Without a doubt, 2020 was an extraordinary year for digital technologies. Companies were both encouraged and inspired to accelerate digital transformation plans – with the biggest change coming through the rapid expansion of the digital workforce.
Home working grew, with 40% to 60% working remotely and trends show that many employees aren’t going back to the office or into the field: Global Workplace Analytics estimates that 25% to 30% of the labour force will work from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021. Digital tools have also improved the efficiency and safety of remote workers – from individuals in the field to those working in manufacturing and warehousing.
Will 2021 see the same level of digital innovation? Absolutely.
According to Forrester, while 85% of firms viewed digital as nice to have in 2019, in 2020, every company learned that digital is critical to customer and business success. The research predicts that companies will continue to accelerate their digital transformation in 2021.
Companies have gained confidence in digital tools and proved their effectiveness; they’ve accelerated plans and are now looking to take the next step. So, what are the big digital transformation trends for this year?
For many CIOs, digital technologies, including 5G, have leapt up the strategic plan.
According to a Deloitte survey of networking executives, 86% believe that advanced wireless technologies such as 5G and Wi-Fi 6, will transform their organisation within three years, and 79% say it will transform their industry.
5G is more than the next generation of cellular network – it’s already enabling amazing changes to both business and consumer experiences.
With high speed, ultra-low latency and the ability to eventually support millions of devices, 5G combined with AI, Edge Computing, IoT, cloud and big data analytics, will inspire new business operations, products and services, from smart factories and robot-operated surgery to the use of autonomous cranes at ports and driverless vehicles.
Any doubts about the value of cloud computing evaporated during 2020. Companies that already made the shift to the cloud seamlessly transitioned to remote working. The new home offices — the kitchen tables and chilly box rooms — were not always ideal; but employees could access business information and applications in the cloud as they would in the office.
In 2021, we’ll see an acceleration of cloud adoption – Forrester expects a further 50% of enterprises to make cloud-centric transformation a priority, moving more applications and processes to the cloud.
With the growth of IoT, cloud-based data processing is also providing companies with the immediate information they need to become more efficient and safeguard workers – which is why Edge Computing is becoming so important.
Rather than pass data across the network to a public cloud, Edge Computing processes data at the edge of the network, close to the sensors and wearable devices that are collecting it.
Cutting latency to around 10 milliseconds, Edge Computing means data can be analysed and actioned immediately – opening the door to many new use cases, from robotics to autonomous vehicles.
Digital working will continue to be a big trend this year as companies look to turn the quick fixes put in place during the pandemic, such as laptops and videoconferencing, into something that meets employees’ needs in the long term.
Home working will remain a priority with so many employees planning to work at home at least a few days each week.
From reliable networks and cloud-based applications to data and unified communications and collaboration tools, long-term home working will require employers to think more strategically about how to support employees.
Also, there will be an array of new technologies that will help employees to work together in different ways – including custom-developed mobile apps, intelligent chat bots, wearables, and immersive experiences that harnessaugmented reality.
More than half (57%) of future-ready businesses think that crises like the pandemic are the best possible time to experiment with new ways of working – and it is those businesses actively exploring and innovating with the power of 5G, intelligent networks, IoT, cloud and Edge Computing that will be best placed to thrive in a post-pandemic economy.
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