Gartner Research Top Technological Trends for 2021 

Trend Spotting

This week in Viral Octopus Magazine’s Knowledge series we’ll take a look at nine emerging technology trends identified by technology research and advisory company Gartner in their annual Top Strategic Technology Trends report for 2021. The nascent “Internet of behaviors,” distributed cloud computing, AI engineering, cybersecurity mesh, and composable business are among the trends we’ll dive into below. But first, let’s consider the themes that join these nine trends together.     

Three Unifying Themes: Access, People, and Resilience 

Gartner research identifies three broad themes that unite the nine tech trends: location independence, people-centered technology, and resilience. The pandemic has changed the workplace. Businesses have embraced technology to allow workers, customers, and suppliers to interact at a distance, allowing cooperation regardless of location. The need for remote work has thrust technology into business relationships, but people are still the most important resource. Technology needs to serve their changing needs. The pandemic highlights the need for organizations to be prepared for unexpected disruptions and respond with quick and effective pivots to remain resilient in the face of new challenges. By keeping these themes in mind and combining the following mutually-reinforcing trends, business leaders can maintain the flexibility to guide their organizations through the unpredictable changes of the coming years.   

Internet of Behaviors

  By now, most people have heard of the “internet of things”, a phrase to describe the recent trend of using RFID tags, sensors, and other internet-connected devices to report the physical state of objects on the internet. The internet of behaviors (IoB) is the logical extension of the internet of things. The IoB seeks to quantify, record, and influence human behaviors. This can be done through observing the internet of things. A driver’s performance can be monitored with internet-connected sensors in a vehicle for example. The IoB can put together data from various other sources including data collected for commercial purposes, government data, and publicly available social media information. The potential power of these techniques to influence and control behavior raises ethical questions. Gartner offers the example of health insurance companies using wearables to track behavior and nudge clients towards healthy behavior but also wanting to use personal data to assess premiums, resulting in higher costs calculated with data that perhaps should be private.   

Total Experience

Rather than think of customer experience, employee experience, vendor experience, and user experience as separate issues to be addressed by different teams in disconnected silos, the new trend is to focus on where these experiences intersect. When an outside disruptor like Covid-19 shakes things up, managers can look at the big picture and see how an issue like moving to more remote communication affects both internal and external processes and relationships. Looking at how each type of experience impacts the others allows a more robust and effective response to change.  

Improved Privacy

Consumers are increasingly concerned about privacy. Three new technological developments are arising to help protect their interests. First, in order to protect privacy, you must create a trusted environment where the data can be stored and processed. Second, you can ensure greater trust with decentralization, eliminating the possibility of failure or corruption of a centralized entity. Third, data can be rigorously encrypted as soon as it is captured. These trends will help foster safe cooperation and secure sharing of data.   

Distributed Cloud

  Distributed cloud computing service is here to stay. Centralized cloud computing was a good start, allowing the outsourcing of IT functions to providers with efficient scaling. Distributed cloud computing puts the resources physically closer to users, reducing latency and data costs as well as meeting regulatory requirements in some cases. Most organizations should consider using a distributed cloud service rather than maintaining their own private cloud.   

Anywhere Operations

A physical space can be an asset for a business, but the pandemic has highlighted a massive  opportunity. Most businesses can adopt an “anywhere operations” philosophy and grow. The new model is: think digital first, remote first. You want all aspects of your business, both internal and customer or vendor facing to be accessible and as fully functional as possible from anywhere. Where you do have a physical space, give some thought to how you can offer digital alternatives in that space. For instance, if you have a retail store, you can consider setting up a contactless checkout system.   

Cybersecurity Mesh

Traditionally, cybersecurity has focused on building a wall around a server or a similar clearly defined asset. But the variety of business tools we use and the ways we store data have expanded enormously. Important assets are scattered throughout a complex web of tools and cloud data centers. There is no longer a clear perimeter. The cybersecurity mesh approach defines the security perimeter more broadly around the identity of a person or thing. According to Gartner, “It enables a more modular, responsive security approach by centralizing policy orchestration a   nd distributing policy enforcement.”  

Intelligent Composable Business 

  Recent events highlight the importance of adaptability. Businesses need to be able to rearrange their operations quickly to respond to unfolding situations. We have the power to gather digital information quickly. To fully harness this power, organizations must be agile and capable of rapid change. Gartner points out three necessary priorities: enable access to information, analyze the information quickly and provide actionable insight, have the organizational capability and processes to make decisions and take action quickly.   

AI Engineering

  AI is powerful but it’s also early in its hype cycle. It can “work magic” for you, but if you tame it, it can deliver reliable, scalable, interpretable results without the maintenance and governability hassles that come with “magic”. The key, according to Gartner, is AI engineering. Gartner recommends bringing the AI team and the DevOps team together rather than having the AI team work in isolation. Bringing in traditional software engineers can help tame the AI hype and keep the benefits tangible and transparent.   

Hyperautomation

  This is just what it sounds like. Hyperautomation is leaving no stone unturned in the quest to automate every possible detail of every process. Organizations should be taking a look at legacy systems and technologies linked by less-than-complete patchwork. Where interactions are not clean and clear, efficacy and efficiency should replace “kludges”.    

These Ideas Only Help If You Act On Them

  This is all very interesting from a theoretical perspective. But ultimately, what is important is finding a way to apply it. So now it is time to think about how you can apply these ideas to improve your business. Find a way to take advantage of these trends and make a change for the better. 

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