The end of this year – a challenging one for everyone – is drawing near. In 2020, the global economy experienced changes in supply capabilities and customer demand. The majority of industries had to revise their business plans and strategies basically overnight. The pandemic also accelerated companies’ digital transformation programs and re-oriented technology trends. Top-performing enterprises know that funding innovation pays off.

In Gartner’s 2021 CIO Agenda, 70% of CIOs indicated that they have embraced the leadership of high-impact initiatives, which shows they are playing a leading role nowadays. 69% of boards reported accelerating digital business initiatives in response to Covid-19. Companies’ road maps and comfortable schedules from January 2020 were disrupted in favor of undertaking new steps through implementing digital solutions to become more resilient and adaptable. Business and technology became one.

Let’s see what we can expect in 2021.

IT budgets in 2021

Budgeting for 2021 is harder than ever before for CIOs. Covid-19 has changed the demand for IT services and accelerated digital transformation programs. Despite economic and political instability, CIOs are expected to adjust their budgets to the new situation and business requirements. They are required to optimize investments, reallocate funds to enable digital transformation and move resources toward new strategies. The top IT budget priorities for 2021 will comprise expenditure mostly on security, cloud infrastructure and software, empowering workforce productivity.

Gartner and Forrester prepared frameworks to help CIOs navigate their IT budget planning and make strategic decisions. It is not an easy task, as many businesses have had to tighten their budgets, change the priorities of their initiatives and plan in generally unfavorable conditions.

Acceleration of digital initiatives

The pandemic has accelerated digital initiatives, especially cloud investments. Many businesses choose to use technology at speed to transform business models for efficient operations, revitalize core assets and deliver the expected levels of customer experience.

This trend will continue in 2021 on a very large scale. As Gartner reports, 93% of CIOs declare an increase in the use of digital channels to reach customers, and 70% expect the introduction of new services. Businesses are still learning how to adopt technology securely and at scale. Businesses already digitalized to stay ahead of the competition are also not resting on their laurels, focusing their efforts on the constant implementation of innovations and improving business processes.

Cloud-first strategy

The global economy is driven by supply and changing customer demand. To respond to this challenge, the cloud is a must-have. The next year will abound with strong demand for cloud services. Forrester predicts that 30% of European companies will increase their spending on cloud services. The cloud has become the foundation for business transformation, effective operations, maintaining security and acting fast on the market.

The cloud is also gaining in popularity due to one more important reason, especially nowadays. Cloud technology promotes collaboration and makes team communication more convenient and seamless. This has a direct impact on employee experience and levels of satisfaction, and helps companies to retain talents.

Smart workplace

2020 brought us a much-changed workplace. Businesses are investing in automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning to adjust to these changes. Forrester predicts that by the end of 2021, a quarter of remote employees will be equipped with automation tools to streamline work processes.

In 2020, there was a significant boost recorded in company investments in virtual environments, team chat apps, workflow apps, VPNs etc. to support remote work. Businesses are learning how to use tech to reimagine the workplace. Next year will see the continued expansion of software tools supporting remote working and videoconferencing. All this to improve the efficiency of communication, minimize security issues and create more human experiences.

Customer data platforms

In recent months we have already seen many companies invest in Customer Data Platforms. Why are they so popular? CDPs are a highly informative tool used by marketing and sales. While using the internet and interacting with companies through websites, e-stores and social media, customers leave a massive amount of data. In CDPs data can be pulled from various sources mentioned above, aggregated and structured to create a single customer profile. This way CDPs create a unified customer database which is accessible to other systems. This tool is very powerful, making it possible to manage the relationship, as well as tracing customer journeys and online behaviors.

As we all moved online, businesses recognized the potential of CDPs to influence marketing activities, understand their target audience, adapt advertising efforts and increase their marketing outreach.

Every business desires to improve customer conversion and engagement with the brand. It’s no wonder, then, that CDPs are surging to the top of the global trends list and will become especially relevant in 2021.

Zero trust security

Cybersecurity has always been the number one concern, and with the pandemic it has become even more relevant. Zero Trust is a concept for more effective security that helps prevent breaches by requiring users to be authenticated and authorized before granting access to company resources.

The Zero Trust security model embraces technologies such as multi-factor authentication, user-access-control and identity verification to detect risks across the organization. It is based on the principle of “trust nothing, always verify” which differentiates this approach from the traditional “trust but verify” one.

Most organizations are already partially adhering to the Zero Trust model using multi-factor authentication, identity management and some security automation. In 2021 the trend towards the Zero Trust concept will be increasingly important. With more transactions taking place online and a growing amount of data stored online, organizations will aim to apply the principles of Zero Trust on an even larger scale. One benefit is that the Zero Trust model can be built upon the existing infrastructure and doesn’t require the removal of the current one.

The myriad changes to the IT industry landscape that we may currently observe now won’t be the end of the story. The influence of Covid-19 will evolve during the next year. We still have not yet seen many of the overall effects. Businesses have to handle strategic planning in an inconvenient environment and face an uncertain future.

The changes in customer preferences and our new behaviors will shape the post-Covid world. This is already forcing businesses to transform their models of operation. In 2021 organizations will look for valuable resources for building and strengthening customer relationships. The new shape of global demand requires slightly different approaches and technology. Telehealth, medical virtual reality, e-learning, augmented reality, virtual sport events and other immersive technologies will grow significantly in 2021 and become our new normal.

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