Technology is evolving at an unprecedented pace. New technologies build on one another, creating change and progress that’s - frankly - hard to keep up with. But if you want to be a forward-thinking business that’s positioned well for the future, you have to stay ahead of the curve.
"The recipe for successful tech innovation is changing," says Brian Hopkins, VP and principal analyst at Forrester. "The strategies that worked in the 2010s will not work in the 2020s. Firms that make big bets on new business models, new ways of working, and new talent will be more adaptive and resilient to the disruptive forces that will characterize the 2020s. To sprint forward, CIOs must renew their organization's resolve to digitally transform and turn these efforts into must-have foundational investments."
To help you stay informed, we put together this list of the biggest tech trends of 2021. Does your organization have plans to take advantage of these hot technologies?
Extended Reality (VR and AR)
Extended reality technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality were big in 2020 and will continue to grow in 2021. The market is growing in every conceivable way.
Augmented reality refers to technologies that superimpose images over the real world. Virtual reality refers to imagery that dominates the user’s field of vision.
AR and VR aren’t just for gaming. They have plenty of commercial applications as well. For instance, VR is being used for eye testing, as high-definition cameras can create shockingly clear pictures of our eyes. AR is used in ecommerce, where shoppers can “place” products in their home and on their body to see what they look like.
AR and VR hold a lot of promise in education, as well, especially in a post-pandemic world that has learned to embrace distance learning. Imagine “standing” in a classroom with people from all over the world from the comfort and safety of your living room.
AI is one of the biggest tech trends at the moment. In 2020, it will become an even bigger part of our ability to interpret and understand the world. It allows us to become better informed by spotting connections and drawing insights we would never see on our own. It also helps us create sophisticated solutions, especially in the areas of healthcare, navigation, speech recognition, resource utilization, customer analytics, engineering, and finance.
The AI market is expected to grow to a $190 billion industry by 2025. Global spending on cognitive and AI systems will reach $57 billion in 2021. It also offers some of the highest salaries for engineers - $125,000 base - which makes it one of the hottest technology trends for jobseekers.
The impact and usage of AI is changing as well. In the past, organizations rarely considered the ethical impact of their artificial intelligences. According to a Forrester report, however, firms are starting to choose to do businesses that commit to “data ethics” and adopt data handling practices that align with their own values.
This doesn’t just mean complying with data privacy regulations like the GDPR. Many organizations are commiting to higher internal data standards. If they work with artificial intelligence providers, they want providers to adhere to those higher standards as well.
Internet of Behaviors
The Internet of Behaviors (IoB) isn’t a single technology, but a method for using various technologies. It’s the way we use data to change people’s behavior.
As we create vaster sources of data, including micro data points that don’t seem actionable on their own, we can use the aggregate of that information to change people’s behaviors. For instance, a company could monitor its commercial vehicles and use what it learns to improve their drivers’ performance, safety, and routing.
To be fair, this practice certainly has social implications. How far will companies go to track and modify behavior? That will definitely be part of the global conversation in 2021.
Quantum computing is a remarkable technology that’s set to dominate the news in 2021. It won’t be available for home use any time soon, but companies like Honeywell, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Splunk are investing big and innovating quickly. Revenues for the global quantum computing market are projected to exceed $2.5 billion by 2029.
Quantum computing makes use of the phenomenons like quantum entanglement and superposition. Essentially, this creates an exponentially higher number of switches, allowing the computer to perform at absurdly high speeds. They’ll be able to monitor, analyze, and address problems we always thought were too complex for current computers.Image: Towards Data Science
Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT refers to everyday items that are now built with WiFi connectivity. This allows them to connect to the internet and to each other. They become truly powerful when they’re connected to another device that gives operational control.
For instance, the number of devices that can be controlled by Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa is astounding. You can buy smart outlets now, which give you smart control of anything plugged into that site.
The Internet of Things is already a growing trend that’s reached most consumer households, but there’s still a lot of potential. Forecasts suggest there will be 50 billion IoT devices in use around the world by 2030. Global spending is expected to reach 1.1 trillion U.S. dollars in 2022.
Our homes aren’t the only places IoT devices are appearing. There are numerous commercial applications as more niche devices learn to connect with one another. IoT can enable better safety and efficiency. It can help us make decisions by analyzing bigger data sets that include more robust information. New technologies like 5G will drive market growth as well.
And speaking of 5G…
5G Mobile Network
To a lot of people, “5G” just sounds like the next installment of an existing product line, similar to how the iPhone 12 is basically the iPhone 11 with a couple extra bells and whistles.
To understand the impact of 5G, we should look at history: 3G technology allowed us to surf the web from our mobile devices. It forced every website to create a mobile site or responsive design. 4G allowed us to stream movies and music. We can watch other people live.
5G is the next step forward. It will enable data-intense activities, like AR and VR, cloud-based gaming services, and applications that require constant use and near-instant connections, such as traffic monitoring, manufacturing controls, emergency systems, etc.
All of the big telecommunication companies are working on 5G applications right now. They’re expected to launch in 2021 in about 30 countries.
Anywhere operations is a model of providing goods and services (or accessing products and services) anywhere without physical contact. This trend exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic, naturally, but we expect to see many organizations lean into it in 2021.
You’ve probably seen these types of operations already: online banks, contactless checkout, and local delivery services. Companies are seeking ways to serve customers regardless of their location.
Hyperautomation is the principle that anything that can be automated should be automated, no matter how difficult the implementation. Over time, the cost of implementing automation is almost always recovered by the savings. This practice is typically driven by organizations who struggle under the weight of legacy systems that come with massive recurring (and expanding) costs.Image: OneGlobe
This type of automation isn’t limited to software or digital activities. We’ll undoubtedly see more use of robotics equipment, self-driving vehicles, assisted living devices (particularly when the assisted individual is prone to infection), automated security and cleaning, and drone delivery.
While it’s true that automation will threaten more than 230 million workers, it also opens opportunities for new jobs we’ve never seen before and altering existing jobs. Research from McKinsey finds that less than 5% of occupations can be totally automated, but many can be partially automated.
2021 will be a big year for technology. New technologies will evolve and more companies will take advantage of tech that seemed out of reach just a year ago. If you want to be an innovative, forward-thinking company, ask yourself how any of the next big-tech trends will play a role in your products.