The digital age is upon us – 2020 threw up some unexpected challenges for a wealth of different industries but tech has remained crucial not only to their very survival but their continual thriving. In a year that could have seen stunted progress, we have witnessed, in many cases, the complete opposite. We talk to tech leaders about what they expect to see next year.
Anna Brailsford, CEO, Code First Girls:
“Today, women make up only 17% of IT specialists in the UK, and a mere 35% of women pursuing STEM at higher education level – but this is changing. As we head into 2021, companies globally will take the opportunity to reshape the way we work and fight to achieve gender parity in the workplace. By empowering women to upskill in technology, businesses across industries can establish a work culture that enables women to thrive.
“At a time when businesses are facing increased uncertainty, a highly-skilled diverse team is invaluable and such a workforce doesn’t need to be solely outsourced. Instead, forward-looking organisations will look to their existing employees and provide opportunities to support upskilling and personal growth. Whether in person or through the use of a video-conferencing tool, businesses can partner with organisations dedicated to creating tailored training sessions – empowering attendees with new skills and perspectives. Not only does this help futureproof the business, but this also demonstrates a commitment to a company culture that values its employees.
“In the new year, don’t rest on your laurels. Take the initiative to set an industry example for 2021, educate and upskill women. The businesses that get this right, and build a diverse and inclusive workplace for women, will thrive.”
Joshua Zerkel, Certified Professional Organizer and Head of Global Engagement Marketing, Asana:
“When the UK was plunged head-first into remote work in March 2020, business leaders did what they needed to do. They gave employees the tools they would need to survive in a fully remote environment. However, we’re now in danger of fuelling app overload. Our data shows employees at enterprises are using 10 apps for remote work, switching between them 25 times a day. This has consequences. Due to switching between apps, 27 per cent of workers miss messages and actions, and 25 per cent end up duplicating work.
“In 2021, business leaders should take a critical eye to the tech stack deployed to help teams cope with the rapid transition to remote work. A lot of those tools, like Asana, Zoom and Slack will stay in place to support workers in distributed work. But ensuring employees know the purpose of each app they are using, and how they are using it, is vital to keeping teams aligned and avoiding ‘work about work’ (such as searching for information and duplicating work) in 2021.”
Tanzil Bukhari, Managing Director, EMEA, DoubleVerify:
“Content consumption levels have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our recent research study, ‘Four fundamental shifts in media and advertising during 2020’, revealed that people have doubled the amount of time they spend each day consuming content—from 3 hours 17 minutes, to an average of 6 hours 59 minutes. Consumers are specifically spending more time on social media platforms, such as TikTok, reading online news and watching digital/streaming video. And this behaviour isn’t likely to slow down in 2021. This presents a significant opportunity for advertisers to engage consumers in the year ahead. But Google’s phase-out of third party cookies means that brands need to explore innovative approaches to target the right audiences, in a privacy-friendly manner.
“Contextual targeting solutions are paving a brand suitable — and more effective — way to reach consumers based on the content they’re interested in and already consuming. Contextual targeting technology, based on semantics and machine learning, helps advertisers reach their audiences in a relevant and privacy-compliant way, without sacrificing the scale that cookie tracking offers. In a world transformed, this approach to advertising will encourage brands to challenge the status quo when it comes to audience targeting, to harness consumers’ appetite for content, at the right time, all while driving campaign performance.”
Stuart Templeton, Head of UK, Slack:
“Over the last few months, the word ‘work’ has been completely redefined. We have seen the eradication of the traditional 9 to 5, and in some cases the complete upheaval of the physical office. During the shift to remote work, many new benefits have been realised, so it’s no surprise that our recent Future Forum survey found that less than 12% of knowledge workers want to return to working full-time in the office.
“With a move towards hybrid work expected in the years ahead, 2021 will be the year that businesses need to create their own digital HQs. This will help to keep the culture alive, and retain all discussions and documents if organisations are to ensure their teams – both internally and externally – remain connected and productive. 2021 is ultimately a chance for businesses to reset and restructure the way they work. By putting in place a new digital HQ they will be able to meet the needs of a distributed workforce, ready for the future.”
Michele Romanow, President and Co-Founder, Clearbanc
“2020 has been devastating for so many businesses and the UK economy has been hit hard with Brexit and COVID combination. These circumstances are forcing businesses to pivot to online and build things we never imagined, because our needs have totally changed.
“The 2008 recession saw a huge wave of startups that went on to some of the biggest exits in the last couple years including Airbnb, Uber and Whatsapp. I benefited from the early stage of this boom when my company was acquired by Groupon in 2014. I think we’ll look back at 2020 and see that some of the most creative companies in healthcare, AI and e-commerce were started while we were all stuck at home trying to solve problems.”
John Morrison, SVP of International Markets, Extreme Networks:
“As a result of the ongoing pandemic and the related increase in remote work, organisations are going to focus even more on their networks in 2021. After all, they are an organisation’s lifeblood, especially during uncertain times.
“But one of the main challenges for many companies next year will be the need for their network infrastructure to continue delivering optimal performance despite the inevitable budget cuts and resource constraints that the fallout of the global pandemic and the resulting recession will create.
“Network-as-a-service will emerge as one of the key enterprise IT and network connectivity trends of 2021 as it provides organisations with a cost-conscious solution to ensuring consistent connectivity. It also offers companies the flexibility to expand or reduce network services on-demand depending on business needs, without sacrificing performance.
“2021 will be the year where many companies start to move away from investing in physical network infrastructure and instead consider outsourcing some or all network operations and management by committing to the network-as-a-service model.”
Sergei Anikin, CTO, Pipedrive:
“The past year has been catalytic in helping even the most conservative of industries embrace technology. The onset of the pandemic caused an abrupt halt to traditional ways of working and this trend is set to continue well into the new year and beyond. Not least because local lockdowns and social distancing measures are unlikely to be a thing of the past any time soon.
“The demand for innovative solutions has risen due to the impact of COVID-19, and is set to reach even higher levels in 2021. It’s giving industries the motivation to invest in digitalisation and automation. As a result, a virtuous cycle will form: with the surge in demand comes more willingness to use online services and a better understanding of the utility of digitalisation, which in turn increases trust in technology and drives its deployment across all industries.”
“In addition, the acceleration of even more streamlined and effective solutions will supercharge the process, leading to a sustained rise in technological development and business success. In 2021, we can expect to see even more daring, outside-the-box concepts aiming to solve any challenge the new year brings.”
In conclusion, 2021 may be a daunting year for many but should excite in equal measure. There is an age-old fable about the creation of diamonds under pressure, and we can be sure to see some diamonds emerge next year.