Hype Takes A Back Seat And Companies Must Adapt


Venkat Viswanathan is Founder and Chairman of LatentView Analytics, a marketing analytics and decision science company. 

More than in years past, technological hype will largely take a back seat in 2021 to regulatory oversight and strategic shifts as companies look to move beyond the pandemic.

Tech trends pieces have been dominated for years now with promises of blockchain, AR/VR and AI/ML. While advances in these technologies have certainly been made year over year, businesses now face a long road to pandemic recovery and are looking to justify investments with tangible returns.

No one could have predicted the impact of a global pandemic on the acceleration of the digital transformation in 2020, but, as we prognosticate about the outlook for 2021, there are signals that indicate that this year may again be shaped by external forces beyond technological innovation itself. While the usual overhyped suspects will, as they do every year, dominate most tech trend lists, I believe several external forces will have a larger impact on the trajectory of technology for the coming year.

1. More Regulatory Oversight Is Coming

The Wild West era of big tech could be coming to an end. In late-October, the Justice Department filed an antitrust suit against Google that could rock the world of tech. The suit alleges that Google has been engaging in a series of illegal business practices that unfairly limit competitors and consumers alike, namely its partnership with Apple that makes it the preferred search engine on iPhones — which now constitute fully 50% of Google’s search traffic. The suit comes from Bill Barr’s Department of Justice but cries to break up powerful tech companies have come from both sides of the aisle; the next year could spell serious progress on that front.

In this environment, the entire tech ecosystem needs to pay attention, particularly to what regulators have in mind for enforcing data privacy. With the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) now well-established, we could also see more privacy regulations across the country. Europe has always been a bit more restrictive, but the U.S. is moving toward tighter controls. Enterprises need to begin thinking about proactive steps they can take to stay within the constraints that are likely to come.

2. Data Consortiums And Partnerships

While regulators look to limit partnerships in big tech, consortiums that share certain types of data are starting to gain momentum. Interestingly, though, with Apple and Google under antitrust scrutiny, their contract-tracing collaboration gave much-needed visibility to the spread of the virus in the early days of Covid-19. Beyond healthcare, analyzing customer online behavior has its quirks, and it is very challenging to track and target effectively. The diversity of channels through which a customer can interact adds more complexity and makes it all the harder to personalize effectively.

To be able to do that at scale, it is essential that organizations invest in future-ready technologies that help source customer interactions and observations, enable massive data processing and instantly target with a personalized message, ad, content, recommendation, price, etc. Building partnerships to get a better picture of customer interaction data will be a crucial element of this investment moving forward. In the case of Walmart, their strategy of forming alliances and partnerships have had a tremendous impact, and Walmart has slowly and steadily been chipping away at Amazon’s E-Commerce dominance. In fact, from 2017 to 2019, Walmart saw a 207% increase in its e-Commerce buyers, according to eMarketer. With this success, other companies are taking note and seeing the practical benefits of data sharing and a larger strategy of partnerships. Expect these consortiums, partnerships, marketplaces and ecosystems to explode in popularity in 2021.

3. Privacy And Federated Learning

With the external factors of more government scrutiny and an explosion of data sharing, data privacy is going to be key in 2021. Technologies that can help maintain privacy and decrease the surface area of attack will be crucial. One such specific technology is federated learning, which is becoming an increasingly popular method for aggregating insights across organizations while also limiting the actual amounts of data that need to leave an organization. It takes machine learning models that are trained on data sets from a variety of organizations and then federates them centrally to create a single, aggregated model. Importantly, the data never needs to be transferred, so organizations have fewer opportunities for that data to become compromised while still sharing insights from diverse data sources.

4. Accountability For AI

Enterprises have spent years hyping up AI, but, due to the pandemic, boards are likely questioning how investments in AI have been driving growth. Big new AI projects are likely not going to be as popular in 2021, replaced, instead, by better operations that streamline AI/ML initiatives and bring about real business objectives that are smaller in scale. When Gartner first coined the term AIOps in 2017, they couldn’t have known just how big AIOps and MLOps would become. These platforms help organizations regulate their IT operations by giving “proactive, personal and dynamic insight.” This can streamline and benchmark the success of an IT initiative, helping organizations track just how successful the initiative has been. As organizations look to hold AI accountable in 2021, AIOps will play a central role.

Moving Past Hype In 2021

As businesses step into a post-Covid-19 era, it is essential to gracefully transition from an offline to an online engagement model. Businesses that have long waited to take the plunge need to leapfrog into digital transformation, and businesses that have invested already need to strategically realign themselves toward evolving customer preferences. By considering the external forces that will shape technology trends in 2021, they can better predict and prepare for the customer preferences of the future.