My recent blog Five Important Network Lessons for 2021 from the COVID Pandemic highlighted the rapid acceleration of digital adoption in 2020 and how the pandemic forced us to think differently. As we approach 2021, what can we expect? Will digital transformation continue at the same dizzying pace or, in our quest to return to some semblance of normal, could a vaccine propel us back to the comfort of the old?
From a technology and network perspective, we have never been so prepared for the future. The COVID pandemic accelerated digital transformation and the adoption of advanced technologies by years; it brought the future-forward. Yet never have we been more nostalgic for the past. After months of lockdowns, we crave seeing family in person – not over Zoom; shopping in a mall – not clicking a button; watching a concert or sports game in person – not streamed to our living room. Thankful as we are for technology, what we want now is human connection. The challenge for businesses will be finding the balance between giving users what they need in 2021 (non-digital experiences) without returning to the old ways of working.
2021 will see the continuation of 2020 trends albeit at a more sustainable pace. While the new normal will be different than the old, technologies including AI/ML, cloud, analytics, Wi-Fi 6, remote access, SD-WAN, automation, IoT, 5G, and more, will all play a key role in the networks of the future. The frenzied digital adoption of 2020 will give way to a more measured and thoughtful approach in 2021, where the focus shifts from connectivity to experience. With the pandemic hopefully behind us, enterprises will return to the familiar yet perpetual task of balancing the priorities of user experience, productivity, security, and TCO.
The 2020 pandemic will have a long-lasting impact on businesses – from the physical footprint of offices, to supply chain operations, to how we connect. Mindsets have shifted and the mass migration back to the office is unlikely. The new norm will be an infinitely-distributed enterprise, where a user’s physical location does not matter; the priority is delivering effortless connectivity and superior experiences anytime, anywhere.
Consumers turned to the cloud in droves in 2020 and there is no going back. The ease, the speed, the scalability, the simplicity of subscription-based services were invaluable during the pandemic. In enterprise environments cloud adoption extended beyond SaaS (e.g. Salesforce, Office365) into network and infrastructure services (e.g. NaaS), and this trend will only accelerate. From financial flexibility, to automatic updates, enterprises experienced the benefits firsthand, and cloud will increasingly permeate every aspect of the business environment.
The role data will play in the future cannot be overstated. From shaping customer experience, to enhancing security, to driving greater automation, data drives action. And cloud will play a central role. Gartner reports by 2022, 90% of data and analytics innovation will come from public cloud services.
However, data comes with a plethora of considerations and challenges – how is it used, by whom, what data is ML/AI trained on, how accurate is the data, how long is it stored. As data becomes engrained in every aspect of our life, questions regarding data privacy, integrity, compliance, mining, security, and ethical considerations increase. From our data-driven pandemic response, to data breaches, to the thought-provoking movie The Social Dilemma that in part explored the potential damage to society from data mining, we saw both sides of the data coin in 2020. A healthy dialog and recognition of the value and challenges of data is critical in 2021, as more AI/ML and data-driven solutions are introduced in enterprise environments.
There are few businesses that do not recognize the importance of strong cybersecurity, yet too often other priorities surface and security gets pushed to the backburner. Not in 2021. Given the recent cyberattack against the U.S. government, security will be front and center in everyone’s mind for the foreseeable future. As a greater understanding of the breach becomes clear, expect new security recommendations, solutions, and a more coordinated response where companies and countries rally together in addressing cyber-threats.
As 2020 taught us, it is the ability to adapt to change that underpins success and survival. This will be equally true in 2021. No one knows how the year will play out – will there be a third or fourth wave of the virus; how will we cope with the fallout of the cyberattack; if or when will we get back to some semblance of normal? 2021 will be about finding the balance among learning from the past, living in the present, and creating the future. Technology will fuel the way.