What will distinguish the companies that emerge from the pandemic successfully versus those that don’t? Technology. It’s that simple, and it’s a reality that needs to set in at businesses of all sizes across all industries.
Before the pandemic, technologies such as artificial intelligence, IoT, machine learning, and big data looked promising—but they also looked optional. Because these technologies didn’t offer a clear return on investment, weren’t accessible, or still needed time to mature, many businesses opted to wait on using them in a meaningful way. After the pandemic, however, implementing these technologies moved from an option to a necessity.
That’s because whether you’re at a seed startup or an enterprise, the post-pandemic period will force every business to question its fundamental expectations and make sweeping changes. It’s not a process of returning to normal—it’s about leaping into something totally new.
4 technologies to consider implementing in a post-COVID world
Changes of significant speed and scale aren’t possible with a reorganization of resources. In fact, they require substantial new capabilities—the kind that today’s transformative technologies are uniquely equipped to offer. So which ones should entrepreneurs and businesses consider integrating into their own workflows? Here are four emerging technologies positioned to make waves in 2021:
1. AI: The COVID-19 pandemic led to a flurry of new investment in AI. One survey found that 68% of businesses increased AI spend during the pandemic. Some invested in new technologies or built out existing capabilities, for instance. Other companies relied on AI to get fast answers to complicated questions and supplement or replace work functions that weren’t possible due to public health concerns. Regardless of how these companies chose to integrate AI, 63% reported that doing so positively impacted their performance this year.
AI adoption will (and should) keep increasing in 2021 as organizations look for ways to learn and do more with less. AI applications exist in all companies, departments, and workflows, so it will be important to identify the most impactful use cases. If AI was a novelty before, it needs to be a serious asset now—one that’s deeply integrated across data and within processes.
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2. Cloud: The pandemic proved to many enterprises just how important the cloud is. When offices began working remotely, the extent to which their data and applications already lived in the cloud largely determined how resilient the business was in the face of disruption. In addition to increasing accessibility, the cloud promises (and delivers) cost savings, simplified IT maintenance, scalability, better security, and a host of other advantages important both this year and beyond.
For example, many of today’s startups already utilize the cloud from day one. They store all their data in the cloud; pick tools for accounting, HR, and sales that are native to the cloud; and rely on the technology to facilitate communication and collaboration throughout the organization. Any technology housed on-premises will, for the most part, be seen as an obstacle and an anachronism. In short, prepare for the cloud—not the office—to become the hub where business happens as well as a key differentiator between competitors.
3. Blockchain: Blockchain got its start in the world of cryptocurrency, where the concept of a distributed ledger that’s shared and trusted by multiple parties proved its mettle—so much so that legacy financial institutions such as JPMorgan are now experimenting with it.
The firm recently issued its own token, JPM Coin, and has around 100 employees working in a business unit called Onyx that’s dedicated to blockchain. JPMorgan sees potential in blockchain, as banks spend hundreds of millions of dollars resolving incorrect information in functions such as international payment requests—something the technology could solve entirely.
According to Isaac Kunkel, senior vice president of consulting services at Chainyard, blockchain also has immense applications for resolving administrative difficulties and easing up other painful processes. “Think of how much time and money the average company spends entering, verifying, and reconciling data,” Kunkel says. “Blockchain has the potential to eliminate much of this work while improving it at the same time.” In 2021, companies will certainly discover more ways to deploy blockchain to improve productivity, efficiency, accuracy, and every other metric that matters.
4. Cybersecurity: Less exciting than the other entries on this list but arguably just as—if not more—important, cybersecurity has become an existential risk for companies in recent years. One breach could cost massive amounts of money and lead to chaos across an organization, not to mention cause lasting damage to a company’s reputation.
So why the focus now? In short, cybersecurity was a grave threat before the pandemic, but widespread uncertainty and new IT protocols during COVID-19 led to an increase in attacks and damage. For instance, ransomware attacks are up 800%, and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received up to 4,000 complaints a day throughout 2020.
Changes in behavior might be driving the increase in attacks, but don’t expect the threat to decrease after the pandemic ends. Firms young and old, large and small will need to put extensive cybersecurity protections in place and do whatever it takes to keep those defenses shored up.
Make no mistake, that will involve significant effort and investment, but those will be increasingly seen as essential in 2021 given the consequences of failed cybersecurity. Start by getting a security audit at the beginning of the year, then dedicate the remaining months to addressing whatever the audit uncovers. Be sure to continually train your staffers on cybersecurity best practices as well. Anything less represents a significant gamble.
The pandemic was a public health crisis, but history will also remember it as a turning point for business—a time when digital transformation fully took hold and companies either surged or stalled based on their technological chops. The future has arrived ahead of schedule, so dedicate 2021 to catching up.