Technology is pointing to positive progress in 2021

Phillippa Dunlop, Delivery Consultant for our Transformation, Digital & Technology Leadership team shares her insights following conversations with her network on the technology trends to look out for in 2021. 

2020 was a notorious year in so many ways, and history may legitimately choose to overlook any inkling of progress at all. Yes, we have supported and collaborated as citizens, as practitioners, as communities and as colleagues as our group survival instincts kicked in, but has there really been any positive legacy beyond the incredible science? It depends on who you ask. There can be no doubt as to the role digital technology has played in our day to day lives, but those whose day to day is this very technology, those whose leadership has positively impacted the chances of survival of many of those businesses who have made it, are arguing fundamentally for progress, in the form of accelerated digital transformation. Indeed, a participant in our last CIO event of 2020 suggested that 2021 will see us achieve three years of progress in just one, with the global pandemic the catalyst. Of course, this transformation, and the innovation it brings about has been forced, necessity is the mother of invention after all, but what sustained progress can we genuinely look forward to in 2021?  This article looks at what the key indicators and drivers of this accelerated digital transformation are likely to be and sets the scene for a year in which all the signs are as yet pointing to an increase in demand for technology leadership and talent. 

The more we live, and consume remotely, the more we want from the experience. We demand a connected, ultimately mobile service that marries the convenience of digital, with those tangible, more physical components we miss so much – and we want it quickly. As such, the onus is on brands to provide, multi-channel experiences which have immersive, human centred design at their heart and simultaneously for their service to deliver value at the speed of need. Design thinking is predicted to rise to prominence as best in class templates for these experiences emerge, and supply chain technologies will have an increasingly critical role to play in ensuring customer satisfaction, with in built segmentation and predictive capabilities key facets of those technologies leading the way in the logistics field. Against this backdrop of consumption, it is highly likely that we will see the ongoing commercialisation of direct to customer technology and platforms, all of which will be built and supported in increasingly product-centric environments.

The changing role of the IT leader 

Across the wider enterprise, business and IT interests have become far closer as a consequence of the pandemic. No matter the stage in the journey towards productization, and how far a given business identifies as one that is technology first, or not, business and IT have merged, and their strategies have become largely inseparable. The IT Leader has become the business leader, as IT projects in their turn become business projects. It is likely we will see much more reference to the “democratisation of IT”, and with it the rise of the Citizen Coder, as the business seeks to own more of the technology agenda. Gartner’s prediction is that by 2023 the number of citizen coders in an organisation will outnumber those in development teams by 4:1. Low code solutions will be the hall mark of citizen integrator tools, and ultimately will lead to a universal rise in platforms for self-service and automation.

APIs will be a key driver of much of this automation; increased exposure to an organisation’s inner sanctum has significant implications for resilience, and security, and will trigger a rise in Zero Trust cybersecurity policies. Automation in its turn will rely increasingly on AI, and ML, with Deloitte predicting the advent of MLOps in an evolution that will industrialize AI. Cloud adoption will remain a consistent theme, with enhanced infrastructure capability contributing to an organisation’s agility, as core legacy systems are modernised to ensure sustainable progress.

Data bringing organisations closer to the customer 

The enhanced digitisation of process and practice in itself yield data. More and more of it. It is data that will continue to bring organisations closer to the customer, and in doing so enable competitive advantage. Ultimately data needs to be machine ready, so efficient data capture, and management will be more critical than ever, with the ability to deploy enhanced analytics likely to be a key differentiator. This will enable brands to pre-empt and indeed create demand rather than merely meet it – ultimately setting them up to deliver even faster than the speed of need.

Cultural transformation within digital  

The extent of the cultural transformation arising from this progress remains to be seen. Employees have themselves become digital consumers, and agents, both in terms of how their roles are carried out, but increasingly regarding what their evolving roles exist to do. The onus is on employers to fully embrace and promote digital transformation – above and beyond a Zoom culture – and to reinvent their organisational strategy. They must work hard to overcome the digital workplace’s challenges by embracing its positive aspects. Specifically, the employee must be regarded as a consumer, with the employer seeking to enhance the working experience and work towards employee centricity through harnessing data-generated insights. In doing so businesses may more readily create an evolved workspace, that is fit for purpose, promotes productivity, and occupies convenient, cost-effective space. Above all, it must be inextricably linked to the remote experience.

What’s next for technology?  

2021 will bring with it the need for more commercial technology leadership, at a point where increasingly leading-edge technologies, and tools are evolving faster, and technical skills and capabilities are in high, high demand on account of the commercial advantage they can create. We are entering an unprecedented territory, with digital transformation likely to be the universal and ever-pervasive constant as organisations try to redefine themselves in technology terms. The implications for leadership talent, in technology particularly, and for emergent cultures across the board are potentially fascinating and ones which we shall chart with interest in our market commentary throughout the remainder of the year.

Phillippa Dunlop

Delivery Consultant
Executive Search
Transformation, Digital & Technology Leadership


Phillippa joins the Business Transformation & Technology team as Delivery Consultant, focusing on technology leadership roles, with a network that spans the CIO, CTO, and increasingly CDO functions. She particularly enjoys helping clients shape a brief, think laterally about the market and ultimately what constitutes the best fit solution into roles that are new, or unprecedented within an organisation. She has a particular interest in digital innovation and its drivers from a commercial, technical and transformational perspective.