An era of unprecedented technological change began in 2020. As users were forced to adjust to cloud platforms, remote work arrangements, and a never-ending onslaught of Zoom calls, technology-enabled businesses to stay nimble throughout a highly challenging and rapidly changing period of time.

With the year coming to a close, the technological trends that emerged over the course of 2020 will carry forward into 2021. Many of the technology changes that small- and medium-sized businesses made in order to adjust to the global pandemic are likely to persist, as organizations seek to build upon their infrastructure investments while finding new ways of staying productive from a distance.

Seven technology trends small and medium-sized businesses will see in 2021

Remote Work Improvements

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to abruptly adopt work-from-home policies in the interest of public health. With hopes that life may begin to return to normal in 2021, many employees hope that the shift from the office to the home office remains permanent. One survey by the World Economic Forum found that only 11% of people want to return full-time to the office, and 72% desire a hybrid remote-office model.

Companies should expect to continue refining the use of remote technology to stay productive.  Chat apps or instant messaging solutions such as Microsoft Teams will become more and more valuable in 2021 due to the continuation of the remote workforce.  The same goes for Teleconferencing apps, file sharing apps, and document collaboration apps.  Businesses who quickly set up short term team collaboration solutions are now re-evaluating these solutions to determine what will work best long-term.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The rapid growth of AI solutions shows no sign of slowing down in 2021 — especially in the workplace. AI For organizations with on-site, hybrid, or remote work arrangements, workplace AI automation is set to continue replacing paper-based workflows through applications like intelligent document extraction, while new solutions for intelligent health tracking will help employers manage the ongoing safety concerns of the modern workforce.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed organizations’ 2021 automation agendas toward back-office processes including finance and accounting, human resources, supply chain and logistics operations, and IT and support technology needed to make the rest of the operation work smoothly.  Much of these operations involve human activities and business processes that can be improved and expedited through the use of intelligent, AI-enabled technology and systems.

Cybersecurity

Between ransomware and attacks on work-from-home computer equipment, it’s important for organizations to be prepared for whatever cybersecurity surprises are in store for 2021.  The rapid transition to work from home in 2020 caught many businesses off guard and exposed them to a wide range of new security risks that they were ill-equipped to handle.  2021 will bring a refocused and more comprehensive approach to security at the office as well as remote workspaces.

One positive, forward-leaning trend will be the continued adoption of multifactor authentication (MFA) solutions, which are quickly augmenting the long insecure password field with a wide range of identity verification tools that will better protect private data and devices.   A greater focus on endpoint security to quickly detect, analyze, block, and contain security attacks is another trend we expect to see in 2021.  As the volume of work from home devices connected to an organization’s network increased in 2020, the need for more advanced endpoint security became evident.

Cloud Computing

According to IDC, investments in cloud environments rose 34% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2020 as businesses across all industries continued to shift towards public and private cloud infrastructures. While the leading public cloud services, including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform, are expected to continue growing more dominant in 2021, it’s predicted that many IT providers will seek out hybrid and multi-cloud solutions in order to avoid being locked into specific cloud platforms.

5G

Apple’s release of the iPhone 12 in 2020 delivered 5G technology to the masses, placing next-generation networking technology in the most popular consumer smartphone. Greater access to 5G’s improved speed and bandwidth will allow businesses to provide powerful new experiences in 2021.

5G is not a small upgrade on internet speed. Currently, the average American home enjoys download speeds of about 135 Mbps. With 5G, internet users will comfortably enjoy speeds of about 500 Mbps. Such high download speeds will have a significant impact on transfer capabilities, data downloads, communication, and the leveraging of mobile technologies.

For a business, 5G will translate to:

  • Smarter business applications: 5G will enable apps to handle more outgoing and incoming data. Companies will be able to develop smarter apps that will serve their customers better.
  • Enhanced enterprise communication: For effective enterprise communication, especially when communicating with clients or workers who are overseas, you need a fast internet connection on both ends.
  • Enhanced IoT ecosystems: The primary challenge of IoT devices in business is their strain on a company’s bandwidth. With a connection as fast as 5G, IoT devices will be adequately supported.

For businesses such as telemedicine services that depend on secure, reliable high-quality video streaming, 5G will begin to deliver better customer experiences to users across the country.

Chatbots

The continued disruption of traditional customer service through automated conversations should be expected to grow in 2021. As up to 85% of all customer interactions are predicted to take place without human interaction by the year’s end, businesses of all shapes and sizes should be prepared to implement chatbots to provide high-quality customer service around the clock.

Internet-of-Things (IoT)

The confluence of 5G, wearable tech, and smart sensors will likely continue to expand throughout 2021. As digital health wearables help monitor chronic conditions and maintain public health policies in the workplace, IoT devices will contribute to the emerging trend of Internet-of-Behavior (IoB) technologies.  Computer vision, sensors, and RFID tags will also help ensure that employees are following proper in-office protocols and help businesses remain flexible during times of crisis.