Top tech trends for 2021: Gartner predicts hyperautomation, AI and more will dominate business technology
October 20, 2020
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Operational resiliency is key as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change how companies will do business next year.

There are nine top strategic technology trends that businesses should plan for in 2021 as the pandemic continues, according to Gartner’s analysts. Their findings were presented on Monday at the virtual Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo Americas conference, which runs through Thursday.

Organizational plasticity is key to these trends. “When we talk about the strategic technology trends, we actually have them grouped into three different themes, which is people centricity, location independence, and resilient delivery,” said Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner. “What we’re talking about with the trends is how do you leverage technology to gain the organizational plasticity that you need to form and reform into whatever’s going to be required as we emerge from this pandemic?”

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Here are the top nine trends, in no particular order. And they will have an impact for more than the next year. Companies can look at these for insight through 2025, per Gartner.

“We don’t prioritize these. So we don’t say that one is more important than the other,” Burke explained. “Different organizations in different industries will prioritize the impact of the trends on them as being higher or lower, but when we look really across industries and across geographies and across these trends, we think that these are the most impactful trends that organizations generally are going to face over the next five years.”

Top strategic technology trend No. 1: Internet of Behaviors

The Internet of Behaviors (IoB) is an emerging trend. The term “Internet of Behaviors” was first coined in Gartner’s tech predictions for 2020. This is how organizations, whether government or private sector, are leveraging technology to monitor behavioral events and manage the data to upgrade or downgrade the experience to influence those behaviors. This is what Gartner calls the “digital dust” of peoples’ daily lives. It includes facial recognition, location tracking, and big data. 

Burke said, “In practical terms, it’s real things like health insurance companies that are monitoring your fitness bands and your food intake, and the number of times you go to the gym, and those things to adjust your premiums.”

Gartner predicts that by the end of 2025, more than half of the world’s population will be subject to at least one IoB program. Burke said: “That might be a little bit of an understatement because when you think about the social credit system in China, you’re already up to double digit percentages of people that are being monitored just with one implementation. There’s all kinds of these things that are popping up here and there and everywhere.”

Top strategic technology trend No. 2: Cybersecurity Mesh

The cybersecurity mesh technology trend enables people to access any digital asset security, no matter where the asset is, or where the person is located. Burke said: “The cybersecurity mesh is really how we’ve really reached a tipping point or inflection point with security, and that’s causing us to really decouple policy enforcement from policy decision-making. Those were coupled in the past. What that allows us to do is it allows us to put the security perimeter around the individual as opposed to around the organization.”

He added “The way that security professionals have traditionally thought about security is that inside of the organization is secure. Then we make sure that everything outside of your organization is secured through that security mechanism inside the organization, inside the firewall, so to speak.”

With more digital assets outside of the firewall, particularly with cloud and more remote employees, the security perimeter needs to be around an individual and enforcement is handled through a cloud access security broker, so that policy enforcement is done at the asset itself, Burke explained.

Gartner predicts that by 2025, the cybersecurity mesh will support more than half of digital access control requests.

Top strategic technology trend No. 3: Total Experience 

Another trend is total experience (TX). Last year, Gartner introduced multiexperience and this is a step beyond that. Multiexperience is multiple modes of access using different technologies, and TX ties together customer experience, employee experience, and user experience with the multiexperience environment, Burke said. 

Organizations need a TX strategy as interactions become more mobile, virtual, and distributed, particularly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The challenge is that in most organizations, those different disciplines are siloed. So what we’re saying the basis of that prediction is that if you can bring together customer experience, employee experience, multi experience and user experience, the common notarial effect, common notarial innovation as a combination of strategies is harder to replicate than in a single strategy, according to Michael Porter. And we believe that, too. So you can bring those things together. That’s where you’ll gain the competitive advantage that will be realized through those experience metrics,” Burke said.

Gartner predicts that organizations providing a TX will outperform competitors across key satisfaction metrics over the next three years.

Top strategic technology trend No. 4: Intelligent Composable Business

This trend, intelligent composable business, is about leveraging from an application perspective and leveraging packaged business capabilities, which can be thought of as chunks of functionality accessible through APIs, Burke said.

“They can be developed by vendors or provided by vendors or developed in-house. That kind of framework, that allows you to cobble together those package business capabilities, and then access data through a data fabric to provide it’s configuration and rapid reconfiguration of business services that can be highly granular even personal acts.”

“The intelligent composable business is about bringing together things like better decision making, better access to data that changes the way that we do things, which is required for flexible applications, and which we can deliver when we have this composable approach to application delivery,” Burke said.

Top strategic technology trend No. 5: Hyperautomation

Hyperautomation is another key strategic trend for 2021. It was a top strategic trend last year as well, and it has been evolving. 

“We’ve seen tremendous demand for automating repetitive manual processes and tasks; so robotic process automation was the star technology that companies were focused on to do that. That has been happening for a couple of years, but what we’re seeing now is that it’s moved from task based automation, to process based automation, so automating a number of tasks in a process, to functional automation across multiple processes and even moving towards automation at the business ecosystem level. So really, the breadth of automation has expanded as we go forward with hyperautomation,” Burke explained. 

Top strategic technology trend No. 6: Anywhere Operations

Another strategic trend, anywhere operations, refers to an IT operating model that supports customers everywhere and enables employees everywhere and manages the deployment of business services across distributed infrastructure. 

Burke said that anywhere operations were always there but the pandemic made urgent. 

“There always had been a movement towards location independent and providing services at the point where they’re required. But back at least in America and Europe in March, suddenly all of these people working from home really raised the awareness of it, which was we have an immediate need to be able to support remote employees and most organizations were able to resolve that really quickly. But then we also are dealing with our customers, and our customers are remote and our products need to become a deliverable remotely as well.”

With employees working from home, and salespeople working from home, talking to purchasing agents and buyers working from home, it ramped up the problem and the need to deliver services to people wherever they are and wherever they are required, Burke said.

Gartner predicts that by the end of 2023, 40% of organizations will have applied anywhere operations to deliver optimized and blended virtual and physical customer and employee experiences.

Top strategic technology trend No. 7: AI Engineering

This trend involves providing engineering discipline to an organization because only 53% of projects make it from artificial intelligence (AI) prototypes to production, according to Gartner research.

“AI engineering is about providing the sort of engineering discipline, a robust structure that will emphasize having AI projects that are delivered in a consistent way to ensure that they can scale, move into production, all of those kinds of things. So it’s really bringing the engineering discipline to AI for end user organizations. So when you talk about large vendors, yes, they’ve been delivering successfully for the past quite a few years, but end user organizations are needing to move out of the experimental stage with AI and move into a robust delivery model and that’s really what AI engineering’s about,” Burke said.

Top strategic technology trend No. 8: Distributed Cloud

Distributed cloud is another technology trend and it involves the distribution of public cloud services to different physical locations while the operation, governance, and evolution of the services are the responsibility of the public cloud provider. 

Gartner predicts that by 2025, most cloud service platforms will provide at least some distributed cloud services that begin at the point of need. 

Top strategic technology trend No. 9: Privacy-Enhancing Computation

Privacy is more important than ever as global data protection legislation matures, and Gartner predicts that by 2025, half of large organizations will implement privacy-enhancing computation for processing data in untrusted environments and multiparty data analytics use cases. Privacy-enhancing computation protects data in use while maintaining secrecy or privacy. 

Burke said the actual number of companies that will use privacy-enhancing computation is tough to assess. “That’s a difficult one to gauge because what we’ve seen over the years of course, is that a lot of organizations have not focused as much attention as they probably require on privacy. But we think that what’s happening now is that privacy legislation globally is really starting to take hold. So when privacy legislation is introduced, it takes a while for enforcement to catch up to legislation.”

He added: “Privacy is going to be an issue for organizations going forward. The importance is going to increase, but also the opportunities are going to be increased to be able to use trusted third parties for analytics and share data across priorities without exposing the private details in that data and that kind of thing.”

How to plan for a future phase

“One of the things that’s really an underlying premise of all of our research, including the top technology trends, is that we’re not going to come out of the pandemic and go back to what we were,” Burke said. “We’re going to come out of the pandemic, but we’re going to move forward on a different trajectory. So really, trying to anticipate what that trajectory is going to be for your organization helps to guide you on how you’re going to emerge from the pandemic on that different trajectory. So these trends are focused on organizational agility because that’s what’s going to be successful as we step into a new future phase, hopefully sometime soon.”

Also see


AI engineering is one of the key strategic trends Gartner predicts for 2021.

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