Future Disrupted: Challenges of 2020 give shape to 2021

Defining the disruption and the trends that will transform the future of business.

Johannesburg, 03 Feb 2021
Read time 5min 30sec

The COVID-19 pandemic has influenced all parts of society. It has shifted technology adoption, turbo-charged digital transformation and redefined the channels of human engagement. The future that lies ahead is murky and uncertain and the organisation has to be ready in order to adapt.

In NTT’s latest Future Disrupted report, experts look at the risks and challenges that will likely rise up in 2021, and offer up best practice advice on how the business can find opportunity in the obstacles.

The report unpacks the trends that are most likely to influence business and decision-making in 2021 across the categories of disruptive technologies, digital transformation, customer experience, employee experience and technology services.

Disruptive technologies 2021

The factors that hit home the hardest in 2020 are those that will define the disruptive trends in 2021 – the global pandemic, climate change and environmentally sustainable business and personal practices have shifted gears for individual and organisation alike. The first trend is defined by the environment – that global communications will be powered by all-photonics networks. Using optical and hybrid cabling, these enable end-to-end information transmission, reducing the high levels of power that have a negative impact on environment and society.

Another technology set to rise to prominence is cognitive foundation (CF) technology that focuses on the centralised management of IT resources. CF is about the orchestration of technology, the integration of interfaces and the development of platforms capable of analysis and forecasting. Essential tools that help systems to think and operate independently and support business decision-making on an instinctive level. This will be further supported by digital twin computing (DTC), the third trend that defines sustainable platforms and predictive analytics through the integration of the real and the virtual worlds. DTC has the potential to integrate people's minds, thinking, habits and attitudes into their digital twins, allowing for this twin to perform specific tasks and make decisions in cyber space. This evolution of DTC is limited only by investment and scope, and possibly the ethics that would dictate how the rise of the digital human twin would be protected and used in society. While this innovation is likely to only be introduced into the mainstream in a decade or so, it will be interesting to see how this evolves in terms of ethics and use case.

The fourth most relevant disruptive trend is the evolution of the citizen developer and the consistent adoption and growth of robotic process automation (RPA). AI as a service and data as a service will continue to gain traction, providing anyone with the ability to create business applications, to translate data into intelligent solutions, and to find creative ways of solving business challenges. The non-developer employee will gain the tools and insights required to delve into the data, empowering them to create solutions and systems that are relevant to the digital transformation journey. Quantum and edge computing will also gain in popularity, providing powerful computing right at the edge of the source of the data. Edge computing offers a foundation for near real-time applications and AI at the edge and is tightly interconnected with the growth of the Internet of things (IOT) and 5G connectivity. The cliched bleeding edge will be the low-latency access of data as it is created, delivering insights and value at speeds that transform decision-making and innovation.

Digital transformation 2021

From within the vortex of disruptive trends, pandemic and technology evolution emerge the trends that are set to define digital transformation, and the first of these is simple – proactive digital transformation is no longer a choice. IT has to be capable of responding to what the business needs and investments have to deliver tangible business value within the chaos of fractured markets and economies. This is supported by the second trend – that the ability to leverage public and private cloud for agility and responsiveness. The most effective way to tangibly link technology investment to real business value is to embrace digital IT infrastructures that allow for rapid deployment, faster time-to-market, and the ability to pivot in a crisis.

Automation remains a prominent trend in 2021 for both the business-to-business and business-to-consumer markets. It has become immensely valuable to automate everything from the application layer to the cloud layer to the edge, pulling together cloud infrastructure, network and end-user into an automated ecosystem that’s faster and more efficient than ever before. The fourth trend is infrastructure as a generator of data, thanks to the intelligent blend of network data engineering, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. The fifth trend is one that’s hardly a surprise – cyber security’s role in business digital enablement will intensify. Data protection, workload location, application consumption and security strategies have to undergo consistent refinement to ensure they are fit for purpose.

Customer and employee experience 2021

The race to win the effective, digitally focused customer experience will speed up in 2021 as organisations fight their way out of dead-end design and siloed thinking. The customer is set to become more digitally focused; content will become more personalised and relevant; virtual and physical environments will rise up out of the pandemic ashes and CX strategy will define success. The employee experience will also undergo change as distributed workforces become the norm and the threads of identity, data and workplace analytics are woven into enhanced employee workplace experiences. Technology will become key to delivering insights that identify risks and managing productivity, and it will continue to enhance how employees collaborate in the next-generation meeting space. Each of these trends will underscore the value of employee wellness and ensuring that people are engaged and empowered in the office of tomorrow.

The Future Disrupted report found that the influence of the global pandemic had both a nuanced and obvious impact on organisation and investment, turning 2021’s trends and organisation approaches towards agility, sustainability and empowerment.

Find out more about how to adapt to, and leverage, these trends here.

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