2020 reshaped the world as we know it, and the New Normal currently seems like a long way off – but it will come. Continuity Central spoke with nine technology experts to get their view on how they see things shaping up through 2021 and beyond…

Embracing new flexibility, with the right tools in place

“Home and remote working – at least in part – are definitely here to stay,” says Paul Zuidema, Managing Director EMEA at Ergotron. “According to a recent survey, three quarters of staff currently working from home think it’s likely their employer will continue to let them do so post-COVID. Importantly, however, another report also revealed that the majority of knowledge workers questioned (72 percent) would prefer a mix of remote and office work, a hybrid approach.

“In 2021, the focus for employers and employees should turn to ensuring a safe, comfortable and productive environment. This means investing in equipment and furniture that fits ergonomically with the technologies that we all use everyday and are fit for purpose to be used in the home environment.”

Richard Buxton, Director at N4Engage adds: “Over the last year, video has reigned supreme as a way for people to communicate with each other – whether socially at home, in an enterprise environment, or for customer contact. The evolution is two-fold: customers are now used to accessing services via video, while agents, too, are showing a preference for video interactions with customers and colleagues alike. 

“Video isn’t a new technology, but it’s not been widely adopted until now. In a relatively short space of time we’ve seen it move from fringe technology to a core element of most organizations’ IT infrastructure. There can be no doubt we’ll see more businesses embracing video in 2021. To remain flexible and agile, businesses will need dynamic, distributed agents working from lots of different locations, whether that’s home, smaller offices or flexible offices spaces.”

The need for seamless experience grows in an increasingly distributed world

Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO & Co-Founder of Content Guru comments: “Distributed hybrid-working will become permanent in 2021, particularly in the contact centre industry, which previously held the crown as one of the last mill-style working environments.

“One of Gartner’s trend predictions for 2021 is the growing value of intelligent composable businesses – centred on adaptability and accelerated digital strategy. The reasoning behind this is clear considering the effects of the pandemic, but this approach speaks volumes in the contact centre industry, where leaders in 2020 were forced to rethink their use of technologies and data to best serve their customers.

“However, the demand for hybrid working to continue is now two-fold – employees have now experienced the benefits and will push employers to offer this in the long-term.  A recent study by Stanford found that 55 percent of workers would like a mix of remote- and office-working. Added to this is a drive from the employers themselves. This seemingly unusual synchronisation of aims is reflected in another Gartner trend prediction around the idea of ‘total experience’ – the combination of multi-experience, customer experience, employee experience, and user experience to transform business operations.

“Businesses are beginning to realise that employee experience and customer experience are intrinsically linked – one drives the other. The value of tightly linking these, rather than improving each as an individual objective, is fundamental to overall business success.”

Data is often at the heart of streamlining experience, Bob Davis, CMO at Plutora adds: “Over recent years, value stream management (VSM) platforms have improved the way organizations develop software, but what is going to really move to the forefront in 2021 is that VSM predictive analytics will shape organizations' knowledge and foresight of what their customers need. The need for visibility into the software delivery process will enhance the ability to make informed decisions based on that insight and become a differentiator for companies that rely on software.

“Collecting data requires a common data model across the value stream. If you want visibility, the ability to fix things fast, and measurement of the value you’re delivering, it’s always about proving you know how to do it and convincing the powers that be to invest in that vision.”

Make modernising infrastructure your 2021 goal

The public sector has a long way to go clearing out legacy clutter, explains Sascha Giese, Head Geek™ at SolarWinds: “The pandemic has highlighted how the public sector can be better prepared for events such as this – only 6 percent of surveyed IT leaders in central government departments in Europe felt they were extremely ready for the pandemic. When it comes to network management, the systems and infrastructure once critical for operations are now secondary, while parts of the network once viewed as ‘nice to have’(e.g., client VPN connections for every employee) are now more than mission-critical - they’re the essential tools of the organizations keeping our public services open 24/7.”

Containers is a technology many organizations should be looking to deploy, says John Day, Sales Engineering Leader, UK, Ireland & Nordics at Commvault: “Containerisation will really come into its own in 2021. Lots of companies are developing all-new services on Kubernetes, because containerisation has so much to offer organizations – it’s really not just about optimising hardware. Having a DevOps mindset will help businesses to rapidly upgrade applications as they move forward. Although companies that are developing natively on Kubernetes will be fine, trying to move and re-code monolithic applications from their legacy estates will be a challenge.”

Anurag Kahol, CTO and co-founder, Bitglass adds: "To cope with reduced budgets, CIOs will seek convergence across security solutions. After years of acceleration, IT spending decreased nearly 10 percent in 2020. This trend is expected to continue in 2021, as Forrester predicts that US tech investments will fall another 1.5 percent - a $135 billion drop from 2019’s peak.

“Despite budget-related adversity, CIOs must still close the digital transformation gap within their organizations. As such, convergence and simplicity will be key. CIOs will turn to technologies that integrate multiple services into one platform to recognise larger cost savings. For example, secure access service edge (SASE) platforms will have a major impact in 2021 as they will replace a number of disjointed point products and extend consistent protections to all enterprise IT resources through a single control point. In this way, CIOs will recognise massive cost savings and IT teams will enjoy consolidated ease of management that will save them significant sums of time."

Machine learning, IoT and AI, and ensuring your people are equipped to manage them

“By 2050, nearly 70 percent of us will be living in cities. As cities aspire to become smarter and safer it’s no wonder that Gartner predicts video surveillance cameras will be the largest market for 5G Internet of Things (IoT) solutions worldwide over the next three years,” points out Rishi Lodhia, Managing Director, EMEA, Eagle Eye Networks.

He continues, “The growing capabilities of AI will enable data and insights collected through IoT networks to be monitored, analysed and acted upon in real time. Today’s cloud-ready solutions will help eliminate the cost and complexity that can impede the rapid introduction of new digital innovations.

“It’s no surprise that video cameras continue to find themselves at the top of the IoT pile given the significant global focus on safer cities, buildings and work environments.”

Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft, concludes by explaining how it’s not just important to have the latest tech, but to have employees that are equipped to manage and implement the latest and greatest advancements properly:

“Recent research by Microsoft revealed that 69 percent of UK business leaders believe their organization is currently facing a digital skills gap - with the same report showing 59 percent of UK employees want to develop their digital skills, it is clear that in 2021 both businesses and employees will be prioritising training.

“However, crucial to this movement is employers providing opportunities for employees to move laterally within their organization into parts of the business where new skills are needed most urgently - skills in areas such as cyber security, machine learning and advanced analytics. It's also important to remember that providing training and options to learn new skills is not only crucial for business growth, but for employee retention as well.”