Which technology trends should we look out for in 2021?

Attempting to predict the future is always risky business, and if annus horribilis 2020 taught us anything, it is how a true black swan event such as COVID upended most plans and predictions for the year we are leaving behind. As we enter the next year, I Look at the future with optimism as the year of the great recovery. However, the world will not revert to its pre-COVID state, and these are some of the technology trends that will shape 2021 and beyond.

Less than a year from when WHO called COVID as a global pandemic, the vaccines are being distributed. A significant technological achievement that will have repercussions far beyond the current pandemic and definitive proof of the importance of science and technology in our societies. As we entered the season finale of the shit show that we refer to as 2020, we witnessed how the smallest of men become the biggest baby when given power as Trump is aiming for a world record in how many times it is possible to lose a single election. With vaccines being distributed every single day, and an adult to take charge of the White House starting January 20th, the next year is all set to have one hell of a start!   

Researchers from UCLA predict 2021 to be comparable to the roaring 20s thanks to pent-up demand. But just because we enter a new year, does not mean that all our problems are solved when we wake up on January the 1st. The economic consequences of COVID will affect the year to come, and analysts like Forrester expect to see a fresh wave of bankruptcies as we enter 2021. This is supported by credit insurer Euler Hermes, which points to the fact that insolvency builds up over time, and is likely to hit sometime in the first half of 2021.  

COVID is likely to be no more than the warm-up round, and our biggest challenge still lies ahead when it comes to creating a sustainable future. Climate change, ocean pollution, and biodiversity loss, inequality, are just some of the problems that we to solve in the years to come. No matter what the future brings, technology will be an increasing part of both our problems as well as the solutions. These are some (and far from all) of the technology trends that will have our attention in 2021.

All about data

We learned a lot this past year. How to successfully wear the upper half of a suit, while keeping it casual below the belt, how all work and no play makes most of us a dull boy just to name some examples. Another vital lesson is the importance of fast and fact-based decision making and the ability to respond to unexpected changes. History has shown us that every crisis has resulted in opportunities, and fortune favors the prepared mind. To achieve this, decision-makers need access to actionable data in close to real-time. Although the use of data in everyday business is nothing new, becoming truly data-driven is imperative for success in a rapidly changing world. 

This is far from news for most leaders, having a dashboard of KPIs being prepared last-minute at every monthly review is far from good enough. There is still a long way between vision and execution when it comes to actually become data-driven as an organization.

The future of the workplace

The use of collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Zoom has exploded during the crisis, replacing endless meetings and lengthy emails. This shift in our professional life will undoubtedly shape the future of organizational development as well as the need for digital transformation internally in every organization. Just like the use of technology changed how corporations interact with their customer base, the crisis has forced corporations to digitize the relationship between employers and employees.

How will companies manage to strike a balance between catering to individual needs, maximizing productivity, maintaining a sustainable work-life balance, catering to the need for social interaction, optimizing the need for costly office space, while also preparing the workplace for future unexpected events? Even though most of us are tired of working from our dining tables, kitchen counters, and beds, remote work and telepresence are here to stay. Instead of working from home, working from anywhere could become a best of breed, where workers could work from home some days of the week, choose to rent an office space close to home on a day-to-day basis through their employer other days while spending time at the office at times where that create value.

This is not the only way the pandemic has accelerated the future of the workplace. The gig economy trend is likely to be strengthened by the current situation. Now that most companies have gone remote, leaders have been forced to focus on outcomes rather than time in the office. This has two potential effects. The obvious effects are that this will encourage automation even further. This also puts freelancers on an ever more equal footing with traditional employees, accelerating the shift from a blended workforce toward a liquid workforce. Working in this way allows these freelancers to keep their skills sharper than traditional employees, potentially strengthening the competence gap between freelancers and traditional employees.

There are many considerations to take when attempting to predict the future of the workplace, thus the potential outcomes will be equally plentiful, however, one core principle stands out, and that the ability for organizations to stay agile.

The re-invention of digital marketing

As it expected that consumers are eager to spend what they saved trough out 2020, brands are eager to reap the rewards of that pent-up demand. But to benefit from what is predicted to be a revisit to the roaring 20s, brands must pay close attention to what is happening in the digital marketing space. Even though digital marketing is one of the fastest moving spaces in tech, digital marketers are facing a perfect storm of change when attempting to catch the expected spending wave of 2021.

Consumer behavior will change in the wake of COVID, and it will require close attention to actual behavioral data to identify permanent changes in consumer behavior.

It is expected that more than 50 percent of ad spending will go towards digital marketing, where even larger budgets are directed towards influencer marketing. The rise of micro-influencers is a force to be reckoned with in influencer marketing. They may not have the massive follower count of the A-listers in the influencer space, but they will not have the astronomical price tags. Micro-influencers are proving themselves to be not-only more cost-effective, but also able to target niche audiences, as many are known for something rather than known for being known.  

The rise of new platforms such as TikTok is strengthening the micro-influencer trend, as the platform focus on trending topics more than the individual and will continue to have marketers on edge to continuously monitor how the various platforms are evolving in terms of reach, interaction, as well as attempting to reverse-engineer algorithms, where the latter is becoming increasingly difficult, bordering to the impossible, resulting in a reduction in organic reach.

Perhaps the biggest change in digital marketing is the demise of third-party cookies. With Google Chrome ending its support of third-party cookies in 2021, digital marketers will need to shift from reliance on third-party data for audience targeting. As a reference, Google Chrome accounts for about 70 percent of the internet browser market share. This urges campaign managers to rethink how the way they collect, manage and activate their first-party data.

This will benefit companies that have invested in building meaningful user-profiles and actually knowing their customers and their preferences through the collection and analysis of first-party customer data. Encouraging and incentivizing users to stay logged in and providing meaningful personalized communications could solidify customer interaction and further drive cross-sales. There is however no definitive answer here, and every company needs to find their spot in the customer value chain as the landscape for digital marketing is changing.

Cash is no longer king

The use of cash was already on the decline prior to COVID, even in cash-loving societies such as countries such as Austria and Germany, the use of physical cash is diminishing across the board. Even though habitual changes when it comes to payments have proven to be slow-moving, the way we pay will also be affected by the current crisis. The declining use of cash will likely accelerate as people fear that cash may act as people far that banknotes may spread the disease and many stores encourage customers to use cards or mobile payments. According to Nets, contactless adoption rates in the Nordics are increasing at a never-before-seen rate. Mobile payments in physical retail have proven to be a slow train coming so far, but the option to authenticate a payment on your own phone rather than handling a potential germy PIN-pad may be the spark that accelerates mobile payments. Combined with the rise in eCommerce, mobile wallet dominance over digital payments is likely to solidify even further.

Just as different customer segments show different behavioral changes amidst the crisis, an analysis by EY predicts that few consumers expect to go back to their old behaviors any time soon when we look past the immediate effects of the pandemic. As with many of the shocks we encounter in life, people are in a mood to pause and reflect, and those reflections will shape our future behavioral patterns. 

Digital currencies

Not everything went downhill in 2020 as bitcoin made an impressive comeback, soaring to new record-levels throughout December. Although I still believe that bitcoin still is pretty useless as a currency, bitcoin has proven to have an impressive staying power as an asset class.

As bitcoin reached $28 000 in December, the market cap exceeded $500 billion, but some analysts expect bitcoin to reach a market cap of more than $1 trillion sometime in 2021 as investors take its reserve currency status more seriously. For bitcoin’s market cap to reach $1 trillion, it would have to hit a price of $54,000 per coin next year, almost double of today’s value.

Bank for International Settlements issued a report and survey published a report in 2020, indicating that 80% of the world’s central banks are working on some form of central bank digital currency. As we should expect by now, Chine is leading the pack when it comes to central bank digital currencies and has already held a lottery where 100 000 people had the chance to win 200 renminbi worth of digital yuan to boost adoption rates. It is also expected that Facebook will launch their much-debated digital currency, now renamed Diem sometime in the first quarter of 2021.

Another area that has been growing in the shadows of the global pandemic during 2020 is Decentralized Finance (DeFi). The capitalization of the DeFi sector has grown 20-fold in 2020, from $646 million to $14 billion. The emergence of various crypto derivatives and stablecoins has made it possible to utilize crypto assets for loans and collateral, thus creating a decentralized financial system. Although, with great risk, including the lack of transparent regulation, insurance, and reliable custodian services. Especially taken into consideration that digital assets worth over a billion dollars have been stolen from cryptocurrency exchanges. The problems are many, but the benefits are high, perhaps 20210 will give us more clarity on the risk/reward profile of decentralized finance.

Although blockchain is sometimes acknowledged as a problem looking for a solution, the possibility to create trust ins a trustless environment is still a compelling use case in emerging markets, where trust in institutions is weak. The hype may be inflated, and not so news-worthy but the technology is still going strong. One thing is for sure, we are likely to hear more about both bitcoin, central bank digital currencies, and decentralized finance in the year to come.

More human than human

Even though I am truly passionate about technology and digital innovation, I have always been an advocate of letting technology handle the jobs that the machines are betters suited for than us humans and leave the tasks that require a human touch to humans. Although I may be strongly biased, I believe that the last year has taught us the value of human interaction, as we have been forced to acknowledge what we have been missing. The in-depth knowledge of a sommelier when asking for a wine-pairing, the helpful flight-attendant stat stoves your bag in the front for a quick disembarking, or just being shoved around in a sweaty crowd at a concert.

Technology will undoubtedly replace and improve many of our existing practices, but we are social beings, and the demand for human interaction will not diminish anytime soon.   

One thought on “Which technology trends should we look out for in 2021?

  • December 31, 2020 at 1:31 pm
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    I think the “solution looking for a problem” headache of blockchain technology (BCT) to a certain degree is correct, at least for now. But that is only for non-financial use. BCT underpinned by cryptocurrency, in other words open and permissionless BCs, have proven their value. The “blockchain, not bitcoin” mantra has silened and seems to be replaced by “bitcoin, not blockchain”. And rightly so!

    Bitcoin as a payment solution has yet to prove its value, except for cross-border payments. However, when you see the message from the banks before Christmas and other holidays on latest payment time for payments to be processed it does not take an economist to figure out there are plenty room for improvement and innovation.

    Finally, the phasing out of non-surveillance money (cash) is deeply concerning and a good reason why cryptocurrencies are so important. I am afraid we do not recognize what we have lost before it is too late.

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