Enterprise tech trends for 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed unprecedented demands on IT to keep the lights on and help businesses return to normality. Enterprises are now looking to what’s next: how can they leverage emerging technologies to improve the customer experience, automate labor-intensive processes, anticipate supply chain bottlenecks and protect their homeworkers from cybercriminals. Here we look at seven technology trends shaping digital transformation in 2021.

Zero-trust security

The rush to work from home (WFH) exposed the weakness of traditional perimeter security models when securing widely distributed remote deployments. This has driven the adoption of zero-trust security models. Zero trust locks down all privileged resources, granting access only when requested. At its simplest, it assumes no one can be trusted and relies on robust identity and access management protocols and intelligent, autonomous risk assessment.

An employee requesting data might be required to share their ID, location, device/computer authorization and more to access an enterprise service or resource. In this scenario, a zero-trust system receiving an access request from a supported person and device at an unusual time or location may identify this as a risk and decline access. It’s not an unreasonable approach. During the pandemic, we saw phishing attempts increase 600% as criminals sought to subvert identity protections. Zero trust security models may use AI-driven pattern and behavior analysis to further secure the edge.

5G and Industry 4.0

We expect to see wider adoption of 5G to deliver private networks for connected industrial infrastructure. We are currently working with Schneider Electric to develop an automated factory in France and with the Port of Antwerp to develop automated shipping and cargo technologies that use 5G. These private, virtualized networks are designed to support future needs. For example, at present, these networks support AR-based maintenance and a telepresence robot for remote site visits at Schneider Electric, while in Antwerp, 5G supports numerous uses, including image-based port efficiency and a ship safety management system.

Our customer LACROIX also uses 5G to support its Industry 4.0 electronics plant. “Our industry needs to be able to rely on wireless technology that can cope with the massification of data at our plants,” said LACROIX CEO Vincent Bedouin. “This data is the information that will enable us to carry out predictive maintenance or provide reliable and secure information to our customers in real time.”

Managing the multicloud

Enterprises enhanced business resilience during the pandemic using more cloud-based systems as IT supported geographically distributed remote employees. IDC estimates that in EMEA, spending on cloud-based hardware increased by 10.4% in 2020, compared to a decline of 16.4% in traditional IT infrastructure spend.

EMEA spending

"By the end of 2021, based on lessons learned in the pandemic, most enterprises will put a mechanism in place to accelerate their shift to cloud-centric digital infrastructure and application services twice as fast as before the pandemic," said Rick Villars, Group Vice President, Worldwide Research at IDC.

Rapid adoption has created the challenge of effectively managing multicloud deployments when services must be secured, monitored and paid for. Enterprises must analyze deployments to ensure that services work tightly together, SLAs are robust and costs do not spiral out of control. Security, data access and user access management become critical. The strategic choice is to ensure data and application controls are in place from the start, but at present, around 47% of enterprises take an ad-hoc approach to deployment.

CX takes center stage

We expect consumers to take more interaction online post-pandemic, limiting social contact to high-value experiences. B2C enterprises must focus on delivering robust and satisfying CX as digital rapidly replaces physical interaction. Within this new context, digital becomes the entire customer experience, and trust, safety and inclusion become essential.

Forrester VP David Truog predicts physical point of sale (PoS) systems will be replaced by zero touch, from cashless payments to the replacement of physical systems such as ATM screens or elevator buttons with voice, gesture and proximity-based technologies. Enterprises should focus on assistive technologies, as these are foundational to such solutions.

This focus on CX extends to customer-focused augmented reality (AR) solutions, from virtualized retail experiences to tools, such as those from IKEA, that let you test furniture in homes. Recent Shopify data showed products with AR content saw a 94% higher conversion rate than those without.

Hyperautomation and RPA

Whatever can be automated will be automated, freeing employees from the drudgery of repetition and placing more value in soft skills and creative intelligence for complex tasks. As consumers, we already experience some automation each time we place an online order to receive near-immediate invoicing and shipping information, but hyperautomation extends this. It does so through the combined use of AI and data analytics, robotic process automation, machine learning, process mining and other technologies to automate not just tasks but entire business processes and workflows, unleashing productivity and business efficiency.

Coherent Market Insights predicts this sector will increase at a CAGR of 19% until 2027. These technologies extend across the business ecosystem, from management and administration into manufacturing and Industry 4.0. Such deployments will become increasingly reliant upon supplementary tools, such as network slicing.

Resilient supply chains

The pandemic deeply disrupted existing “just-in-time” models of supply chain management and manufacturing, as staff was locked down and production capacity dwindled. McKinsey argues this stress will kick-start Industry 4.0 deployments as industry leaders develop end-to-end supply chain transparency and accelerate manufacturing automation investments.

AI, analytics, advanced materials, connectivity, automation and digital twin (human/machine) deployments working together can support resilient supply chains at the factories, but freight and logistics are also seeing digital transformation as stakeholders seek to strengthen resilience. Amazon, for example, is experimenting with drone-based “last mile” deliveries, while specific industries such as agriculture and mining begin to deploy autonomous off-road haulage vehicles to improve efficiency.

Internet of Behaviors

Retailers insist on health checks before entering stores, and places of business insist customers and employees wear masks, but monitoring for such behavior will become increasingly automated, predicts Gartner.

Data generated by video, gyroscopic, RFID, LiDAR, UWB and other mobile sensors tracking behavior will be combined with additional information and data analytics to guide enterprise decisions. We see early illustrations of this to enable new business with health insurers offering deals to customers willing to share fitness data. The idea is to modify and manage how people behave. This, however, has implications across privacy, ethics and personal freedom. In response, some big tech firms are building solutions that obfuscate personal information while still providing valuable data. Data collection, analytics and privacy are critical here.

Find out how Russian digital services operator Tricolor deploys an advanced omnichannel contact center; LACROIX Group explores modular manufacturing with the help of 5G; the Port of Antwerp becomes a smart port; Schneider Electric explores 5G for IT/OT convergence; and McConell Dowell builds an IoT-enabled construction site, all with the support of Orange Business.

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