approaches to consolidate empathy into dialogue frameworks and producing significant improvement in emotion recognition. This can fundamentally support social bots' performance and enable incremental use of chatbots in psychotherapy, which will advance conversational AI's possibilities in 2021.

10.   Behavioral AI becomes more prevalent: AI tools and platforms are already in place to help businesses understand the way their customers are adapting to a new reality. Organizations that lagged in adopting digital channels for commerce and relationship nurturing have come to understand the urgency of doing so now and are exploring concepts such as behavioral analytics and personalization. 

Tools providing organizations with self-service access to this technology will become increasingly prevalent throughout 2021 as small and medium-sized enterprises seeking to establish a competitive edge.

So there you have it, Absolutdata's top 10 predictions for 2021. As we wrap up an unprecedented year and move into 2021, we predict technology will provide the reset the coming year requires. Technological advances will deliver greater efficiency, efficacy, and agility businesses need to navigate a changing world. Look for these trends to fundamentally alter the way people live and work, not only in 2021 but in the decade to come.


About the Author

Dr. Anil Kaul, Co-Founder and CEO

Anil Kaul 

Anil has over 22 years of experience in advanced analytics, market research, and management consulting. He is very passionate about analytics and leveraging technology to improve business decision-making. Prior to founding Absolutdata, Anil worked at McKinsey & Co. and Personify. He is also on the board of Edutopia, an innovative start-up in the language learning space.

An in-demand writer and speaker, Anil has published articles in McKinsey Quarterly, Marketing Science, Journal of Marketing Research and International Journal of Research. He was recently listed among the ‘10 Most Influential Analytics Leaders in India' by Analytics Magazine India and has been quoted as a "Game Changer" in Research World. Anil has spoken at many industry conferences and top business schools, including Dartmouth, Berkeley, Cornell, Yale, Columbia and New York University.

Anil holds a Ph.D. and a Master of Marketing degree, both from Cornell University.

Published Friday, December 04, 2020 7:55 AM by David Marshall
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