Technology trends to power corporate innovation in 2021.

2020 has been a catalyst for some pretty significant changes in every industry– most of all, consumer behaviour. Its effect is most noticeable in the technology trends aiming to shape 2021. New opportunities, ripe for the picking, have opened up and having the right technology can help you seize them quickly and lucratively.  

The strategic importance of technology is now a “critical component” to the survival of businesses around the world, and has various applications:

  • Automating everyday tasks for greater efficiency.
  • Fast-tracking innovation experiments to find new revenue streams.
  • Recruiting a new breed of talent to fill technology gaps.

Finding the right way to leverage new technologies will be crucial to staying competitive in 2021– a year in which the world will look to bounce back.

We’ve put together a list of technology trends you should explore in 2021. They’re industry-agnostic which creates greater opportunity for disruption.

Discover what the future normal will be for your customers.

1. Hyperautomation

Hyperautomation (a.k.a digital process automation or intelligent process automation), combines innovative technologies like machine learning (ML), robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) to automate business processes. According to Gartner, RPA software spending is on track to reach $ 2.4 billion by 2022.

Hyperautomation overivew

Hyperautomation is highly efficient at process-driven, low-creativity tasks, which frees up your staff to take on more challenging projects that require intuition and critical thinking. As described by Research Director at Gartner, Manjunath Bhat:

“Robots aren’t here to take away our jobs; they’re here to give us a promotion.”

Careful integration, analytics and Business Process Management (BPM) are essential components of any hyperautomation strategy. Detailed planning, testing, and iteration are required to ensure all the different technologies combine smoothly to achieve the desired goal.

Some notable companies in this space include:

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PEGAA cloud software for customer engagement and operations.
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AmeliaAn AI software company focused on enterprise solutions.
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AppianA low-code automation platform for building business applications, faster.

The benefits

  • Increased flexibility – Companies can move past current limitations and more easily expand and scale operations.
  • Higher productivity – The automation of repetitive and often time-consuming tasks will enable employees to get more done, quicker and with fewer resources. 
  • Unified teams – Integrated digital technologies make it easier for teams to access data and align on goals and targets. 
  • Higher ROI – Powerful analytical tools can be leveraged to optimise processes, reduce costs and increase profit margins.

2. Edge computing

Instead of relying on “the cloud” at some far off data centre, edge computing and storage takes place at or near the source of the data. This is not to say that cloud computing is going anywhere (your Dropbox, Gmail and Slack are safe!); it just means that the cloud will be closer to your physical location. According to Statista, revenue in the global edge computing market is expected to reach $ 15.7 billion by 2025.

Edge Computing Flow visual

Initial applications for this decentralised approach included addressing the costs of bandwidth for data travelling long distances. This is a crucial issue in today’s world of ever-increasing IoT-generated data. Today, faster networking technologies like 5G are enabling edge computing systems to support a slew of real-time applications including analytics, self-driving cars, robotics and video processing.

Some of the top companies in this space include:

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ClearBlade – An edge computing software for enterprises.
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Hitachi Vantara – Data and applications to help businesses through edge computing.
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Saguna – An Edge Cloud Computing (MEC) pioneer, that helps companies monetise, optimise and accelerate their networks.

Corporations like Google Cloud Platform, Amazon and Microsoft have also developed capabilities in this area.

The benefits

  • Eliminating latency issues – Less travel for data increases response times. The ability to act quickly makes your data more valuable and actionable.
  • Heightening privacy and security –  Decentralising your data makes you less vulnerable to security breaches. 
  • Privacy – Keeping data local also is easier for compliance and privacy regulations (which can change in different locations).
  • Reducing costs – By keeping your data local, you can reduce your bandwidth costs.

3. Robots, drones, and autonomous vehicles

2020 has been a pivotal year in terms of showing us the importance of automation in the logistics and delivery chain. Companies all over the world are fast-tracking automation projects for their warehouses, factories, and deliveries.

Robots, drones, and autonomous vehicles Stats visual

Here are some interesting projections in this area:


Some notable trends in this area include:

automated deliveries

Robots have been incredibly useful this year in helping companies adhere to social distancing regulations. Hospitals have used them to test samples, while companies like Starlink and DoorDash are using them for food deliveries. The PUDUBOT is being used for mail, food and package deliveries in workplaces. Drones will also be increasingly used in this capacity.

Robots-As-A-Service (RaaS)

As this technology advances and becomes more ubiquitous, RaaS business models are expected to make significant strides.  RaaS rental and leasing services will enable companies to gain the benefits of virtual agents (e.g. completing repetitive tasks in shorter times, adhere to social distancing) while saving on operational expenses and purchasing costs. 

Human-robot collaboration

Collaborative robots, or cobots, are built to work and interact with humans in a shared workspace. The approach combines the best of both worlds, the precision, strength and endurance of a machine with the creativity and problem-solving abilities of human employees.

Machine learning

Machine vision algorithms can analyse images helping robots better navigate their environment. This is making them more efficient at tasks like packaging, transportation, assembling and quality control.

Some promising startups in this space include: 

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Covariant – Uses AI tech to build robots that can reason and learn.
Digital Dream Labs – Build hands-on educational technologies for children.
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Skydio – Provide AI-powered drones.

The benefits

  • Increased productivity – Using robots, drones and autonomous vehicles to take on repetitive, low-value tasks, increases efficiency and output.
  • Increased safety – Using machines for high-risk jobs (e.g. in extreme temperatures, during pandemics or with dangerous tools) will help keep your workers safe.  
  • Speed – Machines don’t take breaks, go on vacations or need to join meetings; this can significantly speed up production.   
  • Consistency and precision – Machines are reliable and less prone to errors or inconsistencies.

4. 5G Networks

5G networks are the latest thing in mobile internet connectivity, offering faster speeds and more reliable connections on smartphones and other devices. Average 5G download speeds of 1GB/s will eventually become the norm. Projections show that by 2024, there will be around 1.9 billion 5G subscribers worldwide.

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This technology is expected to take IoT to the next level by providing the infrastructure needed to support enormous amounts of data – facilitating broader connectivity and the use of smart devices.

Some notable startups taking advantage of this technology are: 

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BadVR – An immersive analytics platform to help companies gain insights faster.
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Movandi – 5G repeaters that help solve mmWave technical challenges.
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Nido Robotics – They build highly advanced drones for underwater exploration.

The benefits

  • Higher speeds – With 5G network speeds, transferring and processing vast amounts of data will be a much smoother process. 
  • Increased capacity – 5G enables companies to successfully run several high-demand applications, from different sources simultaneously. 
  • Reliability – 5G is expected to be more reliable than 3G or 4G, making it a safer bet for high stakes applications like healthcare or safety control.

5. Extended Reality (XR)

Extended Reality, or XR, is an umbrella term used to cover different immersive technologies, including virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). These technologies enable companies to create immersive virtual experiences for their customers with endless applications and possibilities.

Extended reality visual

Industries like retail, healthcare, training, entertainment and real estate have been among the first to successfully leverage the technology in different ways to gain a competitive edge. In fact, the XR industry itself is expected to reach a market size of $ 209 billion by 2022, and 63% of XR company shareholders expect the technology to go mainstream as soon as 2024.

Some notable startups in this space include:

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STRIVR – An end-to-end Immersive Learning platform to help users train and learn.
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Illumix – An integrated gaming and technology studio focused on mixed reality gaming.
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TechSee – AI and AR-powered remote video assistance for contact centres.

The benefits

  • An immersive customer experience – The XR experience goes far beyond any still image, truly engaging customers and enabling them to “try out” products and services. 
  • Increased collaboration – XR is a tool to facilitate remote teams, enabling them to work together on complex projects in real-time through detailed simulations.
  • Increased productivity – A study by Capgemini found that 82% of companies that use XR in their daily work either meet or exceed their targets. 
  • Makes training easier – When used as a training tool, XR’s immersive aspect encourages engagement.

6. X-as-a-Service

For years now, Software-as-a-service (SaaS), Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), and Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) have been changing the way we do business in every industry, with SaaS dominating the landscape. Projections show that by the end of 2020, SaaS solutions revenue will hit $105 billion.

Innovative X-as-a-Service (anything-as-a-service) solutions will continue to be big in 2021 with a few new twists. Some of the new trends in this area include the increased use of AI-powered SaaS, micro-SaaS offerings and Vertical SaaS.

Some interesting startups in this space include:

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CoSchedule – A management software for marketers.
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CompStak – A comprehensive commercial real estate data platform.
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Netcrumb – An AI-powered text to speech converter.

The benefits

  • Lower costs – Licenses are cost-effective when compared to what it would cost to be a sole user. Various pricing structures and flexible payments are also more convenient.
  • Scalability – Cloud-based SaaS enables businesses to integrate additional features as the business scales.
  • Updates – New features and software updates are developed over time by the provider, so businesses don’t have to put any effort into creating them. 
  • Ease of use – With SaaS, you can access your applications from any device or anywhere. Since they have so many users, most offerings are straightforward and user friendly. 
  • Increased collaboration – File sharing is a sinch, making communication and collaboration easier for teams.

7. AI for human contact

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology has been around for a few years now, with a massive impact on industries like retail, marketing and finance, just to name a few. The trend is showing no signs of slowing down with global AI spending expected to reach $46 billion by the end of the year.

AI Technology Picture visual

In particular, machine learning has taken centre stage, having been used in various industries during the course of 2020 to help businesses stay safe and productive.

Some startups in this space include:

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Coveo – Uses AI to process content and data to deliver tailored experiences.
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CloudWalk – Facial recognition for security, surveillance and prevention.
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BenevolentAI – Uses AI to accelerate scientific innovation. 

The benefits

  • Smarter IoT – AI can be used to process and interpret data from IoT devices, to improve operational efficiency and grow.  
  • Personalisation – AI algorithms can be used to analyse demographics, purchasing trends, and buyer interactions so you can eventually anticipate their needs. 
  • AI-powered marketing – AI has become a powerful tool for nurturing new leads and reaching target audiences through social media. 
  • Improved customer service – Chatbots can interact with customers using natural language 24 hours a day, helping businesses cut costs and improve customer care.

Final thoughts.

2020 will have a lasting impact on the way we buy, consume and sell products, with technology at the core of it all. This means staying on top of your digital transformation has become more crucial than ever.

A great way to experiment with new technologies like the ones mentioned above is through corporate venturing. You can safely try out new applications, test them with real customers, and get a feel for the impact they would have on your business before building anything. Early testing and validation can help you make educated decisions about what technologies can accelerate growth, gain a competitive edge and expand beyond your core offering. 

When it comes to moving forward with your digital transformation, the proverb “fortune favours the bold” has never been more true, those who wait may do so forever.

Are you looking to kickstart your very own digital transformation? Get in touch! We’d love to hear from you!

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Ritza Suazo

Ritza Suazo

Innovation Journalist