2020 was a disruptive year, not only for the global population and businesses but for the tech industry too. As far as our industry was concerned, the disruption has accelerated digital transformation, accelerating developments that may have taken 3 to 5 years to become entrenched in common usage. This puts us on the precipice of accomplishing great things in 2021.
Given these developments, here are five tech trends I think we’ll see within the next 11 months.
- WFH culture sets off a renewed focus on smart collaboration and office set-up of the future
As a wide array of companies re-examine the functionality of the workplace and recalibrate to varying levels of a work-from-home or work-from-anywhere, we’ll start to see more traditional office workspaces become periodic collaboration hubs, while home offices become the day-to-day workplace in a new hybrid work model. The office will likely transform from many desks, conference rooms and shared amenities to a cooperative business centre supporting specific project-based priorities on an ongoing basis. Configurable workstations with more nimble and portable tech will allow employees to readily adapt their surroundings as needed.
As a result, employers will need to equip their full workforce with the right tech tools, deployment, and IT support to maximize productivity and collaboration – for both working from home and in the workplace. According to Intel and Lenovo’s global study conducted in 2020, Empowering Your Employees With The Right Technology, only 30% of employees across industries report their laptops or desktop PCs work well for cross-collaboration and half responded that their computers are out of date or insufficient for work. To prioritize smart collaboration, we’ll see companies shift spending to improving IT infrastructure and basic employee needs, such as work PCs, to ensure they can be productive, regardless of location. The new employee experience will also prompt an increase in tech decisions being driven by end-users/employees alongside their IT departments, as the traditionally segmented lines of commercial and consumer tech continue to erode.
2. 5G and connectivity
5G became a reality in SA in 2020, but its launch was perhaps overshadowed by the global pandemic and the fact that not many devices in our country are 5G ready. I believe this will begin to change over the next few months. 5G has infinite possibilities that SA has not yet begun to explore. It is more than just ‘very fast internet,’ as it can enable many more products and services that we haven’t even begun to conceive of yet. 5G will also enhance AR and VR experiences, which in themselves have great possibilities yet to be explored. 5G will continue to transform personal computing as more PCs – joining tablets and smartphones – embrace always-on and always-connected capabilities, offering freedom from reliance on Wi-Fi alone. This is especially critical now as multiple household members stretch home Wi-Fi networks at peak hours while working and learning from home. WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E-enabled devices will also become the norm for a bump in speed even when a home Wi-Fi network is connected to multiple devices at once. As 5G-enabled device adoptions rise, we expect effective deployments of 5G infrastructure and network coverage to take time to continue to improve through 2021 and beyond.
In the consumer space, connected smart home assistants will also grow in ubiquity as prices continue to go mainstream, expanding to outside the home’s perimeter too. In the commercial sector, we will start to see Network-as-a-Service solutions that bundle IT hardware and services to better support the work-from-anywhere movement. Industrial and enterprise organizations will also build onsite 5G networks for mission-critical functions and to boost digitalization of critical infrastructure, enhance security and put in place back-up options outside of WiFi. As we move into a future where everything (all device endpoints) becomes connected, expect AI and machine learning to help our devices become more autonomous – from transportation to manufacturing. I am hopeful that our country will start to employ 5G in a better, smarter, and more beneficial way in 2021.
3. New form factors for new generations
2020 saw the introduction of foldable technology in PCs and smartphones that reshaped the potential of portability and productivity. In the coming years, these devices will move to the mainstream as more panel suppliers offer greater options at lower price points. Further out, I think we may even see foldable tech extended to external monitors that can be folded and unfolded, rolled and unrolled, in order to expand and contract to accommodate the number of viewers watching. These displays may one day also be imbedded into our smartwatches, textiles or even toys that extend like a scroll. Enterprise-grade, AR-enabled smart glasses for more versatility in remote maintenance and training, for example, will also come to the fore.
With the Gen Z of digital natives less attached to the traditional definition of a PC form factor, dual-screen configurations, growing folding form factors, along with new kinds like on-screen keyboard inputs and voice-to-text tools that are less reliant on a physical keyboard will appeal to the next generation of tech-savvy consumers.
4. Security and transparency
Security of sensitive information should also be a top priority in 2021, once again because of the proliferation of data, the ever-growing number of entry points, and hackers becoming more resourceful.
With the traditional network suddenly moving away from the corporate environment, the perimeter has now expanded to all devices connected remotely to the cloud or other work devices – where even smart home devices may add risk to corporate networks as employees log on from home. Below-the-OS attacks, where hackers dive deeper into the computing stack for vulnerabilities, is also a growing risk. More remote and cloud infrastructures in the new normal also mean companies will need to grapple with how best to keep themselves secured with integrations of partner security services. Ultimately, organizations will need to commit to a more agile, business-centric approach to security that doesn’t replace their existing security models but rather places security within the context of the organizational strategy.
And with the increasingly blurred lines between personal and work devices, a heightened sense of privacy protection will continue to grow amongst consumers and employees working from their home environments.
With much more data being collected from many more devices over the next 12 months, the regulation of this data becomes even more pressing. As leaps in technology make our lives easier and bring about new services, more information is generated, much of it private. Risk management of data should become a top priority for users, companies and the government. Legislation like the POPI Act should be more rigorously enforced, and those exploiting the public’s data should be held accountable. I think that over the next year people will also become a lot more aware of the fact that their online actions leave a trace, and that this data is often freely shared outside of their circle. This increase in awareness will hopefully lead to more demand for transparency.
5. IOT, Edge and Blockchain technology
IoT has made huge strides over the past two years. It is becoming part of homes, businesses and cities as people strive to make their lives simpler, streamlined and more connected. An IoT ecosystem consists of web-enabled smart devices that use embedded systems, such as processors, sensors and communication hardware, to collect, send and act on data they acquire from their environments. IoT devices share the sensor data they collect by connecting to an IoT gateway or other edge device where data is either sent to the cloud to be analyzed or analysed. With IoT, a considerable amount of information is generated, which is then analysed by cloud servers to extract only the useful data. This data is then fed back into IoT, to increase its accuracy and relevance. This is where the Lenovo 3S strategy comes in – Smart IOT, Smart Infrastructure and Smart Verticals.
The truth is, deploying internet of things at scale can be a complex task. Everything looks different. IoT applications, gateways and smart devices are installed differently and can be scattered across an organization’s physical locations. At Lenovo we help manage that complexity, so our customers can focus on driving their business. We help optimize the value of smart Things, delivering and managing tested, turn-key solutions, enabling their digital transformation at a global level. I have no doubt that we are going to see a lot more IoT devices become connected to the grid in 2021, as people are now more aware of the benefits this technology can bring, and are ready to start using it to their advantage.
As these IoT technologies become more prevalent, so too will connected products that require greater autonomy and speed, and edge computing will help facilitate this by rapidly analysing their information. With edge computing, products are able to process information immediately at its source, rather than having to first divert through the cloud. This makes technology like autonomous cars possible. This kind of technology has unlimited potential, and I am optimistic that it will be explored more thoroughly in the coming year.
Lastly, Blockchain – an amazing piece of data regulation technology will most definitely become more popular in the coming months. When Blockchain technology first appeared on the public’s radar a few years ago, it was often conflated with Bitcoin, with everyone’s eyes on the rise and fall (and rise again!) of this cryptocurrency’s value. However, while this was happening – the importance of Blockchain technology itself was overshadowed. However, I believe 2021 will shine a light on the importance of this technology, as the focus turns to enabling trust. The reason for this is that Blockchain technology is able to record transactions between two parties without the need for third-party authentication, and is thus often referred to as a digital ledger. The information in this ledger is open and decentralised, which makes it ideal for identity management and tracking sources of assets and data, thus playing a key role in the identification of information.
2020: the pandemic legacy
The primary legacy that 2020 will leave in the tech world is that of change. It accelerated digital transformation as CEOs and CIOs were forced to re-examine their IT strategies and rework them according to the users’ needs. 2020 has pushed companies to take digital transformation seriously, which will give them more opportunities to differently design the next generation of digital solutions that will deliver new products, services and experiences for their users (customers and employees).
As far as Lenovo is concerned, I am particularly excited about 2021, as we will be continuing our own digital transformation journey and supporting our customers and consumers bring theirs to life. While 2020 was a bit more disruptive than we may have wanted, I believe that 2021 will bring a huge amount of exciting innovations as a result, and Lenovo intends to be part of that.
- Thibault Dousson is General Manager for Lenovo South Africa