Gartner Top 10 Strategic Predictions for 2021 and Beyond

DNA storage, factory and farm automation and freelance customer service drive predictions for the foreseeable future.

2021 needs a reset.

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses and global economies in unprecedented ways, but it also forced organizations to consider a different type of future. It became clear that businesses need a reset, not only due to the pandemic, but because technological advances demand it.

“Technologies are being stretched to their limits,” said Daryl Plummer, Distinguished VP Analyst, during his presentation at virtual Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo® 2020. “Nontraditional approaches will enable the next rebound of innovation and efficiency.”

Gartner Top Strategic Technology Trends 2021

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Plummer presented these Gartner top strategic predictions for 2021 and beyond.

Traditional technology tanks

By 2025, traditional computing technologies will hit a digital wall, forcing the shift to new computing paradigms such as neuromorphic computing.

As conventional silicon processors approach performance, economic and sustainability limits, they will limit digital initiatives and innovation, thereby limiting the growth of the business. New computing technologies, like neuromorphic computing — a computer that thinks and acts more like the human brain — will begin to take their place. As these new technologies mature, they will become increasingly available and more affordable for businesses to begin experimentation.

Read more: 7 Digital Disruptions You Might Not See Coming In The Next 5 Years

DNA storage becomes a reality

By 2024, 30% of digital businesses will mandate DNA storage trials, addressing the exponential growth of data poised to overwhelm existing storage technology.

People are collecting exponential amounts of data, more than has ever been collected before. Increasingly, the main challenge is not collecting the data — it’s storing it long term in a safe way. Right now, most data can be stored for a maximum of 30 years.

All of human knowledge could be stored in a small amount of synthetic DNA

DNA storage enables the storage of binary digital data in the double helix, taking binary coding and turning it into coding that fits in the human DNA strand. It would mean a year’s worth of human knowledge could be stored in a gram of synthetic DNA for thousands of years. In fact, all of human knowledge could be stored in a small amount of synthetic DNA.

Digital data (i.e., music, video, statistics) would be encoded in the nucleic acid base pairs of synthetic DNA strands. It sounds complex, but the technology is actually well-established and understood.

Read more: Gartner Top 10 Trends in Data and Analytics for 2020

Physical experiences expand

By 2025, 40% of physical-experiences businesses will improve financial results and outperform competitors by extending into paid virtual.

As the Internet of Things (IoT), virtual and augmented reality, digital twins and other technologies evolve, immersive experiences are now more affordable, and more fun. Businesses that provide physical experiences, like rock climbing or white-water rafting, must extend into paid virtual reality, offering virtual experiences that rival the physical ones.

At the same time, COVID-19 transformed attitudes about physical versus virtual, and changed the discussion about what people can do without physically being present or putting their safety at risk.

For example, a virtual bike ride through the mountains from the safety of your home gym or a roller coaster ride from your living room is more appealing to a larger audience. Beyond that, these immersive experiences enable people to relive in-person experiences long after they’re over or even share those experiences in real time with people who can’t join them.

Farms and factories face automation

By 2025, customers will be the first humans to touch more than 20% of the products and produce in the world.

Currently, a lot of people touch products and produce before they reach their ultimate destination, but automated factories and farms will soon do most of the work, including farming, picking, packing and shipping. New technologies are automating most processes, and that ability to automate will change how businesses operate and how they think about their business models.

Again, COVID-19 has acted as an accelerator, driving the industry to find new and improved ways of getting food and products to consumers. Additionally, as the technology continues to evolve, offering better automated factories — maybe ones that don’t squash the grapes — will one day act as a competitive advantage.

CIOs become chief operating officers (COOs)

By 2024, 25% of traditional large-enterprise CIOs will be held accountable for digital business operational results, effectively becoming “COO by proxy.”

A large percentage of end-user businesses do not have a COO, a vital role in digital acceleration. This is someone who understands the business and ecosystem and how to implement technology for greater impact.

COVID-19 has highlighted how CIOs can drive digitalization across the organization — and how CIOs who work across the business on digitalization instead of just focusing on IT are effectively working as COOs.

As a “COO by proxy,” the CIO will take on the organizationwide role and begin to close the gaps between what the technology can do, what the business can do and what the business wants to do. As they close these gaps, they can create business value and selectively create composability in the business.

Record work conversations drive change

By 2025, 75% of conversations at work will be recorded and analyzed, enabling the discovery of added organizational value or risk.

Every piece of technology, from smart speakers to virtual meetings to messaging platforms, now records conversations. Privacy is an illusion. Organizations need to begin to think about how to collect that data, how to analyze it and how to use it to improve the employee experience.

For example, it might be possible to measure — and work on improving — overall employee satisfaction. However, all this data collection comes at a risk. Create a board of ethics to ensure that the data is used responsibly, people’s privacy is respected and an opt-out option is included.

Freelance customer service experts increase

By 2025, customers will pay a freelance customer service expert to resolve 75% of their customer service issues.

Everyone has experienced the frustration of a bad customer service setup, and many turn to outside help (Google, YouTube, Facebook) to navigate tricky situations. In fact, Gartner predicts that through 2021, there will be a 15% rise in customers seeking outside help after being frustrated by traditional support channels.

The good news is that this means organizations will have reduced costs in certain customer service areas. The bad news is that more instances of outside help removes an important company-consumer touchpoint.

The best outside help will cost money, which means paying for a faster solution. Organizations should look to build a network of experts to help their customers, but also take the time to understand the legal ramifications of using third-party experts.

Voice of society metric matters

By 2024, 30% of major organizations will use a new voice of society metric to act on societal issues and assess the impacts to their business performance. 

The “voice of society” is the shared perspective of people in a community — one that works toward acceptable outcomes for all by advocating for fair and equal representation and adherence to ethical values.

Organizations must consider how society affects the performance of the business, and they have a responsibility to reduce or eliminate tone-deaf or insensitive racial and ethical concerns. Failure to do so can be damaging to the business.

Sentiment analysts, media metrics figures and contributions to society measurements will matter in 2021, and opinion metrics are now as reliable as click-through analysis. Organizations need to be able to measure what people are saying, and use composable solutions to react quickly.

Read more: How 2020 Accelerated Conversations on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

On-site childcare entices employees

By 2023, large organizations will increase employee retention by more than 20% through repurposing office space as on-site childcare and education facilities.

Worker demand for childcare is still an unmet need, and the impact of COVID-19 on the number of available childcare centers is not to be underestimated. Gartner predicts that by early 2021, 20% of private childcare centers will have closed permanently, leaving a dearth of qualified providers. The impact of this will be especially hard on women in the workforce.

Accessible on-site childcare can increase retention, employee engagement and productivity. Plus, not having to choose between childcare and a job may result in more women in leadership positions over the long term. Organizations with on-site childcare will attract more candidates. This is also an effective way to use empty office space as businesses move toward more remote workers.

Malicious content takes over

By 2024, content moderation services for user-generated content will be surveyed as a top CEO priority by 30% of large organizations.

Any organizations that have an online presence, from social media to retailer platforms, face the challenge of how to deal with malicious content. Brand advertisers must neutralize polarizing content, and at the very least, show a balance between views. Eventually, industry standards for content moderation will emerge, but in the meantime, CIOs must invest in content moderation services, enforcement and reporting.

Recommended Gartner client* reading: Gartner’s Top Strategic Predictions for 2021 and Beyond: Resetting Everything by Daryl Plummer, et al. 

 

*Note: Some documents may not be available to all Gartner clients.

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