In interviews with more than 100 digital leaders on the Technovation podcast in 2021, executives noted artificial intelligence, cloud, and analytics among the technologies that show the most potential inside their organizations. Executives also noted the need to defend their organizations from increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks and efforts to scale automation efforts.
Below is a list of the top 10 technology trends on technology leaders’ minds in 2021, as well as a glimpse of topics rising in importance in the year ahead.
AI, cloud, and analytics remain top of mind
During an unprecedented year of digital acceleration, Technovation guests described the ways in which technology has become even further ingrained in the fabric of business operations, transforming the way customers consume products and services. “Every decision we make as executives has a fundamental aspect of technology in the discussion,” said Greg Carmichael, Chief Executive Officer at Fifth Third Bancorp, after seeing a sustained 20% increase in digital channel usage since the start of the pandemic. To navigate the operational changes required in an increasingly digital world, AI and data analytics have enabled organizations to deliver deeper insights with greater speed than ever before.
Alongside AI and analytics efforts, technology executives increased their focus on cloud. At Whirlpool, CIO Danielle Brown is taking a cloud-first approach for critical systems and data. “You are able to leverage data not just in functional silos, but across multiple functions within the business (and) across regions in a more easy and accessible way,” she said. Leveraging cloud analytics and productivity solutions has enabled Whirlpool to deliver systems and applications crucial to business on highly elastic infrastructure, which allows the company to grow and adapt quickly as business conditions change.
The shift to cloud has also created new opportunities for AI to transform business insights and operations. During a December conference, Target CIO Mike McNamara said he views AI and analytics as the key to his company’s success. AI “has been a really exciting avenue of discovery for the future and a great source of competitive advantage for the business,” he said. Applications across Target include demand forecasting, ordering, workload planning, pricing and promotions, among other tasks.
Looking to the year ahead, CommScope CIO Praveen Jonnala shared his plans to continue adopting AI and ML capabilities “to provide deeper insights that really unleash opportunities within the company and for our customers.”
The cybersecurity landscape grows more complex
The transition to remote and hybrid work presented many CIOs with an alarming increase in cybersecurity threats. As Pacific Life CIO Mike Shadle noted: “With the pandemic and with the hybrid workforce, you now have to be secure everywhere,” including well beyond the traditional four walls of a corporate HQ. The price for not being prepared is high. In 2021 alone, average data breach costs increased from $3.86 million to $4.24 million, a historic high, according to an IBM Cost of Data Breach Report.
In response to an increasingly sophisticated threat landscape, including steady reports of ransomware and awareness of new vulnerabilities across software supply chains, many companies accelerated their investments in security to protect valuable data and mitigate risk across distributed work environments.
We expect more investment in the year ahead, and anticipate that technology leaders will double down on efforts to make cybersecurity a key part of ongoing transformation initiatives. “Cybersecurity is not only the technology, the process, the detection prevention mechanisms, or the response recovery mechanisms,” said Ameren Chief Digital Information Officer Bhavani Amirthalingam. “Creating a culture of cybersecurity is extremely important.”
RPA accelerates automation opportunities
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) gained a foothold in many organizations over the past few years and has continued to scale in 2021. As organizations seek to automate a broader range of processes, tools like RPA are enabling employees to take on higher-order work. At Guardian Life, a program called “Automation for Good” seeks to do just that, with software taking over transaction-heavy tasks and freeing up technologists to tackle more complex issues. “Why not allow them to be able to self-automate and identify those tasks that they wish they did not have to do in the first place, and then create a much more fulfilling job for themselves,” said Dean Del Vecchio, Guardian Life’s CIO and Chief of Operations.
Beyond RPA, automakers like Toyota have taken advantage of automation on the factory floor. In an interview, Toyota Financial Services CIO Vipin Gupta said he believes “we will see a series of innovative techniques used by large enterprises to define these new workflows for IT that will become highly automated. So, for example, today in our Toyota factories over 90% of tasks to assemble a car are automated. IT will mature to the same levels this decade.”
Manufacturing companies like Advance Auto Parts have begun implementing RPA to drive automation efforts forward. While RPA is not a new trend, CIO Sri Donthi said, “it is a trend that we are really focused on, given we are building a lot of common platforms. Now, I can really apply more RPA as a capability to drive this hyper-automation that is really needed.”
Quantum computing cracks the list for the first time
Quantum computing, while still in its nascent stages, continues to catch the attention of CIOs. Recent developments from companies such as Intel Corporation suggest quantum may be closer to entering the mainstream conversation. For example, Intel Labs’s Senior Fellow and Managing Director Rich Uhlig said the company is exploring post-quantum cryptography and its implications for cybersecurity and data protection. “We are improving the algorithms, improving the accelerators for these algorithms and making them resilient against a quantum attack,” he said.
Another driver behind quantum’s growing recognition is its concrete use cases, particularly for analyzing large data sets. When considering use cases in pharmaceuticals, Merck Chief Information and Digital Officer Dave Williams says he thinks quantum could provide value by surmounting complex issues such as weather prediction, human biology, accelerating drug discovery and development, and encryption. He notes that use cases may be five to 10 years from the mainstream, but that quantum nevertheless “is going to be one to watch and really keep an eye on.” Blue Shield of California CIO Lisa Davis noted that it stands to fundamentally change the ways in which organizations solve problems and could allow organizations to find new ways to model and prepare for future crisis events.
Trends likely to rise in 2022
In addition to the topics noted above, other trends show signs of gaining traction in 2022:
- 5G becomes commercially available: With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics rolling out 5G commercially for the first time, in part thanks to work done by Intel’s Iddo Kadim, companies are beginning to explore how this capability can lower the cost of connectivity and increase bandwidth across industries, from sports to smart packaging.
- New ways of work: While remote-working technologies continue to be on technology executives’ radars, companies are beginning to mature (and sometimes consolidate) their toolsets and shift their focus to the opportunities and challenges that accompany a hybrid work environment. Virtual and augmented reality technologies may see greater focus in 2022, particularly as more organizations explore the metaverse.
- Connected products and digital twins: Although connected products and the Internet of Things (IoT) dropped down the CIO trend list in 2021, many technology leaders remain focused on how best to draw actionable insights from sensor-laden physical objects. Further, companies are leveraging digital twins to monitor, simulate and improve product performance. Johnson & Johnson Enterprise CIO Jim Swanson, for example, noted that digital twins allowed the company to improve batch production of COVID-19 vaccines from one batch every two weeks to two batches every half week.
As the world enters year three of the COVID-19 pandemic, technology leaders continue to adapt to new ways of working while managing a fast-growing digital agenda. Much of that work involves developing people, processes, and technologies that allow their organizations to adapt and pivot quickly as new challenges and opportunities arise. Stay tuned to Technovation in 2022 for more discussions about the transformative technologies driving organizations forward.