2020 has been a year of unprecedented and unexpected change, in many ways redefining “business as usual” in every industry. It has accelerated trends like digital transformation, cloud native development and the push for device hyperconnectivity, while pumping the brakes on unicorn-style approaches to growth — forcing companies to reevaluate certain approaches, doubling down on others and above all tying every activity to value.
In 2021, the tech industry will again hit its stride as a clear “new normal” emerges. Even as the pandemic slowly subsides, 2021 will bring new challenges, opportunities and changes for every business. For insight into those changes will look like, we asked a mix of current clients, partners, VCs, journalists, friends — all leaders all in their respective industries — about the trends 2021 will bring. They include predictions about DevOps, 5G, hyperconnectivity, business (and mental) resilience, data ergonomics and research from ESG. In no particular order, here are some of the major trends that will shape 2021.
Transformation of the IT core. 2021 will see the transformation of the IT core, as software-defined infrastructure moves further beyond the development team. Traditional IT organizations will continue to wrap their arms around cloud-native computing. In this shift, all roles related to the traditional IT core will change, including security and platform architects, as well as general infrastructure and operations, as the enterprise redefines its approach to software. Moreover, as consumer/end-user privacy regulations grow more prevalent, the voice of the platform architect will have to grow louder in the organization. Architects will have a much stronger, if not direct influence, on the application building process and environment, and will push for common approaches and decouple policy architecture to ease compliance and increase privacy controls. These shifts will impact hiring practices, as enterprises come to favor IT employees who have experience with open source tools, software-defined infrastructure, and the policy-as-code that make these DevOps-centric changes possible.
— Bill Mann, CEO, Styra, Inc
Low-cost connectivity helping to bridge the digital divide. The cost of connectivity continues to go down with further rollout of 5G and satellite in 2021, along with advancements in WiFi-6. These are attractive options for bridging the digital divide in both urban and remote areas across America, especially in tribal communities in rural areas that are among the least connected in the world.
— Mariel Trigg, CEO, MuralNet
Proliferation of 5G and satellite connectivity driving wireless security. 5G plays an increasing role in everything from smart cities, connected cars, and industrial automation. As we move into hyper-multipath connectivity edge computing, wireless is becoming the new network and the new attack surface — and the need to secure mission-critical operational networks becomes all the more imperative. We will also see emerging forms of wireless connectivity in 2021, for instance satellite internet, as satellite launches become more affordable. This means that satellites will connect directly to a host of IoT devices in both urban and rural locales (everything remote crop monitoring or smart traffic lights). Thus, satellites will also become attractive targets for hackers, requiring organizations to prioritize wireless satellites security.
— Garry Drummond, CEO, LOCH Technologies
Renewed focus on data ergonomics. As the dimensionality of database workloads continues to experience explosive and unfettered growth, our understanding of “big data” has shifted from managing gigabytes or terabytes of mostly flat data to petabytes or exabytes of highly-complex data. Simultaneously, businesses demand even more unrestrained, rapid and cost-effective access to this data. This vision requires a renewed focus on the “ergonomics” of working with your data, putting the design and capabilities of your data technologies front and center. This will force organizations to challenge the conventions of their traditional infrastructure by prioritizing its ability to rapidly and efficiently unlock this increasingly complex data. Whether it’s by leveraging machine learning, embracing decoupled storage and compute, or upending the basic assumptions of database systems, we believe that a new generation of software is emerging to meet the needs of modern enterprises as they seek to increase their value by embracing the insights hidden in these vast data streams.
— Todd Persen, CEO and Co-Founder, EraDB
Democratized VC funding with new vehicles. 2020 saw new developments take shape within the VC ecosystem that are sure to impact who has access to private capital in the coming years. Rolling funds, solo capitalists, and new measures for accreditation are helping to democratize how early-stage funds are assembled and distributed. Be on the lookout for a more diverse base of founders and investors as these new vehicles mature.
— Jared Schwitzke, Head of Platform & Portfolio, GreatPoint Ventures
Focus on mental health and well-being. It’s hard to come up with a prediction and see it come through. That’s especially true in a year like 2020. But in looking back over the past year, there is one trendline that I expect will continue to gain strength in 2021 no matter what life throws our way in the new year. And that’s mental health. We’ve seen more companies and firms in the venture community (like what I cover) make efforts to help its employees and customers deal with stress. I imagine that mindfulness and powering down away from the workplace/home environment and taking breaks from social media will become a top trend in 2021.
— Alastair Goldfisher, Venture Capital Editor, PEI
Applying 2020 lessons learned. The single biggest trend I see for 2021 for organizations of all sizes is a looking back analysis (the postmortem) on how they survived 2020. In many cases it was an ad hoc set of decisions that companies made during the early days of the pandemic to ensure business continuity. For 2021, enterprises will be looking to see what their digital transformation strategy must be moving forward, based on lessons learned from the year that most would rather forget.
— Sean Michael Kerner, Freelance Tech Journalist (@TechJournalist)
Cloud spending for long-term resiliency. A common theme from 2020 that will also resonate throughout 2021 is building business resiliency. That is making the required investments in long term solutions to ensure their business can continue to operate with a remote workforce. Essentially many organizations that rapidly pulled together temporary solutions are now looking to invest in permanent solutions. Some of the top areas of investment include collaboration tools and platforms, VDI and DaaS environments and a general shift to cloud based applications.
In an ESG survey conducted last spring, the most significant lasting impacts from COVID were reported as being broader use of online collaboration tools as part of daily work (30%), increased adoption of cloud applications (SaaS) (19%), and accelerated use of public cloud infrastructure (18%). When asked specifically about on-premises data centers and the impact from COVID, organizations responded that the primary action they would take is to use more public cloud services (19%) and implement a software-defined data center strategy (19%- defined as using software to abstract and automate infrastructure across compute, storage and networking) followed by using more remote monitoring/management technology to manage data center infrastructure (18%).
Fast forward to our 2021 Technology Spending Intentions research and we see many of these shifts confirmed, in fact when we asked why 2021 Tech Spending would grow compared to 2020 actual budgets, the top response was that they were spending more now to implement long-term technology strategies to give them a more flexible and resilient IT infrastructure in the event of a major business disruption such as this one.
— Bob Laliberte, Practice Director and Senior Analyst, ESG