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How 2021’s digital predictions are trending (so far)

An update on what's trending now from this year's top digital agility and operations predictions

Back in December, we published an eBook predicting the 10 digital trends that would have the biggest impact on business operations in 2021 (you can download it here). With six months of the year under our belts, it’s time to revisit those predictions. 

1. Survival of the digitally fittest

Our prediction: Digital transformation isn’t a one-and-done business objective that takes place in one moment in time. It requires ongoing iteration to keep pace with economic, technological, and customer change. 

Now trending: This is still absolutely, 100% true, and many businesses have come to this realization this year. McKinsey research findings released in May validate this with two statistics: only 11% of respondents in a recent survey believe their current business models will be economically viable through 2023, and 64% say their companies need to build new digital businesses to help them get there. The point is that what is considered “best-in-class” is evolving as quickly as the technologies enabling it.

2. Recovery investments pay off

Our prediction: Investing in your business during recovery is a smart strategy, and companies with the financial capital to do so would see significant ROI. We predicted an emphasis on technology to help speed digital transformation. 

Now trending: Once again, McKinsey confirms the truth behind this. According to a March McKinsey survey, “companies’ tech-transformation activities appear to be paying off.” They found that as a result of recovery investments, 76% of respondents experienced some or significant cost reductions as well as improvements to employee experience (79%). In addition, 68% of respondents reported increased revenue from existing streams, and 59% said their efforts resulted in new revenue streams. 

3. Counting skills, not heads

Our prediction: With all this talk about digital transformation, the elephant in the room is the  crippling technology talent gap. Companies will look at increasing their tech development capacity by upskilling current employees to use low- and no-code platforms.

Now trending: According to Gartner, low-code is having its day in the sun with no indications of slowing down. The research firm predicts that low-code application platforms will continue to make up the majority of the tech market, increasing by 65% from 2020-2022 to reach $5.8 billion. And on average, 41% of non-IT employees – called citizen developers – will be doing the work. Thanks to low-code and no-code tools on the rise, 80% of new business technology could be created outside of IT by 2024

4. Unprecedented urgency around cost

Our prediction: One of the biggest business outcomes of the pandemic will be a resounding emphasis on cost savings and avoidance. This includes both immediate cost-cutting initiatives as well as longer tail opportunities that continue to drive down costs over time. 

Now trending: Business spend has been all over the map, unsurprising given how the pandemic impacted each industry and geography in completely different ways. An April Gartner press release called the economic recovery “K-shaped,” sharing, as an example, that banking and securities and insurance spending will return to pre-pandemic levels this year, while retail and transportation won’t until closer to 2023.

5. Asynchronous work

Our prediction: The remote work revolution will transform the ways employees collaborate internally and externally with customers, partners, suppliers, and more. It will be important for businesses to create harmony in an asynchronous work environment. 

Now trending: Businesses endeavored to keep their employees connected and engaged through the use of software. Due to significant investment during COVID, Gartner forecasts the social software and collaboration market to reach $4.5 billion in 2021, an increase of 17.1% from 2020. Time will tell how asynchronous environments impact automation adoption, as companies finalize their longer-term return-to-work plans over the second half of this year.

6. From ROI to ROII (Return On Investment Immediately)

Our prediction: Cloud technology delivers on the promise of ROI. Not only is it easier and faster to implement, but by integrating with existing enterprise tools, it actually helps extend the ROI of those as well, gives businesses much needed flexibility and affords scalability in the process.

Now trending: For years, technologists have been keeping an eye on the widening ROI gap between on-prem vs. cloud solutions, namely in the automation space. In a recent Forbes article, the CEO of Nucleus Research is now calling the case for cloud “irrefutable” as cloud-based solutions are steadily delivering four times the ROI of on-premises solutions and deploying 2.5 times quicker. 

7. AI isn’t an illusion, it’s a reality

Our prediction: We use AI-embedded tools in our everyday lives, and employees are becoming more and more comfortable with the role of AI and automation in their professional lives as well. Automation has the potential to transform operations, not just during socially distanced times. 

Now trending: A May article in The Washington Post gave some context as to why it’s a perfect storm for automation. During COVID, businesses had to use AI and even robots to keep production levels up, and now during the recovery, the use of AI is proving useful given companies across all industries are struggling to attract workers.  It will be difficult to imagine a manual workplace ever again.

8. Cross-functional agility

Our prediction: Being agile requires complete visibility, not just in one department or system, but across all. It requires cross-functional collaboration across remote internal teams, more efficient, real-time communication with external vendors and partners, and better integration between systems.

Now trending: While we couldn’t find any hard statistics on the adoption of this new approach to business, we did find support for it. One explanation that we particularly like comes from consulting firm Protiviti, in a June blog post: “Technical agility is the ability for organizations to adapt quickly and smoothly to or integrate current technologies with newer, different, disruptive, expansive or convergent technologies. Technical agility needs to be embedded in the organization structure and culture, it ensures built-in quality is part of the entire software engineering practices (SDLC) and, through automation, it ensures quality products and services are delivered quickly to the market.”

9. The customer is (still) always right

Our prediction: The stakes continue to get higher and higher - and harder and harder to achieve without technology. Today’s customers demand that communication and support is real-time, targeted, and completely customized to their exact needs.

Now trending: Capturing and analyzing customer data continues to be a priority, though it’s time to think bigger when it comes to how to digitize this. Think predictive analytics, not surveys, which are reactive, limited, ambiguous and let’s face it—usually a poor experience in itself.

According to a recent McKinsey survey, 93% of these respondents reported using survey-based metrics, but only 15% said they were satisfied with how their company was measuring CX—and only 6% expressed confidence that their measurement system enables both strategic and tactical decision making.

As the article says, “Why use a survey to ask customers about their experiences when data about customer interactions can be used to predict both satisfaction and the likelihood that a customer will remain loyal, bolt, or even increase business?”

10. The second coming of the cloud

Our prediction: Not only does cloud enable faster ROI, but the benefits of scalability, security, and reliability are non-negotiable when many companies moved both their workforces and operations online. Cloud tech spending is up, and will stay up for the foreseeable future. 

Now trending: Cloud technology adoption was not new in 2020, nor was it a shocking prediction to project further growth. An IDG survey found last year that 92% of companies are at the very least somewhat in the cloud. What more and more businesses are coming to value is the connectivity between cloud applications. In this Deloitte article on top trends, the authors share that “Clients are increasingly seeking API-rich applications and platforms that seamlessly integrate in an ecosystem and ease the way of doing business in the digital age.”

YOUR NEXT READ: 

BUILDING YOUR BUSINESS CASE FOR NO-CODE WORKFLOW AUTOMATION

Hit all of 2021’s top digital trends in your operations with no-code workflow automation. Learn how to win over executive stakeholders and create internal champions who will help you accelerate buy-in, adoption, and usage across the company to drive meaningful return on investment.

Read the guide

Written by Catalytic