This is the season for top-10 lists of predictions for the year ahead. Here is my one annual prediction for what will dominate the business tech scene in 2021.
Recovery. That’s the prediction for ‘21. And that’s going to make technology even more important.
Covid-19 is horrible, and we’re not out of the woods yet. But the vaccines have arrived, and will be reaching hundreds of millions of people in early ‘21.
With the weight of Covid gradually lifting, things may bloom into what UCLA economists are predicting to be another “Roaring 20s.” If vaccinations go as planned, they predict, the nation’s gross domestic product will grow from 1.2% in the current quarter to 6% in the second quarter of 2021, thanks to pent-up demand.
Corporate surveys exhibit a similar bullishness. A survey of financial executives by BillingPlatform in which 83% say it is “likely” there will be an economic upturn in 2021, with 47% saying it is “very likely.” At least 51% anticipating a moderate to large increase in their 2021 budgets compared to 2020. Top priorities for the coming year include investing in cloud-based technologies (42%), identifying ways to drive higher revenue through new products and services (41%), and reduce operating costs or capital investments (36%).
Worldwide IT spending is projected to total $3.8 trillion in 2021, an increase of 4% from 2020, according to the most recent projections from Gartner. Enterprise software is expected to have the strongest rebound in 2021 (7.2%) due to the acceleration of digitalization efforts by enterprises supporting a remote workforce, delivering virtual services such as distance learning or telehealth, and leveraging hyperautomation to ensure pandemic-driven demands are met.
The summer into second half of the year, then, will be epic for many industries. Pent-up demand will burst through, stretching the resources of airlines, hotels, concert venues, commercial real estate, physical retail, transportation providers, and other industries flattened by the Covid-19 crisis. Business travel, however, may take longer to return to pre-2020 levels.
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Are the rebounding industries ready? Many have been gutted of prime assets — especially people. They will need to ramp up hiring, rev up their supply chains, re-open shuttered facilities, and figure out how digital resources can help them meet the onslaught.
Technology to the rescue, again. Just as supply chains choked in the spring of 2020 with shortages of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, supply chains for aircraft parts, travel services, and restaurant supplies, — just to name a few — will be stretched to the limit, and there will be shortages for those not tapped into digitally enhanced, intelligent and responsive networks.
Work from home — no, make that work from anywhere — has become solidly embedded into our organizations, and even once Covid ceases its wretched existence, work from anywhere will have proven itself to be a very effective method of engaging and delivering. Virtual work in the office will be indistinguishable from virtual work at home, with the exception of elevators and water coolers.
There will be a spirit of independence, of self-management, not seen prior to 2020. Former cubicle workers have learned to become their own, self-sustaining, somewhat more entrepreneurial digital masters, and that genie can’t be put back in the bottle.
By the way, for 20-somethings in the early stages of their careers, full-time work from anywhere is a terrible option — people in the early stages of their careers need the opportunities to develop friendships, learn from mentors, and get a taste of how the world works — and this can’t be done from a screen in the corner of one’s bedroom. It certainly will make sense for younger employees — and older employees tired of working off their kitchen tables — to stream back into offices.
The coming year will see plenty of push and pull over remote work — many employees won’t want to come back into the office, and employers will be cognizant about productivity and real-estate or office rental savings. Still, many others will welcome getting back together in the office.
Previous half-baked predictions: