What does 2021 really have in store?

Sanjay Brahmawar at Software AG looks at how transformation, innovation and generational changes will bring benefits to everyone’s life in 2021

2020 was a year like no other, sending shockwaves across the globe and forcing us all to adapt to remote work, online shopping and a life under lockdown. While the long-term effects of Covid-19 will not be truly understood for at least another year, the short-term saw how able agile businesses are to make quick decisions and shift priorities. Whether it’s companies like Ford and Dyson producing ventilators, Nivea and Brewdog making hand sanitiser or the chain of companies manufacturing and distributing Covid vaccine, agility is key. Companies need to be ready to adapt quickly.

Being able to adapt and change the fundamental processes of a business at such short notice comes down to a combination of factors. This includes a culture which embraces change and a stable platform of digital capabilities, all working towards a strategic vision of transformation built over the years.  

All too often, transformation is focussed on process improvement and cost-cutting – which work well to please investors, but rarely bring about meaningful change. But the turbulence of 2020 has set key trends in motion that will help to make the best experiences felt by people become more universal and tangible.

Transformation finally means transformation

2020 was the year that digital transformation, forever a buzzword, finally began to see meaning. Delays to transformation initiatives have limited their impact in the past, but the pandemic required businesses in every industry to quickly put measures in place in response to changing circumstances.

The result has shocked digital transformation into action, with digital businesses proven to be more resilient, more agile and more efficient. Forrester estimates that prior to 2020, only around 15% of companies were ‘digitally savvy,’ but the new realities have pushed through technological change at a speed never before seen – McKinsey suggests digital adoption leapt five years ahead in just eight weeks, while Microsoft estimated two years of transformation in two months. These investments gave businesses the tools they needed to behave in new ways and, with 97% of IT leaders likely to continue 2020’s initiatives into 2021, this transformation is likely here to stay.

Changing consumer behaviour has unsurprisingly been a key factor fuelling much of this change. The digital investments of 2020 raised the bar for excellent digitally-enabled services, which are now seen as the norm rather than a nice-to-have. Banking is a prime example of an industry pushed into transformation as a result of our changing lifestyles – the pandemic is accelerating the move towards a cashless society, and ModularBank estimates 90% of UK customers now see technology as important when selecting a bank. While the growth of the challengers won’t displace traditional banks any time soon, their digital capabilities will steal away some customers. Every business should take heed from competitors who are making strides in digital – once customers get a taste for great experiences; they will seek them out.

The key thing is for companies to channel and focus their digital investments and automate as much of the management and maintenance of new technologies as possible. This will allow the experts to focus on using technology to innovate, which is how real transformation will happen.

Big bang innovation put on hold

With so much talk around transformation, you could be forgiven for thinking of 2021 as the year quantum computing makes waves. But as ‘big bang’ as quantum could be, it’s not the technological innovation most companies need right now. Not only does this kind of big innovation take time to trickle down, but after a year of unexpected challenges, most companies need stability and resilience, rather than wholesale change.

What’s more, the ever-changing landscape of health, social and geo-political uncertainty will likely bring more unpredictable challenges over the next couple of years. It will therefore be crucial for businesses to focus on building resilience, of which a key starting point will be reducing the number of dependencies a business is reliant on.

Dependencies can be found in many forms. For example, the pandemic exposed dependencies in supply chains as companies which were overly reliant on a single supplier for essential components faced huge risks – here, Apple was one of many companies which ran into shortages as a result of disruption to deliveries. Looking into the future, exactly how the UK’s departure from the EU will impact existing agreements on data regulations, or how international policies from the USA and China will impact global trade and technology standards remain to be seen. The point is that any business overly dependent on data or technology from one country is taking a risk, but the agility gained from solid digital investments will help to resolve these issues.

Limiting the number of dependencies is reliant on a business having the means to identify them, which is easier to do if the whole infrastructure is connected. That said, it is still possible to run risk assessments on fragmented infrastructures with process discovery and architecture management tools. Essentially, having an accurate view of the facts enables businesses to make changes to reduce dependencies, allowing core operations to be shifted elsewhere if any part of a business is compromised. While such changes would have previously taken a long time to implement, the driving forces for technology have changed. With businesses still facing a period of uncertainty, there are compelling factors for a new approach. One where the complexity is removed from the process and companies stay focussed on building their own agility and resilience.

The only certainty is uncertainty

The truth is nobody knows what the future has in store. What’s certain is that businesses face uncertainty and instability in many different forms; and being flexible enough to pivot in response to rapidly changing circumstances will be crucial to driving growth. In practice, this means investing in digital capabilities to build resilience and provide customers, partners and employees with positive experiences. Doing so will help businesses survive and thrive in the years ahead.


Sanjay Brahmawar is CEO at Software AG

Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com

© Business Reporter 2021

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