The business world will never be the same again following the momentous effort organizations have had to transform, starting with rethinking who they are, what they do and how they do it. 2020 reshaped many businesses, their priorities and plans for the future.
Despite the hope that we’re on the gradual downslope of the COVID-19 pandemic, the tech industry in Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) now has a whole new set of unknowns to deal with. While 2021 will hopefully look a lot different to 2020, it will certainly look different from any other year in recent memory.
Here are my predictions for 2021’s tech trends in the region that IT leaders need to keep an eye on.
A. Accelerate adoption of cloud native technologies
Cloud acceptance and adoption will accelerate for most organizations, regardless of maturity. Any that weren’t fully leveraging the cloud pre-pandemic quickly shook off their concerns and dived in with both feet in 2020. And organizations that had already embraced the cloud rapidly scaled their consumption upwards and outwards.
Now that crisis mode has given way to business as usual, both groups will soon find themselves turning their attention to using the cloud at scale in more considered and strategic ways. That means refactoring processes and applications to better leverage cloud native technologies, in order to maximize agility while keeping costs under control.
Overall, after more than a decade of chipping away at traditional IT infrastructures cloud’s moment is finally here and there will be no looking back. The only thing that can stop it now is widespread service disruptions or security issues. And given its stellar performance in 2020 these factors seem unlikely to derail its progress in 2021 and beyond.
B. WFH will force new thinking and new service innovation
In the short term – at least – work from home will continue as the pandemic drags on for millions of people around the world. But there is ample evidence that high levels of remote working will remain for the long term, and perhaps indefinitely, as the whole enterprise ecosystem has become comfortable with the new set up.
It’s hard to understate the headaches that will create for commercial real estate owners. But on the positive side we can expect it to prompt the creation of a whole new set of services, products and technologies to cater to this new way of working. Great things will happen when tech’s clever minds get to work on taking the grind and isolation out of working from home. And embracing these solutions, whatever they turn out to be, will become a key differentiator for talent recruitment.
This culture shift will also be a chance for enterprises to finally get smart about how they monitor productivity, swapping hours spent in the office for output when it comes to measuring performance.
C. Automation to the rescue
The challenges and practicalities around social distancing and staying at home revealed new angles and opportunities for automation in 2020. For example, beyond conventional use cases around process efficiencies, it also offers a way to insulate society against another pandemic or similar event in which it’s unsafe for humans to turn up for work.
Here’s a case in point. Workers in critical sectors such as energy or food processing and distribution have taken great risks so that we can keep the lights on and food in fridge. But despite their efforts many crops still went to waste this year because human pickers were taken “offline” as restrictions on cross-border movement saw traditional sources of labor dry up.
Farmers can’t work from home but robots don’t get sick, so we urgently need to renew efforts to create robotic solutions that can harvest crops without damaging them. This is a challenge for now and the future. The UN has predicted that the global population will reach 9.8 billion by 2050 – that’s a lot of mouths to feed.
Singapore and many countries in APJ are already a major adopter of “intelligent automation” from banking, financial services, manufacturing, healthcare and logistics. Many of these industries lend themselves well to remote working, but others such as hospitality and travel have suffered terribly during the COVID crisis. Could investments in greater automation and robotization help protect them from future shocks? Almost certainly. But for now they’ll have other things on their minds…
D. Flexibility will be more important than ever
As COVID-19 vaccination programs start to scale up, huge pent up demand for in-person experiences and socializing will gradually be released. To meet this demand while mitigating the risks of enduring uncertainty, companies that have scaled down operations need a flexible cloud-enabled exit strategy. One that enables them to scale up again while maintaining the flexibility to quickly throw things into reverse if needed.
Consumer confidence is unlikely to rebound immediately, however. They will expect organizations to continue to maintain and improve COVID-safe procedures – and they’ll vote for the winners with their feet and their wallets. Technology will be crucial to making these measures part of daily operations without unduly increasing overheads and eroding margins.