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Tech Trends and Predictions 2021

At this time of year, every business in the tech sector looks forward to trying and predict the trends that could impact their enterprises. As the hub around which tech businesses orbit, Silicon UK asked some of the leaders in the tech sector to give their predictions. Do you agree?

This article was originally published by David Howell on Silicon UK

The new report, ‘Foresight 2021: Top Emerging Technologies to Watch,’ identifies and ranks 12 key technologies that will reshape the world. The technologies are chosen based on innovation interest scores from the Lux Tech Signal, a composite measure assembled from a variety of innovation data sources, along with input from Lux’s experts. In addition to highlighting the 12 critical overall technologies, for the first time, this year’s report ranks the top five technologies across five key industries: chemicals and materials, automotive, food and agriculture, electronics and IT, and energy. The top three technologies cited in the report are:

  1. Autonomous vehicles: Improvements in safety and efficiency are happening at all levels of vehicle automation, benefiting both consumers and commercial operations. Level 4 and 5 autonomous vehicles will transform mobility and logistics by removing the need for a driver behind the wheel of a vehicle.

  2. Natural language processing: Powering devices like voice assistants, machine translation, and chatbots, natural language processing (NLP) patents have had a 44% CAGR over the past five years, now reaching more than 3,000 publications annually.

  3. Plastic recycling: Concern about plastic waste is nothing new, but major consumer product companies have made commitments to increasing recycling rates and innovations that can convert waste into higher-value products. Over the past decade alone, 155 start-ups addressing plastic waste have been founded.

The sonic branding service amp has made several predictions around how businesses will be using sound in 2021: Brands will find their voice – investing in their own human voices. For the third consecutive year, the use of voice-enabled devices and assistants to enable purchasing has increased faster than any other type of connected commerce. About 31% of consumers now own voice-activated devices; it will be more important than ever that brands can speak to them. With growing interest this year, amp predicts 2021 will see a surge in the number of brands investing in the creation of their own voice profile. Amp suggests that facilitating digital commerce and DTC relationships with consumers will be a key driver.

Rasmus Holst, Chief Revenue Officer, Wire – a messaging and collaboration platform predicts: “In 2021, the global economy will slow to single-digit growth, as countries minimise activity in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. Meanwhile, as remote work and insecure data practices persist, cyber breach costs are slated to hit double-digit growth across all industries. Unless corporations, government agencies and nation-states figure out how to mitigate these cyber risks the global community will suffer catastrophic economic losses that will take years to rectify.” In their wide-ranging predictions for 2021, SolarWinds’ Head Geek, Patrick Hubbard said: “Businesses will be re-thinking the multi-cloud. The benefits of a multi-cloud strategy have been hyped significantly and include everything from flexibility and reliability to cost-performance optimisation. But deploying data and workloads across multiple clouds shouldn’t be an industry best practice. According to a 2020 IDG survey, 55% of organisations use two or more public clouds, but 79% struggle to achieve synergy across their multiple platforms. Now and in the future, we’ll see a growing number of companies re-think multi-cloud or consolidate around a single cloud provider. SolarWinds’ Head Geek, Patrick Hubbard.“With multi-cloud adoption, there’s a lag between initial investment and deployment. Those who first started with a multi-cloud strategy may grow to realise how expensive and quickly complicated it can get, making the return on investment (ROI) questionable. It’s expensive because it requires a high level of understanding for each target platform, a strong development team, and observability and monitoring focus, orchestration-first processes, nearly complete change automation, and more. For most businesses, there are also some lost cost opportunities because not all cloud providers offer the same services mix, especially for advanced services—and this is where things start to get more complicated. Businesses must develop and maintain advanced cross-cloud services in-house for anything not common to all target platforms. Hubbard concluded: “As we see organisations re-think multi-cloud, they must also think about what success looks like. This usually depends on two “must-haves.” First, businesses pursuing a multi-cloud strategy must either wield a high-performing, DevOps-focused team of IT professionals or have the budget to outsource multi-cloud engineering and monitoring to someone else. Second, they must have a well-researched case for why they believe multi-cloud will meet their business needs in the first place.” For Forrester, cybersecurity will become more critical to pay attention to than at any time in the past. “Funding for non-US-headquartered cybersecurity companies will increase by 20%. Start-up creation is increasingly a source of national pride and investment in Europe and Asia Pacific. Moves by the EU Commission to promote its digital sovereignty and further economic protectionism in Asia will result in increased funding for regional cybersecurity firms. Multinational firms must give up their single-sourcing approach and accept the reality of point solutions based on region. Develop a star-tup scouting capability to identify promising new regional security technology, build an adaptable procurement and sourcing plan to obtain them, and create standard security guidelines to create consistency across disparate vendors.” Gartner has a wide range of tech predictions for the coming year including By 2024, 25% of traditional large enterprise CIOs will be held accountable for digital business operational results, effectively becoming ‘COO by proxy.’ By 2025, traditional computing technologies will hit a digital wall forcing the shift to new paradigms such as neuromorphic computing. By 2024 content moderation services for user-generated content will be surveyed as a top CEO priority in 30% of large organisations. “Technologies are being stressed to their limits, and conventional computing is hitting a wall,” said Daryl Plummer, distinguished research vice president and Gartner Fellow. “The world is moving faster than ever before, and it’s essential that technology and processes are able to keep up to support digital innovation needs. Starting now, CIOs can expect a decade of radical innovation led by non-traditional approaches to technology. The future technologies that will lead the ‘reset of everything’ have three key commonalities: they promote greater innovation and efficiency in the enterprise; they are more effective than the technologies that they are replacing, and they have a transformational impact on society.” In their report, Spiceworks Ziff Davis looked at how IT budgets could change in 2021. Overall IT budgets are expected to decline slightly year-over-year in 2021, but 80% of businesses still anticipate tech spending to stay the same or increase. Companies expect to increase cloud and managed services spending in 2021, and Hardware spending in 2021 is expected to decline. Plans to adopt emerging tech have dropped significantly in 2021, as IT buyers deprioritise cutting-edge features in favour of more pressing needs. Brad Christian, Global Chief Customer Officer, Conversity commented on how retailing may change next year: “The brands that will stand out in 2021 are the ones that take steps to unify their online and in-store experiences properly. The companies that have done well this year are the ones that innovated in this manner early on in the pandemic, such as local businesses switching to home delivery services, or larger retailers spinning up a click-and-collect service on the fly. Brad Christian, Global Chief Customer Officer, Conversity.“On the e-commerce side, this means having a website or mobile app that doesn’t just “do the job” – it has to be exceptional. Personalisation technology should be front-and-centre to make browsing and purchasing easy; returning products should be straightforward. An e-commerce platform should appeal to those who are less tech-savvy as well. “Physical stores remain important, but we expect many brands to re-evaluate the space they have, especially given there is less of a requirement now to hold large amounts of stock on-site. Instead, many brands’ stores will become more of a showroom where customers can go and see products and have an experience, with the choice to then purchase online. It is this effective omnichannel blend that will yield the most success.” For Ed Giaquinto, CIO at Sectigo, obtaining the right skills with be key to businesses being successful in 2021. “For SaaS providers, application security (DevSecOps) will be the most desirable skill set. SaaS consumers are increasingly aware of the security posture of the partners they engage with. If SaaS providers are not performing security due diligence around the software and services they provide, they will not succeed. For the typical enterprise, your standard security engineer, responsible for monitoring the day-to-day status of that organisation’s cybersecurity-posture, will be the highest-desired skill set.” Ed Giaquinto, CIO at Sectigo.James Muir, Threat Intelligence Research Lead, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence says: “Synthetic media goes mainstream, and threat actors capitalise. Technological developments in synthetic media (AI-generated faces, voices, etc.) has boomed in 2020 and will continue to do so into 2021. The benefits of this could be many-fold. For example, NVIDIA has proposed an AI-based mechanism to minimise bandwidth use in videoconferencing, with impressive results. However, the time has told us that the threat actor is always quick to exploit technological advance to support their goals. “The immediate use of ‘deepfakes’ for disinformation will be in the interests of several different threat actor groups with political or subversive goals. Synthetic media will also be increasingly used for new twists on social engineering. E.g. AI-generated faces on social media profiles, fictitious personnel at spoofed/front companies, etc. An array of potential uses of this technology for cybercrime and fraud are likely to be seen in the wild. A scenario in which ‘your CEO’ requests over Zoom that a wire transfer is made, when in reality it is a real-time deepfake video overlay and audio from a cyber-criminal, is increasingly a possibility. Patrick Smith, EMEA CTO at Pure Storage believes the focus on containers could be over. “Forget containers – 2021 will be the year of the application. For several years’ containers have featured in my predictions, whether it be containers going mainstream or the rise of stateful container workloads. As this space further matures, we see container granular solutions becoming important and application centricity becoming essential. It’s all about the business application; consistent and reliable day to day operation, encrypting its data, backing up the whole application not just its data and being able to freely move the application from the environment to environment, datacenter to datacenter or cloud to cloud-based on changing circumstance. Whether it’s homegrown or off-the-shelf, the focus is on the application.” Patrick Smith, EMEA CTO at Pure Storage.Digital sovereignty, decentralised reputations and the fall of the walled garden are predictions from Matthew Hodgson, the CEO of Element: “With organisations’ work and communication spread disparately across a growing number of messaging apps and collaboration tools, organisations will turn towards tools which offer true collaboration between apps. Users do not want to be vendor-locked and held hostage within their apps, and instead want the same level of interoperability provided by email but in real-time. Matthew Hodgson, the CEO of Element.“True interoperability is already being explored in Europe, with German regulators investigating WhatsApp and other messaging platforms’ handling of personal data and whether sending messages between different chat apps could boost privacy. Similarly, the EU is attempting to bust silos apart by promoting interoperability between applications to enhance competition and innovation between platforms. This includes exploring different technologies, open standards and protocols, the possibility of APs. It’s clear collaboration tools, and messaging apps which continue to persist with keeping their digital services within their own profitable walled gardens will lose long term to those with open communication standards. A divide which will become more apparent in 2021. “The rise of digital sovereignty: More organisations will choose tech systems which provide total control over their data, known as digital sovereignty. Governments and NGOs are already increasingly conscious that centralised systems like Slack and Microsoft Teams lack end-to-end encryption, and so can see their data and metadata as it’s stored on third-party servers. Often these servers are located in a different region to their operations which creates complicated issues due to varying data regulations and approaches to user privacy between areas. Thanks to Privacy Shield, the EARN IT Act and the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data (LAED) Act, the issue of data residency is now a high-profile boardroom issue and will continue to be in 2021 as companies reassess their data exposure. “Decentralised reputation – the new line of defence against online abuse: Decentralised networks, which have no single point of failure, no single point of attack and no owner subject to external pressure, can solve the current moderation problems for collaboration tools. “Decentralised reputation networks will empower users, moderators and server admins to make up their own minds about whom their platforms will trust and what content is allowed. This would encourage privacy-respecting mechanisms to prevent illegal and immoral content being shared. By building a reputation ecosystem based on individual choice, users can choose which privacy laws to align themselves with and what content to filter out. We predict this technology will take off in 2021, as data regulations and pressure on significant tech increases. “The UK Government and others are exploring ways to moderate and control content which promotes child abuse, terrorism, fascism and similar. Eliminating abuse on collaboration platforms is vital but introducing backdoors is fundamentally flawed. In the world of decentralised technology, backdoors cannot be mandated across the entire network and were they introduced, bad actors would be exposed and worked around.” For all businesses, the tech landscape will look very different as COVID-19 continues to impact how enterprises are organised. Keeping a close eye on costs and spending resources where they have the most positive impact will be a key trend throughout 2021. Security, the cloud, remote working and how burgeoning technologies including AI, 5G, edge computing, hybrid cloud, and of course, the changes Brexit could bring to the tech landscape are a heady mix that all companies in the tech space will have to navigate. Silicon UK would like to wish everyone a safe Christmas. As we move into 2021, the team will continue to ensure Silicon UK is your trusted resource for news and insight. Photo by Laura Ockel on Unsplash.

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