As we say goodbye to the year that was 2020, and what a year it was, all eyes are on what is to come in 2021.

The Enterprisers Project, an online publication aimed at Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and senior IT leaders, recently spoke to digital leaders in some of the world’s largest companies to get their tech predictions for 2021.

1. No speed limit on innovation

Eric Anderson, principal, Scale Venture Partners, predicts: “The world of [developer] tools, infrastructure and open-source software moved faster in 2020, and in 2021 we will only see it accelerate. New projects and categories will gain traction and go mainstream faster than ever before. Bellwether projects that seemed to be gliding along with momentum may become passe. This is a developer’s world now and the speed limits that used to hold back innovation and adoption are gone.”

2. Growth of anywhere operations

Mike Ringman, CIO, Telus International, predicts: “Organizations will continue to operate remotely in 2021, enabling a ‘digital-first, remote-first’ mentality. ‘Anywhere operations’ models remain vital to emerge successfully from COVID-19. While the ability to vaccinate this soon into a pandemic is promising, millions won’t have access to it until the second half of the year. Cloud-based systems that securely centralize customer information and internal tools are just an example of anywhere operations that will allow for business to be access, delivered and enabled anywhere – where customers, employers and business partners operate in physically remove environments – while we continue to operate in a normal that isn’t so new anymore.”

3. Automation used in new ways post-COVID

E.G. Nadhan, chief architect and strategist, North America, Red Hat, predicts: “2020 has brought in constraints in human-to-human interaction due to unforeseen health concerns, which has rocked the foundations of human interaction prior to COVID-19. Contactless and touchless mechanisms of consumer and employee interaction will therefore gain more adoption in 2021. This trend extends the application of automation technologies to the areas requiring human-to-human contact which can refine the overall customer experience. It also serves as a catalyst expediting the automation of repetitive and routine tasks within and across the extended network of enterprises. Automation is meant for times like these.”

4. Focus on consumer transparency

Scott Francis, technology evangelist, Fujitsu, predicts: “In 2021, transparency rules the day. Consumers currently appreciate it, but soon they will come to expect it. No longer will consumers take a company’s word for it: when it comes to billing, voting, healthcare and government processes, customers want to see their forms being submitted and approved. While paper processes continue to be necessary, digital access from mobile accounts or CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools will become increasingly popular. This functionality is rapidly becoming standard as companies re-engineer how they interface with customers, especially in the healthcare and government verticals.”

5. Humanizing the virtual experience

Holger Reisinger, senior vice-president, Jabra, predicts: “With video meetings taking hold in the new norm, many employees are experiencing concentration fatigue due to the lack of physical proximity, difficult-to-read body language and reduction in visual and audio cues in these meetings. We will see major developments in humanizing the virtual meeting experience in 2021. As business works to humanize the virtual experience in 2021, we’ll see major developments in edge AI working with cloud-based AI ecosystems to deliver deeper virtual collaboration experiences. Combining exceptional audio and video quality with AI will allow for far more life-like virtual experiences and further reduce concentration fatigue.”

6. COVID accelerates the value of the edge

Sally Bament, vice-president of cloud service provider marketing, Juniper Networks, predicts: “Networks have never been more critical than they are right now. Business, education, telemedicine and social have all moved from engaging in person to engaging virtually, and multi-participant video calls have become a fundamental part of our daily lives. Massive consumption of streaming media and an all-time high in online gaming have driven content delivery network growth. Service providers have responded fast to manage the surge in traffic while avoiding lagging, downgraded quality and slower speeds. Next year, we’ll see service providers double down on investments in edge cloud, moving applications and data closer to users and connected devices to enhance the user and application experience, support new emerging low-latency applications, and make more efficient use of network transit capacity.”

7. The rise of the new CEO – Chief Empathy Officer

Andy MacMillian, CEO, UserTesting, predicts: “The need for empathy has never been more important than it is today. Empathy will become a determining factor in whether your company is perceived as a customer-centric organization, or not. And it starts with a new kind of CEO – the Chief Empathy Officer. This is not a new, standalone role to add to the C-suite, but a characteristic the leadership team must possess; a charter they must steward. The business challenges brought about in 2020 have made it clear that company leaders need to go all in on empathy – they must tap into the human perspective to help them make customer-informed decisions, they must see the world from their customer’s perspective. Empathy might sound like a fluffy word, but it will be what sets apart the leaders from the laggards in 2021 – and it starts with a new kind of leadership: empathetic and understanding towards its customers.”

8. Rise of cognitive AI

Kim Gilbert, PhD, manager technical commercial engineering, Beyond Limits, predicts: “Cognitive AI technologies will see rapid growth and improvements in the coming years to become more agile, flexible and intelligent when deployed across a variety of new industries. By unifying machine learning techniques with encoded human knowledge, Cognitive AI advancements will allow users to add to and edit its knowledge base once deployed, and as they do so, the systems will become significantly more flexible and intelligent as it learns by interacting with more domain experts, problems and data. Eventually, AI systems will be able to identify if decision-makers implemented or declined its recommended actions, if the action taken did what it was supposed to do, and it the system was able to learn from that remediation action.”

9. Augmented reality brings buying experiences to life

Andy MacMillan, CEO, UserTesting, predicts: “Companies will need immersive augmented reality (AR) to being their buying experiences to life. This pandemic has had a severe impact on businesses around the world. It changed consumers’ shopping behaviors and the way they consider and purchase goods and services. The pandemic may be responsible for accelerating the pace of AR adoption. For eCommerce and real estate industries especially, a high-quality AR experience is a must; consumers want to be able to see/visualize how the product looks within the environment, and AR offers the next best thing to in-person viewing. While the AR experience is not designed to replace the in-store experience, it is set to enhance it. The expectation of great AR experiences has never been higher.”

10. Success hinges on people strategy

Rocky Subramanian, senior vice-president and managing director, SAP, predicts: “While IT leaders have routinely increased their tech investments with an eye toward more speed and efficiency, COVID-19 only accelerated this momentum by exposing organizations’ inherent weaknesses when confronted with sudden workforce shifts. Looking ahead to 2021 and beyond, it’s not necessarily the technology itself that will make the biggest impact on a company’s success, but rather how well organizations deploy and manage their digital solutions. In short, the success of a digital strategy hinges on the organization’s larger people strategy: recruiting, retaining and reinventing the right talent to manage their technology investments.”

Read the full list of predictions at

Published on Dec. 30, 2020.