50 Industry Specialists Make Predictions on the Role of Emerging Technologies in 2021
Emerging technologies have augmented human intelligence in simplifying lives, and business. Despite the economic slowdown and COVID-19 lockdown, it was a great year for innovation companies, especially those that produce AI and Machine Learning-based software and DevOps engineering tools. From underwater surveying to space travel, we witnessed monumental effort driving the force using emerging technologies.
The article features insights-driven predictions from the industry specialists who belong to the fields of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning engineering, data science, business intelligence, cybersecurity, mobile automation, IoT automation, Cloud computing and storage.
Cyber Security in 2021
Marlys Rodgers, Chief Information Security Officer and Head of Technology Oversight at CSAA Insurance Group (inaugural member of the AttackIQ Informed Defenders Council)
“Despite the global COVID-19 pandemic, businesses still have to function and deliver on their promises to customers. This means adapting and finding new ways to enable employees to be productive from the safety of their homes. As CISO and Head of Technology Oversight for my company, I am dedicated to structuring and sustaining a security program that enables the business, as opposed to restricting capabilities in the name of minimizing risk. Additionally, I believe in complete transparency regarding the company’s security posture across all levels, including the C-suite and board, so that we may work together to understand our risk and prioritize security investments accordingly. These two guiding principles have served me well throughout my career, but in 2020 especially, they allowed my company to innovate to better serve our customers while simultaneously scaling the security program.”
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Now AI or Not AI: What it Means for the Business
James Isaacs, President, Cyara
AI will not displace human beings any time soon.
When you look at the use of AI in consumer-facing operations today, it’s mainly used in AI-supported chatbots and customer personalization features. If we look at how consumers have taken advantage of AI-supported features during the pandemic, we can see that they’re actually using them to resolve issues faster through human agents. Companies like Bank of America, which has a consumer-facing AI-powered chatbot named Erica, saw consumers using Erica to find the best course of engaging customer support teams. Rather than asking Erica questions to fix any issues directly, customers simply asked Erica how they should go about reaching out to the customer service team to rapidly resolve their problem with the appropriate human agent.
When workplaces began closing in Asia and Europe, many of the contracts for customer service communications were broken because agents could not execute their jobs outside of the contact center in countries where at-home communication infrastructure is not as robust. Now that contact centers have begun cloud migrations to enable remote work during the pandemic, there will be no need to congregate all agents in one place overseas in developing countries. Because of this, we will see more and more companies engaging onshore agents for customer service. Following the pandemic and re-opening of markets across the globe, contact center agents will permanently remain at-home or remote. Now that contact centers and agents have realized the advantages and have jumped through technology barriers with cloud-hosted solutions, they are just as productive as being in the office.
As more contact centers migrate to the cloud and enable remote agents to execute their duties, there is also increased risk regarding security and privacy protocols. In 2021, we will see at least one catastrophic security breach – either from a malicious bad actor or accidental carelessness – that will cause a wave of new litigation regarding consumer privacy for work-from-at-home contact center agents.
Shared and Public Transportation Will Not Return to Pre-COVID Levels
Mark Thomas, VP at mobility platform company Ridecell suggests:
We will continue to see far fewer miles traveled in 2021, as the effects of the pandemic linger.
Public transportation and ridesharing numbers will remain low, while vehicle subscriptions (carshare) will increase as consumers continue to look for safer commuting options. Customers have already demonstrated a strong preference for carsharing and car subscription services in a post-pandemic world.
Contactless reservations for shared mobility will not be just a new model, it will become the norm as mobility companies focus on increased operational efficiency and safety regulations.
Cities will continue to invest in bike lane infrastructure, electric vehicle infrastructure and parking infrastructure to support shared mobility, with noticeable growth happening in North America.
Further optimization will be required for last mile deliveries would also occur.
Increases in online ordering and delivery will remain high, even after the threat of COVID-19 has passed. This will require last mile logistics companies to focus their fleet optimization efforts on maintenance and access, as they work to meet ever-accelerating consumer demand.
Small packages will continue to account for the majority of last mile delivery, causing a surge in necessary access to fleets.
Cleaning fleets will also prove essential to keep drivers on the road and in optimal health.
Fleet companies and freight forwarders will increase partnerships with shared mobility companies who can help with route and maintenance optimization and help address the last mile dilemma.
AI Turns the Heat Up on Memory and Energy
Steve Pawlowski, Micron Corporate Vice President of Advanced Computing Solutions & Emerging Memory Solutions
AI will become more accurate and more ubiquitous, and, we’ll start to see it filling in more gaps for simple tasks where people would traditionally say “Why would I ever use an AI algorithm for that?” For example, grocery stores could use AI-enabled cameras that periodically check to see if a shelf is empty and if so, alerts a clerk to restock. In a post-COVID world, we’ll see more businesses adopting AI for use cases like these to create contactless experiences that reduce unnecessary face-to-face interaction. We’ll also see AI moving into infrastructure such as data centers and telecom base stations as neural network algorithms become more adept at error correction and recovery.
You’ll have AI algorithms for simple, singular tasks and sophisticated algorithms for mapping the human brain. AI this agile requires a significant amount of memory bandwidth, and when you add memory bandwidth, you’re adding power – researchers have found that training a single AI model can emit 5x the lifetime carbon emissions of an American car (including manufacture).
These immense power requirements aren’t sustainable if AI is to be pervasive in our society—both in terms of the data center and our planet. In the next several years, we’ll see ecosystem players exploring new ways of powering AI in an energy-efficient manner. That could be taking AI architecture and moving it closer to the memory via stacking memory in a 3D package on top of the logic. Beyond the hardware, today there’s a lot of bandwidth—and data—we’re leaving on the table, meaning huge amounts of energy wasted. So in the years ahead, we’ll see a rise in technologists analyzing how to finetune AI algorithms to get as high performance as possible, but with extremely stingy power levels. Basically, it’s squeezing insights out of every bit of data to ensure it’s not going to waste.
The Age of Collaborative AI and Embedded Analytics Dawns Upon Us
Jim Stratton, CTO, Workday
In 2021, IT leaders will increasingly seek automation to reduce friction and increase productivity between enterprise systems. Pressured to do more with less—and faster—we’ll see automation technologies experience greater traction as CIOs work to quickly pivot their existing enterprise solutions, enable their remote workforces, and ultimately extend the capacity of those workforces.
As the building blocks of AI and ML become commoditized, we’re starting to see the move toward higher-value services that leverage those underlying technologies. This evolution mirrors that of the major public cloud providers as they moved from infrastructure to platform to applications. This will enable companies to experiment more with AI and ML innovations to improve products, while building trust in their models and predictions.
IoT-based Retail Sales and Revenue Generation using Wearables
Zohar Gilad, co-founder & CEO at InstantSearch+
From warehouses and complex logistics to instant delivery with 3D printing. Produce personalized designs and send them to the customer’s closest 3D printing facility where the product will be printed in a matter of hours, virtually eliminating shipping time and impacting production costs.
All product touch, feel, look, and even smell will be controlled and synthesized. In a virtual extended reality world, your sofa would look and feel like real leather, only that this look, feel, and smell would be generated by a 3D multi-sensor transmitter that could make a generic sofa skeleton look and feel like leather, velvet, or wool, etc. We will buy a bare-bone base model sofa and download look and feel options on a subscription basis. We could have our sofa change from a modern avant garde metal, to a wooden bench, deep cushy velvet, or simple rattan – at a flip of a switch. Similarly to how today, you can synthesize an electric guitar + amp combo to sound just like Jimmy Hendrix at Woodstock, you could synthesize the look and feel of any furniture, clothing, etc., which also significantly reduces the abuse of planet resources. Some basic building blocks for the above already exist today: military optical cloaking that makes a tank look like a jeep, programmable shock absorbers make your car drive comfortable or sporty, an electronic chip that can smell, etc.
Bradley Schaufenbuel, Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer at Paychex (inaugural member of the AttackIQ Informed Defenders Council)
Reflecting on this past year, what are your top cybersecurity lessons learned?
“The top three cybersecurity lessons I learned this year are:
Although not entirely dead, the perimeter is certainly dying. With most employees working from home networks, more organizational activities are happening outside of the perimeter than within it. Cybersecurity teams can be just as productive (in not more so) working remotely than when they are in the office. With the right collaboration tools, cybersecurity teams can be more connected to one another from home than they are in cubicle farms.
A “talent anywhere” strategy is no longer a luxury for cybersecurity teams. If you are not flexible in where you source cybersecurity talent and / or the flexibility you provide your team, you are at a distinct disadvantage in an already tight cybersecurity talent market.”
We asked Bradley if there were any specific cybersecurity/IT strategies that might put them in a better position to manage the unique challenges brought on by the pandemic and a more aggressive/active cybercrime landscape.
This is what Bradley said –
“Three cybersecurity strategies have put us in a better position to manage the unique challenges brought on by the pandemic and a more active cybercrime landscape. First, our adoption of zero-trust network access technologies and a cloud-based end-user security stack made the transition of ninety-five percent of our workforce from relatively secure corporate networks to relatively unsecured home networks virtually seamless for the end-user but comparatively safe. Second, a robust security awareness program reduced our employee population’s susceptibility to phishing and other social engineering techniques, which proved essential when we witnessed a large increase in social engineering attacks that specifically targeted our work from home employees. Finally, we were able to offset what would have been a significant loss in our ability to monitor our attack surface, identity threats and vulnerabilities, and respond to incidents by adding new endpoint visibility and protection mechanisms.”
So, what would be the biggest hurdles for CISOs to overcome in 2021!
“1) Continuing to respond to a rapidly changing threat landscape despite a challenging business climate resulting in flattening cyber security budgets.
2) Acquiring and retaining cybersecurity employees in an already tight talent environment where geographic constraints are no longer an inhibitor to competitive poaching.
3) Staying abreast of change when accelerating digital transformation and business disruption are the norm and not the exception.”
In response to these challenges, Bradley offered his peers the following suggestions:
“1) CISOs need to be working with their internal and external partners in Human Resources and Recruiting to codify more flexible work arrangements for cybersecurity professionals and to adopt a “talent anywhere” strategy for cybersecurity recruiting.
2) In a more challenging economic environment, CISOs need to both defend their continuing investments in cybersecurity via techniques like economic cyber risk quantification and look for opportunities to optimize spend through tool rationalization and process automation.
3) Cybersecurity teams need to both foster innovation and adopt agile methodologies to keep pace with the quickening rate of environmental change.”
SQL Is the New…SQL
Dave Simmen, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Ahana
“As companies shift their data infrastructure to a federated (one engine queries different sources), disaggregated (compute is separate from storage is separate from the data lake) stack, we’ll see traditional data warehousing and tightly coupled database architectures relegated to legacy workloads. But one thing will remain the same when it comes to this shift – SQL will continue to be the lingua franca for analytics. Data analysts, data engineers, data scientists and product managers along with their database admins will use SQL for analytics.”
Dave’s colleague and CPO at Ahana, Dipti Borkar, states Open Source for AI and Analytics would prove to be game-changer trends in 2021.
Dipti says, “Next year will see a rise in usage of analytic engines like Presto and Apache Spark for AI applications because of its open nature – open source license, open format, open interfaces, and open cloud. More technology companies will adopt an open source approach for analytics compared to the proprietary formats and technology lock-in that came with the traditional data warehousing. This open analytics stack uses open source Presto as the core engine; open formats such as JSON, Apache ORC, Apache Parquet and others; open interfaces such as standard JDBC / ODBC drivers to connect to any reporting / dashboarding / notebook tool and ANSI SQL compatibility; and is open cloud.”
SaaS companies won’t survive without a strong ecosystem.
Sri Viswanath, CTO, Atlassian
In the next 5 years, increased data and privacy regulation will have a big impact on the way we design AI/ML models. As a result, investment in data management is going to be critical in determining the success of AI systems. Companies that have better data management frameworks, platforms and systems will win in building effective AI tools.
As the software industry consolidates, ecosystems will be even more important, and security will become a blind spot. The reality is that customers are using services from different providers. In order to succeed, software companies need to make sure that their products will work well with others, and that means building a strong ecosystem. However, as ecosystems scale, vulnerabilities will emerge and go unnoticed. Companies will need to be persistent in providing the highest level of security and privacy controls across the entire ecosystem at all times.
Businesses will shift to contactless payments over SMS
TechBytes with James Lapic, Chief Technology Officer at Zipwhip
“As we start to figure out what the new normal looks like post pandemic, with in-person purchases are no longer an option in a contactless world, businesses will turn to texting in 2021 as a main way of accepting payments. This easy to use and seamless mobile payment option allows customers to send a payment by simply texting the last four digits of their phone number. Businesses even get the added bonus of using that same texting channel to communicate with customers about promotions or special offers.”
Amelia Founder and CEO, Chetan Dube:
2020 was a pivotal year for Amelia. In October, the launch of the Digital Employee Builder further supported Amelia’s mission of democratizing Conversational AI by significantly lowering the technical barrier to adoption. The platform leverages cognitive intelligence to simplify the process for designing, deploying and implementing Conversational AI agents. This increased accessibility empowers subject matter experts to act as Citizen Developers, enabling those without previous experience in intelligent automation to create novel implementations.
In February, Digital Workforce.ai™ launched as the first marketplace for Digital Employees™ that can collaborate with human colleagues and catalyze the creation of the hybrid workplace for businesses. Businesses cloud-source AI-powered digital workers through the marketplace, each one possessing decades of experience in enterprise AI for specific roles, skills and industries, and with advanced cognitive, self-learning and conversational capabilities.
The transformation of the Amelia product portfolio to improve access to Conversational AI builds on the two-decade long mission of founder and CEO, Chetan Dube: “Can machines think?’ This question has wholly consumed my research and the development of Amelia over the past two decades. As her cognitive intelligence advances, I increasingly recognized that the next great hurdle would be in democratizing access to her growing capabilities. Over the coming years, the gap between those organizations that have the investment and technical capabilities to implement enterprise-grade AI, and the have-nots, will become a chasm and ultimately determine the future survival of these organizations.”
Pat Calhoun, CEO and founder at Espressive
The employee experience will become synonymous with the digital experience. Not only are employees expecting their work lives to be as easy as their personal lives, but intelligent automation has also become imperative for IT and HR to maximize employee productivity and contain costs.
There will be a much stronger alignment between the CIO and CHRO in 2021. According to a recent Gartner study, the Future of Work moved from the #5 to the #1 position in terms of top initiatives for HR due to work from home mandates. As a result, a core focus for HR leaders will be enabling automation and AI adoption, and they need to be closely aligned with the CIO to make that happen.
As the virtual support agent market matures, there will be an increasing focus not only on the reduction of incident volume but on full automation of service requests as well. Enterprises will more boldly look for opportunities where they can deploy full auto-resolution of help desk issues.
How the Pandemic is Transforming the Data Center
Raj Hazra, Micron Senior Vice President of Emerging Products & Corporate Strategy
The pandemic has allowed hypothesis to be proven true by catalyzing digital transformation. As meetings go virtual, streaming data has exploded. And all of the sudden, AI self-learning models look less risky. In the past, a CIO would say “It would be great to do that, but I can’t take those risks.” This risk tolerance has changed because they’ve had to make the changes.
In 2021, the prevalence of remote work—even post-pandemic—will continue accelerating capabilities in the cloud. This will drive unprecedented interest in disaggregated composable systems, so there aren’t wasted resources in an over-provisioned environment. This move toward streamlining resources will be critical in reducing the rising environmental impact of IT. For example, information and communication technology is already predicted to use 20% of the world’s electricity by 2030. As companies look to incorporate sustainability into business strategy and reduce OpEx for compute-intensive workloads such as AI and high-performance computing, we’ll see escalating demand for energy-efficient memory and storage.
Boundaries between memory and storage will blur
Raj adds –
“2021 is going to see AI-as-a-service become mainstream, intelligence migrate to the edge, and 5G come to life. This is going to propel fundamental changes in the way server systems are architected. Memory will extend into multiple zones—and will become a shared resource. And storage and memory will merge. You’ll no longer think “DRAM for memory and NAND for storage,” because faster NAND will create the ability to use it as memory.
The age-old demands of “Let’s get one more generation of faster DRAM” or “Let’s get less costly memory at higher capacities” are going away. As data demands complexify, we’ll see enterprises asking, “Can we get memory with half the power of DRAM” or “Can we get memory with a different interface to be pooled amongst servers?” The real interest is in innovation beyond CPUs and GPUs. In 2021, we’ll see enterprises seeking new kinds of solutions such as storage-class memory and memory virtualization to meet these evolving needs.”
WANdisco CEO David Richards.
AWS will soften its view on multicloud but it won’t go all in.
AWS will tone down its previous hardline anti-multicloud stance but we won’t see a sea change. Enterprises increasingly want to move data to an alternative cloud and maintain data in their existing cloud. Amazon won’t announce that they are all-in on multicloud but there will be a recognition that customers who have selected a CSP will also select a second and third to adopt a best-of-breed approach. Amazon will make the pitch for their apps for machine learning and serverless compute, for example, and allow other CSP access to those but nothing further.
Cloud storage will become commoditized. Competition for apps will increase.
Cloud vendors will be concerned less about where data resides, and have more financial stakes in what’s being done with it. As the cloud becomes more about apps and less about storage, there will be a commoditization of the storage layer and more competition on applications and services. As enterprises migrate data from on-prem to the cloud, they are looking to move the data directly into apps, such as Snowflake and Databricks, to perform analytics faster rather than into storage first.
Roman Vinogradov, Head of Product at Improvado
In preparing for this data-driven future, data management teams should consider the following:
Don’t waste time wrangling with data preparation
A recent Matillion/IDG Research MarketPulse survey found that nearly half (45%) of time spent on data analytics projects is dedicated to data preparation instead of on more strategic, high-value tasks, creating a barrier to informed, insights-driven decision-making. The technology is out there to enable marketers to extract and transform data from almost any source to build data pipelines in just a matter of minutes. Not only that, you want to make sure that it passes into your own data warehouse or business intelligence destination, where it can serve reports that power data insights.
Centralize all your marketing data in one place
It seems an easy option to throw money at engineering resources for managing your data, but it’s not just costly, it takes time – in fact, it takes about a week, on average to aggregate and prep data before it’s even useful for analysis. Look for tools that can connect all your marketing data across a range of marketing platforms, business intelligence and data vizualization systems, such as Google, Facebook, Looker and Tableau, to bring it all together in one place, from a single dashboard that everyone across the business can access.
Automate your marketing data pipeline
While AI will never outweigh the value of human interaction, the powerful analytical and quantitative capabilities of technology can’t be underestimated. Who would have thought it possible to build data-pipelines without a single line of code. Well, it is and it can reduce manual reporting time by 90%, freeing up time to actually start analysing it.
Mike Tria, Head of Platform, Atlassian
Software companies will be held to higher numbers of reliability. In fact, three 9’s as a reliability metric (or 99.9% uptime) will be laughed at in a few years. As companies rely more on cloud services to collaborate remotely, customers will have higher expectations for uptime. Companies that don’t treat reliability as a feature will be left in the dust.
Automation will be inevitable in 2021. As more engineering organizations migrate their infrastructure to the cloud and adopt a microservices architecture, the next challenge they’ll face is figuring out how to manage and keep pace with an unwieldy, distributed system. Whereas automation has been seen as an emerging tool in the past, it will become essential for survival in 2021.
Leaders Will Take a Critical Look at AI With a New Legal, Moral and Ethical Lens
Rajesh Raheja, Senior Vice President of Engineering, Boomi
Artificial intelligence will make its way into nontechnical job descriptions. As machine learning and AI becomes a part of everyday business operations, more people will be hired to support it. The hiring focus won’t be on expensive AI experts, but on those without experience. Job descriptions across sales, marketing, HR and other traditional roles will talk about data labeling and tagging, critical to the success of AI. But it goes even further. AI becomes democratized to the extent that experts aren’t needed to implement it.
Ed Macosky, Head of Product, Boomi
Leaders will take a critical look at AI with a new legal, moral and ethical lens. The last few months put a critical eye on AI and the unknown biases they could have, especially in social media. The warning will have come through to tech leaders loud and clear. Next year we’ll see businesses taking a new lens when adapting AI, especially for items like hiring. But even something as innocuous as hyperautomation will be looked at through this lens, too. Leaders will act with this forethought to ensure customers and the business trust in the AI and the insights it provides.
Hyperautomation will reshape our understanding and use of data. The vast cloud migration over the past several months has led to an abundance of big data — big unstructured data, for the most part. Hyperautomation, driven by artificial intelligence, will help businesses categorize the data and draw new, actionable insights from it. The industry has said before how data can help with business decisions and the importance of IT’s role in the bottom line. What AI and hyperautomation will do for data in the next year exemplifies that merging of IT and business.
Time to value is the biggest trend I’m seeing around business and IT leaders. With AI, that likely means looking outside your business and partnering with a company as AI talent is expensive and scarce. I’d recommend focusing first on hyperautomation that helps organize and categorize your data. This makes it easier to layer other AI on top of it and gives you, if not instantaneous insights, then a way to quickly derive some.
Ramesh Panuganty, CEO of BI company MachEye:
“Business Intelligence is shifting to a new paradigm of advanced data analytics with the integration of Natural Language, Natural Search, AI/ML, Augmented Analytics, Automated Data Preparation, and Automated Data Catalogs. This will transform business decision-making processes with higher-quality real-time insights.”
“2.5 quintillion bytes of data are produced by people every day, and it will grow faster each year. Business intelligence leaders are already struggling to translate this explosion of complex data into actionable insights. As a result, there will be a significant demand for more advanced, easy-to-use data translation tools.”
“Businesses that continue to use static dashboards and Excel-based reports will fail to identify meaningful trends for new business opportunities, as well as lose visibility into potentially disruptive events.”.
“Data generated by mobile, voice interaction and smart assistant technologies will be significant. However, in terms of Business Intelligence, their significance lies in shaping how people like to engage with and consume information.”.
“Most companies were unprepared to scale their enterprise for a global remote workforce. This shift revealed the need to empower business user independence to access and translate the data they need. Easier tools, such as natural search and interactive audio-visuals, will be essential for them to successfully interpret and act on these insights.”
The Future of Your Phone, 5G and Tele-Everything
Raj Talluri, Senior Vice President & General Manager of Micron’s Mobile Business Unit
5G takes flight in a brave new socially distanced world: In 2021, we’ll see near-term benefits in mobile, especially with the deployment of 5G networks this year — which will accelerate globally. The fast speeds and low latencies will enable people to truly multitask with their phones as the hub. Consumers will be able to stream a high-definition multiplayer video game to their television while video chatting, texting, and doing work on their phone simultaneously. With all these rich, data-heavy mobile needs, in 2021, we’ll see increased demand for low-power memory such as LPDDR5 which will be critical for keeping pace with compute-intensive behaviors without draining battery.
Further ahead in the next few years, we’ll see 5G enable new and improved telemedicine, tele-learning, and virtual entertainment. Already, the pandemic has forced us to embrace these, but it’s clear that the optimal infrastructure isn’t there. As 5G becomes a reality and the cultural shift toward social distancing lingers, we could see it enabling 4K/8K high-resolution video for telemedicine, personalized AI-based teachers in virtual classrooms, and lag-free Zoom meetings. In 2021 and beyond, 5G might power inventive contactless experiences in retail and hospitality, and interactive sporting and entertainment experiences. Imagine immersive, 360-degree, virtual experiences for football, all enabled by six cameras shooting the same scene, with a machine processing together these feeds to allow viewers to watch the game from different angles in real-time.
On the flip side, the promise that 5G will revolutionize our lives immediately or even by the end of next year is overhyped. It will take time for disruptive use cases to develop—maybe five years. First, the foundational 5G infrastructure and memory and storage needs to be in place—then those disruptive applications will come.
Dhiren Patel, MachEye’s Chief Product Officer & Head of Customer Success
How would Data Dashboards and Reporting change in 2021?
The death of dashboards is imminent
Dashboards have outlived their utility. Their lack of interactivity and user friendliness makes static dashboards and visualization platforms increasingly dated. Raising questions about their utility and ROI, business users will ask for solutions that enable them to explore data on their own. Organizations will also start realizing the true cost of owning these legacy platforms as they discover hidden maintenance costs.
2021 Future Outlook From the Community Management and Startup Ecosystem
Abhishek Kumar, COO and Co-Founder of MyGate
“2020 was an eventful year for all industries. It has been challenging in terms of trying to adapt to the ‘new normal’ and adjusting to the new ways of living. Technology adoption had become the epicentre of all conversations including gated communities. The adoption of technology within residential communities increased from the gates to all aspects of community living including connecting with essential service providers to payments to even managing quarantine. In fact, gated communities realised that technology can help them to exercise and enjoy the benefit of the “power of collective.” The biggest testimony of this is the kind of receptiveness we have been receiving. We have grown to over 12,000+ societies and 60+ cities during the pandemic. The rate of adoption is still strong and we are expecting to reach over 10 million homes by the end of 2021. We also expect the demand to remain strong in metros and grow significantly in tier-1 and -2 cities. As per our estimates, around 40% of all housing societies in India will have adopted a community management solution by the end of 2021, as compared to just 6% at the end of 2019.”
While in community management, the year 2020 saw tech giving shape to the concept of “power of collective” and “collective living”, start-up eco-system witnessed another new wave. Companies with proven tech solutions and operations were able to highlight their relevance and improve customer acquisition. The pandemic also witnessed a lot of non-tech companies evolving and adapting to become tech efficient. What was interesting was despite being a difficult year, investors did not shy away from identifying and investing in the start-ups that saw a potential for growth. However, the focus was towards business metrics than vanity metrics unlike before. The start-ups that were able to prove their existence and offerings attracted funding and sustained in the market and this trend is expected to continue in 2021.
Larger Banks & FIS to Engage in Deep Partnerships With New Age Financial Technology Services Companies
Rishab Mehta, Founder and CEO, GrayQuest
India is touted as the global hub for fintech innovation. Advancements in fintech are closely linked to regulatory acceptance and India has emerged as the global leader in terms of creating a public infrastructure for a thriving fintech ecosystem. In less than a decade, we have seen Indian consumers go from relying only on cash on delivery for their eCommerce purchases to widespread adoption of payment technologies such as UPI and app-based investing. The future too, seems bright. Today, you can travel to any major Indian city or town like with no physical cash and still experience a frictionless journey.
Moreover, the pandemic and the resultant physical restrictions brought about by the lockdown has boosted the demand and public acceptance of digitization of financial services. Like for example, in the education financing space adoption has grown significantly and there is a stronger interest from both customers and investors.
While new-age fintech companies in each category such as lending, investing, insure-tech etc. have all seen a great boost in acceptance, existing legacy financial services companies like Banks have also engaged in massive “digital transformation” exercises. At GrayQuest, while demand for our education-focused credit has risen 4x from last year, the defining trend of 2020,for us, has been the significant willingness and initiatives from larger Banks & FIs to engage in deep partnerships with new-age financial services companies like ours.
The RBI too has been forward looking in its regulation towards fintech companies – enabling a culture of innovation via fintech-friendly notifications and sandbox initiatives. With Bank-Fintech partnerships going mainstream and even getting the RBI’s blessing via recent notifications, we have seen significant interest from multiple national banks to come on board as our lending partners.’
Education Technology to Move in Hyper-growth Phase in 2021
Kaushik Banerjee, Vice President and Business Head, Freshersworld.com
With India looking to kick-start the inoculation, the economic activities seem to be getting brighter by the day and this, in turn, seems to be percolating into hiring. The intent to hire across hierarchies is expected to see a 3 percentage point growth during the current quarter. In fact, from a hiring activity point of view, freshers hiring activity is up by 300% in comparison to what it was 3 months ago. The job postings for freshers has witnessed a 55% jump since September end. There is also a 1.45x times jump in new registrations indicating a recovery in the interest to hire freshers. Further, about 90% of the students completed their terminal exams between Sep-Nov 2020 and this is expected to increase action in this category indicating exciting times for freshers. The demand for freshers is expected to reach the pre-covid levels by June 2021.
Some of the sectors which are driving the demand for freshers are IT, e-commerce, FinTech, EduTech, Auto, and EV segment in Auto. BPO, Physical retail roles – Front Office/Receptionist, Retail Store managers/Executives, Field Sales, Accountants have also seen a good spike in the number of Jobs being posted compared to the last 3 months. The momentum is expected to continue. There is also good demand coming from non-metros like – Vijayawada, Mysore, Kochi, Coimbatore, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Guwahati, Indore, Patna, Ludhiana, Bhubaneswar, Visakhapatnam showcasing the phenomena is universal and is here to stay.
2021 Will See Exponential Growth in Crypto in Asia
Rahul Pagidipati, CEO, ZebPay said:
In 2020, ZebPay saw a 270% QoQ increase in trading volume, a 218% increase in number of users trading, and 143% increase in app downloads. Our aim is to be the highest quality, lowest cost blockchain financial service provider in the world.
2021 will see exponential growth in crypto. ZebPay will launch three new services.
A new app called Bitcoin by ZebPay will offer simple one-tap buying and investing to millions more than our current roughly 4 million users. The Zebra token, India’s first non-fungible crypto, along with Project Dazzle, a digital marketplace, will open up a market that we expect to be bigger than conventional crypto. Finally, we plan to offer financial services like SIP, passive income, and borrowing crypto against your crypto holdings.
To help India develop a healthy regulatory framework, we’ll continue to communicate with those who influence policy. Indian investors are learning to see Bitcoin as an asset class that belongs in every long-term portfolio. Indians own less than 1% of the world’s Bitcoin. Being left behind will create a strategic disadvantage for the Indian economy. In 2021 we expect more institutions and government officials to recognize that we need to close the Bitcoin gap.”
Conversational AI Is Becoming Quite Popular Within the Realm of Consumer Software
Rajesh Ganesan, Vice President, ManageEngine (division of Zoho Corp.)
Conversational AI technologies will flourish. Conversational AI is becoming quite popular within the realm of consumer software, and we are likely to see it become a mainstay in IT software as well. After all, we’re seeing a “consumerization of IT” across the board. From a user experience perspective, people expect the same type of experience from their IT infrastructure software as they do from their personal software. To be sure, part of this phenomenon involves conversational AI technologies, which are becoming increasingly popular, especially among younger workers.
Role played by AI and ML will expand as identity intelligence comes to the forefront. As we reach a tipping point in the future of authentication, users are increasingly security-aware when it comes to protecting their digital identities online. Identity verification will become increasingly contextual, and AI will play an expanding role to determine the dynamic risk of access which a rule-based system simply cannot provide.
Supervised and unsupervised deep learning, reinforcement learning, and genetic algorithms will not just apply pre-defined inference models but will also allow security solutions to adapt to changing enterprise behavior and learn from other companies as they encounter and mitigate threats. Combating deep fakes with in-built algorithms, deriving value from big data and driving decision-making through powerful analytics will play a key role in identity intelligence.
Data analytics will be increasingly integrated into IT security. Analytics will undoubtedly play a large part in maintaining effective IT security over the next year as more employees work remotely. With such tools, IT personnel can track employees’ activity; establish a baseline for normal activity; and set up automated alerts to flag any unusual behavior. By periodically analyzing and auditing how often employees access servers and files, IT teams can ensure that corporate data remains secure.
The Rise of Vignette-Style Ads
by Kelly Gillease, CMO of NerdWallet
“More marketers will be looking to build for flexibility and speed. In the 2020 spirit of expecting the unexpected, NerdWallet is leaning into more flexibility in its marketing processes for 2021, such as embracing vignette-style ads. Right before COVID-19 surfaced, NerdWallet began utilizing a vignette-style ad approach unintentionally. We weren’t necessarily thinking of it in terms of, “if something drastic happens in the world we can easily edit our ads.” But once the pandemic hit, we learned that shooting ads this way going forward — and gathering content on a variety of personal finance topics — can help us pivot in different directions on the fly.
Speed wins, and marketers must be ready to capitalize on opportunities when they arise.
Marketers will re-evaluate their marketing budgets.
With an eye toward the post-pandemic era, marketers must actively anticipate potential shifts to categories like OOH and events to ensure their brands get the most out of their marketing dollars. Now is actually a great time for marketers to jump on potentially cheaper OOH inventory and lock it up for later in 2021!
One area where there’s been a lot of change has been the decrease in travel and rewards-based credit cards. On the flip side, I’ve noticed an increase in credit cards that offer cashback or free food delivery. With that in mind, marketers must keep an eye on real-time shifts in consumer behavior. This will be particularly critical as we drive toward widespread vaccination and related economic reopenings.
Marketers will embrace shifts in creative. Advertisers will be looking to give a nod to the “new normal,” without necessarily speaking about COVID-19 directly. Acknowledging the situation without stirring pandemic fatigue will be key.
Brands will be looking to capitalize on a fresh start.
We’re all over 2020 and this tough year. No one wants to hear “unprecedented” ever again! Brands and consumers alike are ready to make a comeback and reclaim the values and activities they love. So as the new year commences and returns to normalcy slowly follow, having positivity and optimism about our futures, and taking the good things we learned from the tough time of the pandemic with us is important.”
As AI Marches on, Multi-Cloud Adoption to Become Vendor-Neutral
Manoj Choudhary, CTO of Jitterbit
“Of all the converging trends that will impact business growth for small, medium and large businesses this coming year, cloud computing is at the forefront. In 2020, the adoption of public cloud computing — whether Google, Azure, AWS, or others — grew significantly, and this trend will continue in 2021. I expect many more companies to adopt cloud computing as an IT strategy for CIOs in the coming year, but to do so, IT leaders will need to be ready with enterprise-grade integration strategies that can span multiple public and private clouds, making true hybrid cloud initiatives feasible.
In 2021 we will see AI, machine learning and IoT define and shape our lives and behaviors, a phenomenon that will continue for many years to come.
I think the real star that companies will turn to will be the enabling technologies such as cloud and edge computing, which will continue to dominate due to their ability to process and manage all the necessary data that fuels AI, ML, and IoT, as well as enabling technologies like iPaaS, APIM and RPA. These technologies will continue to lead the digital transformation charge for businesses as they move from manual or paper-driven business to digital businesses that can finally tap the power of AI and IoT.”
Era of Modern Clouds is Finally Here
Mark Clayman, CEO at Navisite:
“Organizations need a technology partner that not only offers modern cloud services and expertise to support their digital transformation goals, but also is capable of delivering right-sized solutions. Every step we’ve taken as a company, including this acquisition, has been focused on being that trusted partner and building a customer-centric portfolio of solutions.”
Differentiation of Stablecoin and Ethereum
Gregory Klumov, CEO of STASIS, says —
“In 2021, the biggest experiment will be a migration of stablecoin settlement to cheaper blockchains to leave Ethereum. There are currently several blockchain solutions competing for this service – such as Algorand, Solana, Polkadot, and some other Ethereum second-layer scaling solutions to address this issue. However, the greatest challenge of 2021 will be the competition between those who can capture some market share from Ethereum to settle those transactions.”
“Another trend of 2021 in this segment would be the differentiation of stablecoin space out of the USD to other currencies. Euro is the obvious second candidate, but other emerging market currencies will try to increase their market share as well.”
“DeFi will continue to evolve and shape its product-market feed to serve more and more customers. New interfaces will pop up to facilitate and streamline Decentralised Finance iterations, specifically for institutions. The existing Metamask tool as the #1 DeFi management interface is not good enough for institutions to transact.
“Thus, there will be more institutional-grade solutions to connect to DeFi; more platforms experimenting with Crypto Forex, reputational lending, or more efficient collateral management in the existing over collateralized loan market.”
Fintech Trends in India: How To Counter GST Fraud
Niraj Hutheesing, Founder & Managing Director, Cygnet Infotech
“Of late, GST frauds have been in the news on a regular basis with several organizations coming under the radar of the I-T department for probable tax evasion. The main modus operandi of such companies is in terms of the creation of bogus firms, invoicing without delivery of goods, circular trading, and false input credit being taken without tax payment. With the available public data on GST vendors, it is possible to identify possible fraudulent companies and protect the organization from future tax defaults. To curb such instances, a vigilant compliance mechanism can help identify frauds in the system and save the organization from future liabilities.
We have been at the forefront of helping tackle these challenges. With the help of automation solutions such as Cygnet GRC Score, one can keep an eye on their vendors’ GST data and monitor their tax portfolio. Having such solutions in place can help bring in more transparency and spot non-performing vendors. This is likely to become a decision-making factor for businesses and further support the government in identifying and scrutinizing such cases with automation and data analytics tools.“
Security Vulnerabilities Are a Multi-Tiered Danger With Video Conferencing Platforms
Mark L. Kay, CEO, StrikeForce
Security vulnerabilities are a multi-tiered danger with video conferencing platforms. Hackers can easily bypass anti-virus software and implant malware to exploit your computer, or, the desktop client software that most video conferencing platforms use. Once that malware is downloaded, it can grab your video, microphone and audio streams, as well as keylog your keyboard, clipboard and take unwanted screenshots. Remote employees are especially at risk with generally only light security on their home networks exposing them to critical vulnerabilities. Unintended cyber guests may be present without anyone on the platform knowing of their existence. In fact, the FBI released a warning to schools and businesses advising them about the potential dangers of cyber attacks during video sessions.
“As millions began a rapid transition to remote work, video conferencing platforms, such as Zoom, Webex, GoToMeeting and others have become ubiquitous to everyday life. Each time a video link is opened, any number of cyber breaches become possible. Ours is the first video conferencing platform with cyber-DNA built into the architecture of the service. And our protection extends to the participating computer, an easy point of entry for cyber criminals. In the last seven months, we’ve added more cyber security features than every other big-name competitor, and most of them have been in business ten years or more. In the last 10 days over 300 hundred companies, including Fortune 500 & 1000 companies across the U.S., EMEA and APAC have contacted us saying that they are looking for more safe and secure video conferencing solutions.
Future of Funding in Sales Technology Platforms
By Kris Rudeegraap, CEO of Sendoso:
The past year has left people exhausted, to say the least, and sales departments have recognized that this fatigue has extended itself to their customers and prospects. That’s why we’re seeing immense growth in the sales engagement category, such as today’s SalesLoft $100M funding announcement or Outreach’s $50M funding round last year. In 2021, sales departments will need to step up their game to ensure that an inability to meet with prospects in person won’t impact their ability to connect with people. Investing in sales enablement technology is a great step towards this, but it goes beyond that. Sales teams will need to become more creative in how they are personalizing their touchpoints to stand apart from competitors and cut through buyers’ digital fatigue.
The World of Chat and Online Communications in 2021
Udayan Bose, founder and CEO- NetElixir
“The next 5-7 years will see a massive focus by all leading tech firms to engage the ‘new billion internet users.’ With 1.3 billion people, a media population age of 27, and Internet penetration of less than 45%, India is expected to drive a big chunk of the next billion Internet users. The main impediment to this projected growth is language. A large chunk of India’s internet users can communicate only in local languages (Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, etc.). Companies like Google have started investing billions of dollars in products like Google Translate in an effort to penetrate this segment.
The local language chat market was up for grabs and Chinese Apps like TikTok had already been able to build a substantial lead in the market. Then things changed in June 2020, when due to political tensions between China and India, the Government of India banned 59 Chinese apps and an additional 118 Chinese apps were banned in September. This provided a huge opportunity to the local app companies like ShareChat.
ShareChat had been building local language chat capabilities and suddenly they experienced a massive surge in user volume. Needless to mention, Big Tech wanted to jump in.”
Enhanced Credit Access Through Digital Mode
Ranvir Singh, MD & Co-founder, Kissht
“In the past few years, in the Fintech industry, technology-driven Digital lending has played a vital role in filling the gap of demand and supply of credit. The industry has been growing at a faster rate before the pandemic hit the global economy. Like any other industry, the digital lending sector witnesses a jerk at the start of the lockdown. Various measures to curb the pandemic and steps to revive the economy have helped the industry bounce back. The response from the regulators and Niti Aayog has been overtly positive. We request them to continue engagement with the fintech lending players allowing the industry to define the right policies. Right of smart policies will help to serve the under-served and un-served masses of the nation. The sector will be looking to build new products on the scalable architecture built across with initiatives such as Account Aggregator. We believe it will revolutionize the lending industry in ways similar to what UPI did for payments and AEPS withdrawals in rural India.
During the pandemic lockdown, the country witnessed a spurt in internet data consumption and the use of digital payments. Awareness of benefits like ease and convenience of digital usage has pushed credit access through digital mode. As lockdown relaxations continue to happen, the digital lending sector’s forward outlook looks very positive, with consumers accepting the new normal and incorporating “digital” into their daily life.”
Unforeseen Consequences of COVID-Accelerated Digital Transformation
Daniel Graves, CTO, Delphix says –
In 2020, companies everywhere turned to the cloud to support remote work and create new efficiencies in the face of the pandemic. As they adopted cloud for the first time, or scaled their existing cloud strategy, they were faced with challenges that needed to be dealt with urgently. To make it happen, many organizations cut corners and fell short of building out modern digital-ready infrastructure, including the three pillars of infrastructure automation, SDLC automation, and data automation. In 2021 we will see the impact of rushed and ineffective transformation, such as data privacy violations, or long wait times for compliant data slowing down ongoing AppDev in the cloud.
Many companies have fully automated infrastructure and code for critical projects, but data remains a manual process. Companies will embark on another wave of transformation which will focus on ways to optimize how data is used in the cloud for critical application development and AI/ML projects, bringing their digital-ready infrastructure online.
One of the biggest trends of the 2020s will be the ability of nearly every company to innovate in new and exciting ways that were not possible in the 2010s.
New competitors to every industry are emerging, coming from tech, other industries, and startups. This creates the business pressure to innovate, and technology shifts are making this easier than ever. Access to both high-quality data and highly scalable compute, most often via the cloud, has expanded so that any organization can benefit. At the same time, the rise of low/no code solutions is empowering technical teams to easily implement and integrate 3rd party solutions and data, greatly accelerating their ability to test and deploy new applications or solutions which support modern infrastructures. The heavy lifting traditionally required to manage data for application innovation projects will no longer be an issue, and the ability to get new functionality out into the market in days or weeks instead of months or quarters will become the new normal.