As 2021 picks up steam and we all look forward to the possibility of more normality in the second half of the year, the advancement of technology within mid and large corporations not only doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, but it is likely to continue to accelerate in a number of areas.
Below we consider fifteen of the key technology trends and what we are likely to see during the rest of 2021 and into 2022 and make some predictions as to where they are headed.
1. Agile and product oriented software development approaches (Acceleration)
Current State: Companies started deploying product-based software development approaches and agile over a decade back, yet much of the agile transformation that has occurred in large corporations is contained within the technology organization and has not yet fully embraced the business.
Prediction: Product and technology modernization efforts are going to require the expansion of agile in the business, and this will drive further adoption in 2021 and into 2022. Business leadership will start to demand returns from the investments companies have already made into their agile transformation efforts.
2. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (Acceleration)
Current State: Machine learning continues to be integrated into the daily life of consumers and is increasingly being deployed to support process automation in corporate environments.
Prediction: Corporations will continue to invest in machine learning over the course of 2021, to a greater degree via vendor platforms that contain machine learning models than via internally developed models. A key limitation to greater acceleration will be the poor state of most company’s data environments which will impact their ability to create high quality models.
3. Big data and data analytics (Growth)
Current State: For many large companies, the sophistication of their data environments continues to be less than optimal, despite often massive investments. This impacts their ability to react to regulatory demands, meet the analytical needs and has slowed the adoption of advanced data analytics and machine learning.
Prediction: While there will be continued activity in sorting out data complexity at many corporations in 2021, efforts will continue to be hampered by the fact that most companies do not treat their data as an asset. There will be growth in deploying more sophisticated analytics in siloed business areas, but entrants who do not have legacy data environments holding them back will continue to leverage this advantage to compete.
4. Cyber security (Growth)
Current State: Companies have spent massive amounts of money in the last three years to improve their ability to prevent and react to cyber-attacks. While those investments have definitely made them safer, they have not prevented an almost continual set of cyber events and data breaches.
Prediction: Spending on cyber resiliency will continue throughout 2021 and into 2022 given the risks that many corporations must manage in this area. The most sophisticated companies will focus not only on hardening their perimeters, but also hardening applications and data repositories on the assumption that preventing breaches has proven to be essentially impossible.
While there will be continued activity in sorting out data complexity at many corporations in 2021, efforts will continue to be hampered by the fact that most companies do not treat their data as an asset.
5. Software as a Service (SaaS) (Growth)
Current State: Corporate adoption of SaaS based business platforms has been slowing but continues to grow at approximately 12% year over year. More and more software companies are including a SaaS option in their offering or are moving entirely to SaaS as their only deployment approach.
Prediction: For non-core capabilities, many companies are going to make SaaS the default option going forward and rather than ruling out cloud deployment due to security or resiliency risks, are going to demand that third parties meet their risk requirements to get the sale. SaaS companies will also push “consumption based” pricing models over enterprise-wide contracts.
6. Cloud: infrastructure as software (Growth)
Current State: Corporate use of public and hybrid cloud computing environments has been increasing at approximately 15% per year. Yet large companies continue to bias towards supplemental use cases such as burst capacity rather than core data center replacement.
Prediction: The public cloud is now part of the technology strategy of many large and mid-sized companies but there continue to be significant legacy barriers to more aggressive adoption of infrastructure as software that will take several more years to work through. This will impact corporate adoption of next generation public cloud capabilities and create competitive advantage for startups in a number of markets.
7. Robotic process automation (RPA) (Flat)
Current State: The RPA space hit the top of the hype curve approximately two years back when it was considered the primary way in which companies could solve their legacy technology debt issues. Unfortunately, the very rosy business cases that were created to justify investments and deployments didn’t always pan out as expected.
Prediction: The shine has come off the RPA category of low-code automation software and companies are going to be more critical in evaluating business cases for its deployment going forward. That being said, the technology does have a place in the corporate technology environment when used correctly but any growth in this space is likely to be modest.
8. Distributed ledger / Blockchain (Experimentation)
Current State: Three years ago, it was impossible to avoid reading about how distributed ledger technology (DLT) was going to change everything and public blockchains were going to be the only way data was stored going forward. That didn’t happen and while many companies continue to test DLT platforms, there are few production implementations that have achieved any scale outside of crypto-currencies.
Prediction: Despite the continued interest in crypto-currencies and now non-fungible tokens (NFTs), we are unlikely to see an increase in corporate deployment of DLT platforms within their infrastructures, except in cases of experimentation. For the most part, DLT continues to be a solution looking for a problem. There is also a growing acknowledgement that public blockchains are not “green” given their large electricity consumption and this conflicts with the push towards carbon neutrality inside many companies.
9. Cloud: serverless computing (Flat)
Current State: Public cloud based serverless computing has proven to be a hard sell to large companies who are concerned about cyber and resiliency risk and a general lack of control over the underlying infrastructure that runs these services. As such, adoption has been low across large enterprises.
Prediction: While some very forward-looking CIOs may start to embrace public cloud based serverless computing as an accelerant to their architecture modernization strategies, it is unlikely that 2021 is the year that this technology breaks out widely in the enterprise market.
The shine has come off the RPA category of low-code automation software and companies are going to be more critical in evaluating business cases for its deployment going forward.
10. No code / Low code (Acceleration)
Current State: Many companies have invested in low-code process management tools, but few have embraced low and no-code platforms at the enterprise level so far. Deployments tend to be restricted to specific departments and pilot programs.
Prediction: Given the massive technology modernization effort that many industries face, and the mass deployment of Excel which is really the original low-code platform, it is inevitable that this category of technology will see increasing deployment. We expect to see acceleration of its use within large corporations this year and into 2022, likely driven by business sponsors as opposed to technology leadership.
11. Software containers (Acceleration)
Current State: Software containers are a mature technology that is widely used in software development, yet widespread corporate adoption has been slow, limited because of the way in which legacy applications were architected, compliance issues and concerns about portability.
Prediction: For new software development efforts and anything targeting a hybrid-cloud environment, containers will be the likely architectural strategy moving forward. There will continue to be friction in migrating existing legacy platforms, even if they are based on modern technology into containers due to design limitations.
12. 5G (Experimentation)
Current State: Global telecommunications companies are rapidly building out their 5G infrastructure in anticipation of demand, but so far corporations have deployed very few mobile applications that require the throughput 5G can provide, and in many countries coverage remains inconsistent.
Prediction: While it is fairly easy to dream up potential new applications once mobile devices can tap into high bandwidth 5G networks, we are unlikely to see anything other than experimentation in this area in 2021 from established corporations as they take a “wait and see” approach, outside of a few major tech companies and various startups.
13. Virtual and augmented reality (Experimentation)
Current State: Virtual reality continues to be the “next great thing,” almost a decade since headsets were launched in 2012. Outside of highly specialized applications in gaming, the military and manufacturing, there has been little penetration of this technology in most companies.
Prediction: 2021 is unlikely to change the current trend of corporate experimentation without any substantial rollout of new platforms or applications. Progression in virtual and augmented reality is going to require a generational leap in the underlying technology to really gain traction in corporate environments.
14. Digital assistants (Experimentation)
Current State: The use of digital assistances or “chat bots” for corporate applications has been slowly gaining traction over the last several years, most often in customer service applications. It is a rare company that has not deployed this technology in at least an initial application.
Prediction: To really accelerate the use of voice to interact with corporate infrastructure, companies are going to have to fully embrace the voice control networks created by Big Tech companies. End customers have been trained that these devices are the way in which they can talk to their technology. The necessary integration will require non-trivial cyber and data protection and ownership issues to be overcome, and therefore 2021 will continue to be a year of experimentation in this area.
15. Drones (Experimentation)
Current State: Initially used primarily in entertainment production, drones have been leveraged in applications in mining, agriculture, law enforcement and insurance, to name a few industries. A key use case has been remote inspections where it is either difficult or dangerous for people to perform the work directly.
Prediction: Despite the obvious advantages of drone deployment, the space will continue to be an area in which most companies are only experimenting and proving out the technology. The evolution of regulations that allow for drones to be flown out of line of sight of the pilot will be critical for more widespread corporate adoption of the technology. More advance battery technology will also be required to support many future use cases.