2020 has been a year of many firsts, to say the least.
It has also shifted people’s lives at their very core and accelerated trends that saw rise earlier, in the past few years.
With a global calamity came also global progress, with a global health crisis — a pressing need to evolve and adapt.
And amidst this push for agility and flexibility, technology came as a reliable answer in a time when uncertainty was quickly becoming a norm.
Almost a year later, it has become clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is not going away anytime soon; some changes it caused are here to stay, and just waiting it out is not a viable strategy anymore. With this, a number of technological advancements have emerged and solidified over the year of 2020 — and they will continue to set the stage for the tech world, as well as all the industries at large, further into 2021.
AI, AI, and AI again
While AI has been a trend that has been around for a while now, 2021 will be the time for it to sto being a buzzword and become a true implementation and tool used regularly — both by corporations and individuals. Artificial intelligence will be key to ensuring that organizations maintain high levels of performance, productivity, agility, and scalability when it comes to the company structure, as well as operations — both internal and external.
AI’s ability to interpret data, identify patterns, learn quickly and eliminate inefficiencies will become the ultimate solution for companies to invest in in order to remain afloat, develop agility and quickly adapt to the changing global landscape transformed by the pandemic. While the level of investment in AI technology will vary by company’s digitization level, amount of data available for the AI to analyze, and the given budget. Nevertheless, no matter what the discrepancies are, it’s worthwhile to consider developing an AI investment strategy that works best for the company’s current situation and future goals.
Amazon is an example of a highly digitized, data-driven company that has quickly adapted to the pandemic. Amazon Go shops have become the epitome of streamlined shopping experience. Amazon Go stores differ from traditional stores in that there is no checkout required. The stores use AI to track what customers pick up in store and automatically charges them for the chosen items through the Amazon Go app.
Remote work = operate from anywhere
Many people haven’t set foot back into their offices since early March. Almost overnight, businesses instated work-from-home orders and shut the doors of their physical locations — and the process was complicated, even messy to an extent.
The truth of 2020 — and throughout 2021 and beyond — is that all the players across the globe will be dispersed. Employees will work from different locations and across multiple time zones; the target customers won’t necessarily be the ones in close proximity anymore; and the locations of each will continue to change, day after day. The future is digital first, so the traditional rigid business models do not apply anymore.
This is why “remote” needs to become the norm. Enabling employees to remain engaged and productive despite spatial and temporal differences will be key to success; being able to meet customers wherever they are, whenever is best is going to drive customer service and relationships. With the digital-first approach, companies will enhance their chances of surviving and succeeding through 2021.
A lot of companies have made a switch to remote this year: some, Like Adobe or Microsoft, have specific deadlines into 2021; some don’t have any deadlines at all — like Mastercard. And there are companies like Shopify and Twitter that have allowed employees to remain remote forever.
With going all digital, there also arise risks with the digital operations being compromised or hacked. This means that, in addition to ensuring that the company is digital-first, it’s key to also strategize and plan for security systems in place to ensure the smooth running and operation of the internal digital system that companies are establishing or developing.
From implementing AI technologies to identify and eliminate fraud based on pattern analysis or internally educating the employees on security measures for better performance and secure growth, it’s equally important to strategize about security measures in the digital realm as it would have been in the physical world pre-pandemic; and as companies explore new paths to achieve digitization across the board, they also need to plan for cybersecurity risks simultaneously.
IBM has been a leader in revolutionizing cybersecurity. The tech giant approaches the issue with artificial intelligence as a tool. It has developed a system that allows companies to stay ahead of digital security threats by having the AI brain identify anomalies and signal threats ahead of time, allowing for a prompt response.
The era of hierarchical, bureaucratic structures internally are long gone. The winners of 2020 — and leaders in 2021 — will be the companies that are able to easily restructure themselves and ensure a quick turnaround for decisions made.
To achieve this level of agility, the companies will have to adopt digital-first strategies for growth, as well as decentralize control within the company and allow for more autonomy across departments and teams. With a more “flat” structure, organizations will be able to make decisions more quickly, avoid silos often attributed to the traditional hierarchical structures, and quickly kick off the process of implementing new technologies that will allow for more data-driven operations, internally or externally.
WordPress and Dell are among the many companies that have embraced agile and have been encouraging the employees by giving them autonomy and flexible policies on employment.
With a more digital-forward approach to business, organizations will use the opportunity to quickly uncover inefficiencies and lags in day-to-day operations. Oftentimes, these inefficiencies have been consistently causing the organizations large amounts of resources that could have been avoided earlier but were only addressed with temporary, “quick-fix” solutions that weren’t sustainable in the long run.
For a lot of companies, one straightforward strategy is identifying time-consuming, low-involvement tasks that would usually take up a significant amount of time from employees and introduce digital solutions to take on those tasks, allowing employees to focus on more complex tasks requiring human judgement and expertise. Technology also will allow the streamlining of processes and ability to dramatically increase operational speed, further contributing to the overall increase in the organization’s agility and preparedness to weather the challenges that 2020 brought.
Some of the best examples in this area of innovation are the tools for customer service — think of smart chat bots — that take care of easier, simpler requests from the customers and allow customer service managers to focus on specific client cases that require human input and relationships to manage.