Technology was one of the few industries that fared well in 2020. With the shift to remote work and the need to stay home due to COVID-19, people relied on technology for both business and social connection. Everything from virtual corporate conferences and Zoom happy hours to online classrooms and livestreamed workouts suddenly became the norm. And while those outside the technology industry may look at this past year and marvel at the ways technology has transformed their lives completely, the influence of technology is just getting started.
In 2020 as the pandemic swept across the globe, cloud technologies helped businesses keep the lights on and automation helped teams do more with less. But in 2021, technology will advance to truly accelerate and elevate industries in incremental — yet impactful — ways. Here are three ways I predict technology will reshape enterprises in 2021.
Brick and mortar is going to look very different post-COVID
The provocative thought pieces claiming physical retail is officially dead are oversimplified and will prove inaccurate in 2021. Brick and mortar is here to stay and the world will soon see a surge in in-person shopping as vaccines are distributed and eager consumers wish to return to a sense of normalcy.
But stores will undoubtedly look much different. The extended services and technology that physical stores implemented during the pandemic to survive, such as curbside pick-up, buy-online-pickup-in-store, robotics, and augmented reality and virtual reality, will become permanent fixtures even after the virus is gone. These technologies will help create a more modern, flexible and digital retail landscape for consumers.
Technology will make or break safe re-entry efforts
COVID-19 consolidated years of digital transformation progress into a matter of months, shifting much of the global workforce to remote working environments. As the world heads into 2021 and businesses start considering a slow, staggered return to the office, safe re-entry will be the most critical priority of the year.
But a successful, safe return to the office won’t come down to sanitization stations or desks spaced six feet apart. Technology will be the linchpin, enabling mission-critical steps such as temperature control, positioning and proximity tracing. Businesses that prioritize network, cloud and IoT investments will experience a smooth transition. Those that don’t might be forced to revert back to remote working.
Businesses are forced to improve security as devices return to the office
Most businesses were never prepared to let their employees work from home full-time, creating a looming threat because many laptops and devices have been taken out of the office. Those devices have been connected to home and personal networks for months and likely used for non-work tasks, meaning many environments will see a steep rise in security threats and attacks as those devices return to work.
The most forward-thinking businesses will adopt zero-trust network segmentation strategies and invest in robust, end-to-end tools that have visibility, analytics, machine learning, AI, security and remediation capabilities built-in, as opposed to a sprawling set of outdated niche solutions.
Across all these trends, it’s important to remember the network is the common denominator. Annual predictions are often laced with buzzwords and, at times, dystopian visions for the future. They offer a sense of escapism, but they can feel detached from reality.
Technological progress happens in increments, not overnight. And the simple fact is that the massive digital transformations people hypothesize about are wholly reliant on underlying infrastructures and systems. Businesses can’t build the mansion without the foundation.
My biggest hope is that businesses in 2021 properly invest in networking, cloud and analytics tools, which are the keys to the future. And the best part is, because technology is more democratized than ever before, they’re available to every size business across every industry.
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