At its IT Symposium/Xpo conference every year, Gartner produces one of the most comprehensive lists of the trends that CIOs and other senior executives should be paying attention to. This year, Gartner vice president Brian Burke presented the Top 10 strategic technology trends for 2021, grouping the main trends into “people centricity,” “location independence,” and “resilient delivery.” People centricity carries over from last year’s list but you can certainly see the increased emphasis on location independence and resilient delivery as a reaction to the pandemic, something no one saw a year ago.
Burke said 2020 has seen huge upheaval driven by of the pandemic and its related economic impacts, and this sets the stage for a major change in the IT landscape. “CIOs must now strive to rapidly adapt to changing conditions to compose the future business. This requires the organizational plasticity to form and reform dynamically as business conditions change.”
People centricity highlights the way technology impacts stakeholders across the ecosystem, focusing on how people’s behaviors, experience, and privacy will change. Location independence recognized that employees, suppliers and customers can be anywhere, and that the pandemic has accelerated the use of remote channels. Distributed cloud, anywhere operations, and new security paradigms drive this theme. Resilient delivery creates a technology organization that can rapidly adapt to overcome new challenges and support new operation. This includes creating a composable business architecture (which was the theme of this year’s IT Symposium/Xpo conference keynote), supported with AI engineer and hyperautomation technologies.
Note this list is separate from Gartner’s top predictions, which I’ll cover shortly.
The top strategic technology trends for 2021 are below.
1. Internet of Behaviors
Within the people centricity label, Burke started out by describing the Internet of Behaviors, which he said combines existing technologies that focus on the individual directly – facial recognition, location tracking and big data for example – and connects the resulting data to associated behavioral events, such as cash purchases or device usage.
He talked about how our ability to capture behaviors has improved, and we now can process behavioral events to do things such as measure driving performance to change insurance rates, or to create credit scores. He noted that while more things based on events are technically possible, there will be extensive ethical and societal debates about the different approaches employed to affect behavior.
By the end of 2025, he said, over half of the world’s population will be subject to at least one Internet of Behaviors program, whether private, commercial, or governmental.
2. Total Experience
Burke said the second trend is “total experience,” which builds on last year’s “multi-experience” trend, talking about how organizations need a strategy that connects customer and employee experiences. This includes a range of interlocked experiences from the actual user experience of the product to interaction, participation, and advocacy.
He said Gartner predicts that by 2024, organizations providing a total experience will outperform competitors by 25 percent in satisfaction metrics for both customer and employee experience
3. Privacy-Enhancing Computation
Privacy is becoming a bigger issue, and new regulations will force organizations to be more concerned about privacy protection. Burke discussed new methods for delivering privacy such as differential privacy, homomorphic encryption, and trusted execution environments now offered on some CPUs and by the major clouds. He talked about being able to do things such as search on encrypted data; and protecting data when outsourced providers are using it or when sharing with untrusted partners.
Gartner believes that by 2025, half of large organizations will implement privacy-enhancing computation for processing data in untrusted environments and multiparty data analytics use cases.
4. Distributed Cloud
New regulations, data residency requirements, and technologies such as edge computing are beginning to move many workloads away from central clouds to a more distributed environment. In this process, computing takes place at different physical locations, while the operation, governance, and evolution of the services remain the responsibility of the public cloud provider. Today we’re already seeing the big cloud providers creating “edge clouds” designed for Internet of Things (IoT) application, he said, with other models such as a metro area community cloud, 5G mobile edge cloud, and network edge cloud emerging.
He said there will be two paths for organizations to get there—one in which all the services are part of a single ecosystem, which typically includes the most features and integration; or portable applications and services, which gives you more ability to use different providers but typically offers fewer features.
Gartner says that by 2025, more than half of organizations will use a distributed cloud option at the location of their choice, enabling transformational business models.
5. Anywhere Operations
In the new world, organizations have customers everywhere, employees everywhere, and a variety of services that again can be anywhere. Burke said we need an IT operating model that embraces remote operations and things such as virtual delivery. The key ideas here, Burke said, are digital first, remote first; digitally enhanced physical spaces, and distributed business capabilities.
By the end of 2023, Gartner predicts 40 percent of organizations will blend virtual and physical experiences leading to increased workforce productivity and customer reach.
6. Cybersecurity Mesh
Burke noted that most organizational assets are now outside the traditional physical and logical security perimeters. Therefore he said, we need a “cybersecurity mesh” that enables anyone to access any digital asset securely, no matter where the asset or person is located. This would decouple policy enforcement from policy decision making via a cloud delivery model and allows identity to become the security perimeter.
Gartner predicts that by 2025, the cybersecurity mesh will support over half of digital access control requests.
7. Intelligent Composable Business
Recapping some of the theme’s from the conference’s keynote at this year’s IT Symposium/Xpo conference, Burke talked about the importance of having an intelligent composable business that radically re-engineers decision-making by accessing better information and responding more nimbly to it. He discussed how data, analytics, or applications need to work together to create more plasticity, and how organizations will need a data fabric and an application composition platform.
By 2023, Gartner predicts that organizations that have adopted a composable approach will outpace competition by 80 percent in the speed of new feature implementation.
8. AI Engineering
Gartner research shows only 53 percent of projects make it from artificial intelligence (AI) prototypes to production. To create sustainable AI operations at scale, Burke said organizations will require AI engineering, which he said is based on three pillars: development operations (DevOps), model operations, and data operations. He said organizations should use DevOps principles to develop Ai projects more collaboratively, getting all the stakeholders involved; and said they must design these projects with more governance, and more explainability up front. He said AI will improve over multiple disciplines, including Model Ops, compositive AI, and generative AI. Together, this will allow CIOs and developers to create AI models faster, and these models then to evolve dynamically.
Through 2023, Gartner predicts at least half of IT leaders will struggle to move their AI predictive projects past proof of concept to a production level of maturity.
Business executives are demanding excellence in digital operations and this is driving a need for automation, Burke said. This manifests itself in increasing requests for speed, efficacy, and capacity, which requires intelligent automation. This has been trending for a while, but the pandemic heightened demand with the requirement for everything to be “digital first.”
He explained that organizations have organizations have all sorts of debt, including technical debt, and said automation can help turn this into “liquidity.” He noted that Gartner has a hyperautomation spectrum that collects the various kinds of automation from simple task automation up through business reinvention, with the most common today including process automation and orchestration across functions. Organizations will use multiple tools and partner with business operations to determine what to automate. He concluded, “We expect that anything that can be automated will be”
By 2024, Garter says organizations will lower operational costs by 30 percent by combining hyperautomation technologies with redesigned operational processes.
10. Combinatorial Innovation
These were the main themes, and Burke concluded by talking about how “these trends combine and reinforce one another to create the digital world.” CIOs should explore combining these trends to lower costs and create value, and make it a strategic priority to improve the plasticity of business models and their supporting IT technology.