Technology trends to look out for in 2021

We look into our crystal ball at what the year ahead may hold.

At the beginning of 2020, any predictions for that year may have quickly gone out of the window. As we look to 2021 we know where we are a bit better than before, but no one can predict the year with certainty.

So here we predict, humbly and with caution, six trends we think we will see in 2021.

1. Companies that embrace the change will reap the rewards

We said in 2020 that workforces will be like another network, that will be geographically diverse and that needs to be supported and maintained. That will not change.

Even if the pandemic disappeared tomorrow, the working changes are now embraced by employees everywhere. Companies will not be able to turn back time.

As Monique Moss said in her blog: “The office is dead long live the office”: what businesses need to do is speak to their employees and build workplaces that are designed for collaboration and hybrid working. To use a term popular in politics right now, we need to “build back better”.

As the economy recovers and adapts, the best talent will look for their potential employer to be simply “modern”. If you are not, you will be left behind.

2. Managed services and outsourcing will move up the agenda

The pandemic has taught us perhaps that companies that try to do everything themselves may, in some places, have weaknesses. We have gotten used to running leaner teams in many areas, but with that there is a lack of resiliency. We have learnt we cannot deploy resource as easily as we could. Now, for the first time in the modern workplace, we cannot just hop on a plane. Even a train may be challenging.

This comes at a time where our network and data centre resilience are being tested like never before. As such we will see a shift to less resources on site, greater remote monitoring, and more hot swapping of equipment.

No company wants people ‘on the bench’ just in case, so sometimes the right decision is to put BAU or maintenance work in the hands of teams that can scale and provide resiliency as and when needed and wherever the requirement may be.

Understand you cannot do it all, so find the right people that can.

3. Automation and robotics will accelerate

Companies are still doing way too much manual admin that could be automated. In the workplace businesses will need to look to automation and process improvement to ensure they are operating efficiently and resiliently – particularly as work becomes decentralised.

While Brexit will provide some short-term uncertainty against the backdrop of the pandemic, the UK will continue to evolve as a high-tech manufacturing hub. Just last year AMTE Power and Britishvolt announced plans for a new Gigafactory to be setup in the UK. The drive for smart technologies will see a rise in robotics as well as technical talent.

Meanwhile we are a nation – indeed a world – that is much more at home. Fulfilment centres will be needed fast to support e-commerce. Yes, the names like Amazon, which you would expect. But there are other retailers that will be carving out their own niche.

Online retailer Boohoo has purchased the Debenhams brand and website for £55m. Asos is currently the frontrunner to buy the Arcadia brands such as Topshop. These huge acquisitions will see the retailers needing to expand and expedite their online offerings. We are seeing the birth of new largescale online retailers, and they will only succeed with a solid network infrastructure underpinning them.

4. The data centre expansion will continue unabated

With the move to remote working and leisure services such as Netflix on the rise, the world’s appetite for data centres is unlikely to diminish. Just as we saw massive demand in 2020, I expect more of the same in 2021.

ResearchAndMarkets.com’s recent report estimates the market going from USD $11.6bn worldwide to $18bn in just four years.

The challenges none the less remain; suitable locations to build, time for deployment, availability of technical resources and how to ensure they are energy efficient to meet impending environmental goals. Meanwhile governments need to ensure they keep the pace on superfast internet access for all. It is vital the pace of innovation and connectivity need to keep in step with the pace of deployment.

5. Health and wellbeing will blend into workplace technology

There has been plenty of discussion about the mental health impact of working from home. I am sure it is a question we will continue to grapple with. As time moves on, HR departments will persist to better understand what the boundaries are and how proactive to be.

Where needs occur, technology will follow. I think we will see more big tech companies begin to look at how they integrate personal wellbeing into their offering.

We think nothing of technology playing its part in time management, productivity, and communication – but all of these are underpinned by happy, healthy workers.

There are various companies in the space with wellbeing tools, but I expect to see some of them – or at least their principles – begin to be picked up by big technologies companies as they break down the barriers between mental wellbeing and workplace productivity. There are obvious benefits that come from holistically viewing these complementary topics.

6. Connectivity everywhere

We are on the way to roll out technologies such as 5G, but we have some way to go. But connectivity will be the bedrock of everything so expect to see it play a central part of technology.

Everything mentioned above: remote working, wellbeing, entertainment, robotics, automation, data centres – none of it works without the proper connectivity. A pervasive mix of 5G and Wi-Fi will play a part in any project.

It it’s in no way unique to 2021, but it’s good to remind ourselves that businesses need to be setting the foundation of connectivity for years to come today.

Just like the railroads led to massive economy booms in the past, our connectivity railroads will underpin our economy now and in the future.