As we all learned in the tumultuous, often tragic months of 2020, technology is essential to nearly every aspect of our lives — from health and learning to work and entertainment.
But while technology has been a lifeline for millions, it needs to get better. Way better.
That’s why I’m excited about what is to come. The pandemic drove technology adoption in amazing ways — indeed, the future arrived seemingly overnight. Networking, cloud, security, collaboration, and other digital technologies all played a huge role in keeping the world running.
Despite our current struggles, I see a time when we move past the pandemic and into that better world. Here are some of the top technology trends that I believe will lead the way towards a better future in 2021.
5G and Wi-Fi 6: A bridge over the digital divide
The COVID-19 pandemic put a glaring spotlight on the biggest inequities in our society and around the world. Today, a lack of connectivity separates half the global population from opportunities in learning, business, and healthcare. In nearly every country, the digital divide affects rural communities and the poor disproportionately.
The next generation of wireless technologies —including 5G and Wi-Fi 6 — can go a long way towards closing the divide.
These technologies will raise the bar on bandwidth, speed, and latency, and reach areas where fiber is prohibitively expensive — including rural communities, from African villages to Native American reservations.
Frontline mobile workers, telehealth, manufacturing, and education will all benefit from next-gen wireless as well. We see pervasive wireless connectivity as the ultimate flattener of the digital divide as these new technologies spur growth, innovation, and opportunity for millions of people who are currently on the wrong side of the divide.
The rise of the sensors
We’ve been hearing about the promise of the Internet of Things for years. But lately, a confluence of innovations — including advanced network technologies, next-gen wireless, and AI, to name a few — are making it a reality. Add to that cheap, smart, and soon-to-be pervasive sensors, and we will be interacting with our world, our machines, and one another in exciting new ways.
The workplace is a great example. Data-based insights delivered by sensors will help provide a healthier, and more productive environment. Combined with WiFi, location technologies, and infused into collaboration platforms like Webex, they will identify underutilized or overcrowded spaces, while monitoring conditions like room temperature, humidity, air quality and light.
But the potential for sensors is even greater. For example, sports sensors will be alert for signs of concussion. And fatigue sensors will monitor alertness in potentially dangerous environments.
All of this data will be collected and turned into actionable, real-time insights, with AI playing an increasing role in keeping us informed for better decisions.
Security that’s simple, solid, and password free
Cloud and mobility were critical to the agility that kept the world going in 2020. But with so many far-flung workers and devices spread across multiple clouds, the very concept of a security perimeter has blurred — all in an environment where fast responses to security threats are crucial.
All that demands security that’s integrated, automated, and simple to use and monitor. In Cisco’s global 2021 Security Outcomes Study, a well-integrated technology stack was a top driver of success.
One of the biggest challenges in security is knowing what’s real and what’s a threat in complex environments.
Zero Trust was developed to ensure that nothing — and no one — gets by without verification. It reacts to a constantly changing environment, ensuring that only the right users or devices get access to your network. In the 2021 Security Outcomes Study, 39 percent of respondents said they were “all in” on zero-trust, while another 38 percent were “moving in that direction.”
At the same time, a password-free future is on the near horizon, as enabling technologies such as biometrics become popular with both consumers and enterprises.
Paying for the tech you actually need
Organizations have long invested in one-size-fits all tech solutions. That meant paying for features that users might never actually need. Today, software as a service enables organizations to pay for the features and capabilities they currently need, with the option to scale other services with great speed and agility, when needed.
Consumption models will continue to shift, especially as more and more features and capabilities are available via software, whether on site or in the cloud. The flexibility and cost savings that pay-as-you-consume models provide are simply too good to resist.
This shift to pay-as-you-consume spending gives organizations more flexibility and cost predictability to manage their IT spend — something that 85 percent of CIOs and IT decision makers in Cisco’s 2021 CIO and ITDM Trends Pulse report agreed is important to their business (43 percent called it very important).
Keys to the future: app-enabled agility and resilience
In the early months of the pandemic, organizations had to adapt quickly to meet highly unpredictable changes. Cloud was the critical enabler of this new agility. For many organizations, it was the only way to meet the rapidly shifting demands of their customers and employees, regardless of costs.
Ten months later, the applications at the heart of our businesses are highly distributed. Our workforces are more mobile than ever before. And the demands on our systems are unprecedented.
Looking ahead, IT teams will need even greater agility. With enhanced observability solutions, teams can shift from monitoring everything to monitoring just the data and insights that matter. Both insights and automation will be essential to future growth, competitiveness, and resilience.
From serving customers to delighting them
Today, mobile apps enable everything from shopping and banking to learning and well-being — and they’ve even helped track COVID cases. Mobile apps also enable both public and private-sector organizations to connect with and understand users in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago.
Of course, most business processes also run on applications.
The most advanced of these promise more personalized relationships, along with instantaneous responses. That demands the ability to turn masses of real-time information from the network into actionable insights. And to do it fast.
Armed with such capabilities, companies can respond to a customer even before they report an issue or a need. It’s this combination of immersive, intelligence-based personalization and experience that will transform baseline customer satisfaction into deep customer engagement, excitement, and loyalty.
With innovation accelerating at a fast pace, there’s a tremendous opportunity to use new technologies to create organizations that are more flexible, responsive, and resilient. At the same time, I believe our higher mission is to use technology to improve lives across the planet.
Which technology trends do you have on your radar?