For Business and Technology, 2021 Will Be More of the Same—For Now

The pandemic pushed companies to accelerate their digital transformation. That evolution continues.

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2020 was a year of extraordinary upheaval, and as we turn the calendar to 2021, with the pandemic still consuming much of the world, many of the changes in business will continue on. We’re being driven by the data—not the dates. One thing is clear: the pandemic pushed companies to accelerate their digital transformation initiatives from years-long plans into months, weeks, and days.

According to a McKinsey & Company Global Survey of executives, digital customer interactions have tripled since 2017, accelerating the share of digital or digitally enabled products in respondents’ portfolios by seven years. That digital transformation is a necessary component to success, and to becoming an Autonomous Digital Enterprise—a future-state framework that envisions intelligent, tech-enabled systems across every facet of the business.

Remote working

The most important change for many in the workforce is the pivot toward 100 percent remote working, and that is unlikely to change until there is widespread immunity. In some cases, the move to remote happened almost overnight. In the wake of such a sudden policy change, companies were forced to adapt or reinvent processes to support their now-remote workforce—from actual hardware devices to hardened access and security measures to the availability of meeting tools like Teams and Zoom.

Virtual events

In 2020, it wasn’t just the team and team meetings that went virtual—industry conferences followed suit as travel was halted worldwide. Already in 2021, the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and National Retail Federation event, which each typically draw thousands of attendees, were held online. That’s likely to continue as new tools have emerged to support large-audience livestreaming, interactive conversations, product demonstrations, virtual road shows, and more.

Growing e-commerce

Speaking of retail, 2020 was the year that the retail industry had to pivot its business models to create a Transcendent Customer Experience at every customer touchpoint, which, for the growing number of remote customers, is increasingly through the Internet or a mobile app. According to MasterCard SpendingPulse™, the uptick in e-commerce was substantial—growing 49 percent versus 2019—and making up almost a fifth of all retail spending in 2020 compared to 13 percent in 2019. Retailers that didn’t yet have a business model for buy online/pick up in store or delivery had to quickly ramp up those capabilities to remain competitive, and with such a significant buy-in from customers participating in those new models, they’re not going anywhere.

Automated healthcare tools

The new remote normal also affected healthcare. While connected devices and wearables like Fitbits have been in play for a while now, 2020 saw virtual telehealth visits take off in a big way, especially as more insurance carriers and Medicare figured out how to bill it. As one example, the U.S. Veterans Administration clocked a 1,000 percent increase in usage between February and May last year.

That is likely to even out as people feel more comfortable leaving the house for care, but there will be patients who tried it for the first time last year and will prefer that mode of contact going forward. With emerging technology such as 5G expanding connectivity and access to more regions and rural communities, telehealth will expand, too. In addition, AI-driven tools like text and chatbots emerged as another way for healthcare providers and even pharmacies to help patients with automated, interactive pre-screening and post-care questionnaires, medication reminders, and more.

Companies that had been slow in their digital transformation were catapulted into that reality in 2020, which turned into something of a rapid-immersion incubator in the middle of a global crisis. As we enter 2021, the new, convenient, and efficient ways of communicating and connecting for work, commerce, health, and more that were a silver lining of 2020 will continue. Last year, we all became early adopters, and a significant number of us liked what we saw and will drive the continued evolution of technology to support those changes. That’s good news, as the Autonomous Digital Enterprise is closer than ever.

Ram Chakravarti is CTO at BMC Software

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.