Technology and Innovation is one of Whitecap’s areas of specialist expertise. In this blog, our tech lead Stefan Haase shares his thoughts on the key tech trends business leaders should be considering for 2021 and beyond.

Technology today is evolving at such a rapid pace, enabling much needed change, causing an ever-faster acceleration of the rate of change, until eventually it will become exponential. However, it is not only technology trends that are evolving. As the Coronavirus pandemic and the global response has shown technology is driving change and enabling new ways of working, communicating and engaging. Thus, individuals as well as businesses need to align themselves with the technology trends that will become increasingly prominent.

We have provided a short overview of the key tech adoption developments for 2021:

  1. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has already received a lot of attention in recent years, but it continues to be one of the key technology trends for 2021 because of its notable effects on how we live, work and play, which are still in its infancy. AI is already known for several use cases, such as in image and speech recognition, navigation apps, smartphone assistants, ride-sharing apps, call or contact centre apps etc.

AI will be used further to analyse interactions to determine underlying connections and insights, to help predict demand for services like hospitals enabling authorities to make better decisions about resource utilisation, and to detect the changing patterns of customer behaviour by analysing data in near real-time, improving efficiencies and resource utilisation, driving revenues or enhancing personalised experiences.

According to a recent Splunk report on AI and ML, machine learning is a specific type of AI, with the goal of giving a computing device access to some store of data and allowing it to learn from it — but nowhere near AI levels. ML systems, when given a data feed, can perform tasks such as to analyse temperature and tolerance information from sensors on a piece of manufacturing equipment — and be asked to draw conclusions about it based on observed examples of a task. This may involve searching that data for trends, patterns and anomalies or any information that might not be obvious to a human observer. In the case of manufacturing, the machine learning algorithm would learn to send proactive alerts when temperatures exceed a certain threshold, so operators can take action before an issue arises.

  1. Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Like AI and Machine Learning, Robotic Process Automation, or RPA, is another technology that is automating jobs. RPA is the use of software to automate business processes such as interpreting applications, processing transactions, dealing with data, and even replying to emails. RPA automates repetitive tasks that people used to do.

There are many use cases for RPA technology, such as in the insurance sector where RPA offers a wide range of benefits, e.g., from shifting the workforce to more valuable tasks to reducing manual errors in claims processing/ fraud detection processes. According to McKinsey, the insurance industry has the potential to automate 25% of the process by 2025, and most of its automation potential comes from operational processes where RPA can help.

Claims processing is a labour-intensive process where insurers need to collect information from multiple sources. Example sources where insurers spent time on gathering / checking information:

  • Auto insurance: Police reports of accidents, driver’s licenses, and photos of damaged vehicles
  • Travel insurance: Photos of damaged luggage and boarding pass
  1. Edge Computing

Formerly a new technology trend to watch, cloud computing has become mainstream, with major players such as AWS, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud Platform dominating the market. The adoption of cloud computing is still growing, as more businesses migrate to a cloud solution. But it’s no longer the emerging technology trend. Edge is.

As the quantity of data organisations are dealing with continues to increase, they have realised the shortcomings of cloud computing in some situations. Edge computing is designed to help solve some of those problems as a way to bypass the latency caused by cloud computing and getting data to a data centre for processing. It can exist “on the edge,” closer to where computing needs to happen. For this reason, edge computing can be used to process time-sensitive data in remote locations with limited or no connectivity to a centralized location. In those situations, edge computing can act like mini data centres.

Edge computing will increase as use of the Internet of Things (IoT) devices increases.

  1. Quantum Computing

The next key technology trend is quantum computing, which is already supporting efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and to develop potential vaccines, thanks to its ability to easily query, monitor, analyse and act on data, regardless of the source. Another field where quantum computing is finding applications is banking and finance, to manage credit risk, for high frequency trading and fraud detection.

Quantum computers are now a multitude times faster than regular computers and huge brands like Splunk, Honeywell, Microsoft, AWS, Google and many others are now involved in making innovations in the field of quantum computing.

  1. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

The next key technology trend is Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). VR immerses the user in an environment while AR enhances their environment. Although this technology trend has primarily been used for gaming so far, it has also been used for training, as with VirtualShip, a simulation software used to train U.S. Navy, Army and Coast Guard ship captains.

In 2021, we can expect these forms of technologies being further integrated into our lives. Usually working in tandem with some of the other new technologies mentioned in this list, AR and VR have enormous potential in training, entertainment, education, marketing, and even rehabilitation after an injury. Either could be used to train doctors to do surgery, offer museum goers a deeper experience, enhance theme parks, or even enhance marketing,

  1. Blockchain

Although most people think of blockchain technology in relation to cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, blockchain offers security that is useful in many other ways. In the simplest of terms, blockchain can be described as data you can only add to, not take away from or change. Hence the term “chain” because you’re making a chain of data. Not being able to change the previous blocks is what makes it so secure. In addition, blockchains are consensus-driven, so no one entity can take control of the data. With blockchain, you don’t need a trusted third-party to oversee or validate transactions.

Several industries are involving and implementing blockchain solutions such as:

  • LogisticsMaersk’s TradeLens – The blockchain-powered digital shipping platform was launched together with IBM in 2018 to help modernise global supply chains. Many of the processes for transporting and trading goods are costly, in part, due to manual and paper-based systems.  The new digital process enables documents for customs clearance to seamlessly flow between the involved parties at import and export. They are visible to everyone with guaranteed immutability, privacy and auditability of all the information.
  • Estonia – the Digital Republic Secured by Blockchain – Estonia began building its digital society through an e-governance system to provide public services online in 1997. Today 99% of public services are available to citizens as e-services. Filing a tax return takes an average of 3 minutes, public voting occurs online, and all patients have electronic medical records. Every Estonian, globally, has a state-issued digital identity.

Estonia was the first Nation-State in the world to deploy blockchain technology in production systems  – Data never leaves the system; only hash is sent
to blockchain service.

  1. Internet of Things (IoT)

Another growing technology trend is IoT. The Internet of Things has already enabled devices, home appliances, cars and much more to be connected to and exchange data over the Internet. As consumers, we’re already using and benefitting from IoT. We can lock our doors remotely if we forget to when we leave for work and preheat our ovens on our way home from work, all while tracking our fitness on our Fitbits.

However, businesses also have much to gain now and in the near future. The IoT can enable better safety, efficiency and decision making for businesses as data is collected and analysed. It can enable predictive maintenance, speed up medical care, improve customer service, and offer benefits we haven’t even imagined yet.

And we’re only in the beginning stages of this new technology trend: Forecasts suggest that by 2030 around 50 billion IoT devices will be in use around the world, creating a massive web of interconnected devices spanning everything from smartphones to kitchen appliances. New technologies such as 5G are expected to drive market growth in the coming years.

  1. 5G

The next technology trend that follows the IoT is 5G. Where 3G and 4G technologies have enabled us to browse the internet, use data driven services, increased bandwidths for streaming on Spotify or YouTube and so much more, 5G services are expected to revolutionise our lives. 5G enables services that rely on advanced technologies like AR and VR, alongside cloud-based gaming services like Google Stadia. It is expected to be used in factories, HD cameras that help improve safety and traffic management, smart grid control and smart retail too.

All UK mobile network providers – EE, O2, Vodafone and Three – offer 5G, supported by 5G infrastructure providers such as Cisco, Ericsson, Intel or VMware to drive a multitude of 5G device and application providers. 5G services are expected to launch worldwide in 2021 with more than 50 operators offering services in about 30 countries by the end of 2021, making it a new technology trend you must watch out for.

  1. Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity might not seem like an emerging technology, given that it has been around for a while, but it is evolving just as other technologies are. That’s in part because threats are constantly new. The malevolent hackers who are trying to illegally access data are not going to give up any time soon, and they will continue to find ways to get through even the toughest security measures. It’s also in part because new technology is being adapted to enhance security. As long as we have hackers, cybersecurity will remain a trending technology because it will constantly evolve to defend against those hackers.

While some tech analysts will tell you that none of the above trends are new and that the real trends are:

  • Internet of Behaviours.
  • Total experience.
  • Privacy-enhancing computation.
  • Distributed cloud.
  • Anywhere operations.
  • Cybersecurity mesh.
  • Intelligent composable business.
  • AI engineering.

What they fail to convey is that while all of the above-mentioned tech trends are anything but new, they are still very much in their pioneering stages and far from mainstream adoption. Yet their growth curve and adoption rate is only pointing one way – up. For 99% of medium-sized businesses and at an estimated 80% of corporates the above trends are at the heart of their digital transformation ambitions but typically still far from reality

We are keen to hear your views on these points, as well as your view of key strategic tech priorities. Please post your thoughts and tag ‘Whitecap Consulting’ (LinkedIn) or @Whitecapconsult (Twitter) or send Stefan an email at [email protected].

Hopefully you’ve found this article useful. If you feel that your strategy development and strategy implementation process would benefit from independent review and challenge, please get in touch.

Established in 2012, Whitecap Consulting is a regional strategy consultancy headquartered in Leeds, with offices in Manchester, Milton Keynes, Bristol and Newcastle. We typically work with boards, executives and investors of predominantly mid-sized organisations with a turnover of c£10m-£300m, helping clients analyse, develop and implement growth strategies. Also, we work with clients across a range of sectors including Financial Services, Technology, FinTech, Outsourcing, Consumer and Retail, Property, Healthcare, Higher Education and Professional Services, and Corporate Finance and PE.