14 tech predictions for 2021 and beyond

IT and tech leaders look at the road ahead and predict what's next for remote work, AI, cybersecurity, and more
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tech predictions 2021

One lesson we’ll all take away from 2020: predicting the future is tricky. Factors outside your control can significantly impact your plans - either propelling you forward, or knocking you off course. Those who can adapt easily are often better off than those who can predict the most accurately.

Many organizations had to shift their plans in 2020, but those IT leaders already operating with a digital-first mindset were in a better position to pivot and rise to the challenges, said Jan Gilg, President of SAP S/4HANA at SAP.

"The coronavirus pushed last year's predictions way off track, becoming a critical driver behind IT trends in 2020."

"The coronavirus pushed last year’s predictions way off track, becoming a critical driver behind IT trends in 2020," said Gilg. "For 2021, COVID-19 continues to be a central story and a galvanizing force behind this year’s forecast. Digital companies had clear advantages in 2020, and in 2021 those with a strong digital plan will have the flexibility to pivot as needed. What’s exciting is that the appetite for digitization is larger than ever before, and the desire for digital, intelligent environments will lead to transformations happening at rates faster than we have ever experienced."  

To achieve speed, companies need to resuce complexity, which is why  Red Hat chief architect Emily Brand also sees more enterprises emphasizing the principles of Site Reliability Engineering (SRE.) “More enterprises are focused on SRE as a way to reduce toil through smart, targeted automation,” Brand recently told us. “Choosing to invest in high-value automation with the least complexity will be the focus for most infrastructure and ops teams in 2021. Automating yesterday’s problems was yesterday’s problem. Automating tomorrow’s growth is today’s future.”

What are digital leaders setting their sights on for the year ahead? Let’s dig into predictions for 2021.

[ What's next for containers and Kubernetes? Read also: 5 open source Kubernetes projects to watch in 2021. ]

1. No speed limit on innovation

“Thought developer-first was big? It is just getting started. The world of dev tools, infrastructure and open source software moved faster in 2020, and in 2021 we will only see it accelerate. New projects and categories will gain traction and go mainstream faster than ever before. Bellwether projects that seemed to be gliding along with momentum may become passe. This is a developer’s world now and the speed limits that used to hold back innovation and adoption are gone.” -Eric Anderson, Principal, Scale Venture Partners

[ Will your organization thrive in 2021? Learn the four priorities top CIOs are focusing on now. Download the HBR Analytic Services report: IT Leadership in the Next Normal. ]

2. Consolidation cools

“The pendulum of tooling consolidation will peak in 2021 before swinging back towards fragmentation. COVID-19 forced businesses to consolidate tech — see cloud migrations — in an effort to cut costs and ensure ease-of-use in remote environments. I predict the pendulum of tooling consolidation to peak in 2021 before swinging back to companies purchasing tools from several different providers that offer ‘disruptive’ technologies.” - Brian Fox, CTO and co-founder, Sonatype

3. Growth of anywhere operations

“Organizations will continue to operate remotely in 2021, enabling a ‘digital-first, remote-first’ mentality. ‘Anywhere operations’ models remain vital to emerge successfully from COVID-19. While the ability to vaccinate this soon into a pandemic is promising, millions won’t have access to it until the second half of the year. Cloud-based systems that securely centralize customer information and internal tools are just an example of anywhere operations that will allow for business to be accessed, delivered and enabled anywhere — where customers, employers and business partners operate in physically remote environments — while we continue to operate in a normal that isn’t so new anymore.” - Mike Ringman, CIO, TELUS International

[ How do your team meetings stack up? Read also:  Zoom tips: 6 ways to make meetings better. ]

4. Healthcare targeted for cybercrime

“The biggest threat to personal privacy will be healthcare information. Researchers are rushing to pool resources and data sets to tackle the pandemic, but this new era of openness comes with concerns around privacy, ownership, and ethics. Now, you will be asked to share your medical status and contact information, not just with your doctors, but everywhere you go, from workplaces to gyms to restaurants. Your personal health information is being put in the hands of businesses that may not know how to safeguard it. In 2021, cybercriminals will capitalize on rapid U.S. telehealth adoption. Sharing this information will have major privacy implications that span beyond keeping medical data safe from cybercriminals to wider ethics issues and insurance implications.” - Joe Partlow, CTO, ReliaQuest

5. Automation used in new ways post-COVID

“2020 has brought in constraints in human-to-human interaction due to unforeseen health concerns, which has rocked the foundations of human interaction prior to COVID-19. Contactless and touchless mechanisms of consumer and employee interaction will therefore gain more adoption in 2021. This trend extends the application of automation technologies to the areas requiring human-to-human contact which can refine the overall customer experience. It also serves as a catalyst expediting the automation of repetitive and routine tasks within and across the extended network of enterprises. Automation is meant for times like these.” – E.G. Nadhan, chief architect and strategist, North America, Red Hat.

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free eBook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

6. Focus on consumer transparency

“In 2021, transparency rules the day. Consumers currently appreciate it, but soon they will come to expect it. No longer will consumers take a company’s word for it: when it comes to billing, voting, healthcare, and government processes, customers want to see their forms being submitted and approved. While paper processes continue to be necessary, digital access from mobile accounts or CRM tools will become increasingly popular. This functionality is rapidly becoming standard as companies reengineer how they interface with customers, especially in the healthcare and government verticals.” - Scott Francis, technology evangelist, Fujitsu

7. Continuous evaluation of virtual collaboration 

“As remote work has become a mainstay of doing business, ITOps should work with their company’s CTO and CSO to offer the right mix of collaboration tools for employees. Remote work will continue to add stress for employees, and it’s the company’s job to provide a framework of respect for the home situations of their employees and the tools/resources they need to be successful, such as video conferencing platforms, Google Drive, and Slack. In addition, ITOps teams should regularly evaluate the performance of their organization’s communication and collaboration tools to ensure employees can maintain their productivity levels while working remotely.” - Marc Linster, CTO, EDB

Let's look at seven more key trends to have on your radar screen:

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.