Top strategic tech trends for 2021

Top strategic tech trends for 2021

Cyber security mesh, AI engineering, and distributed cloud services are among the top trends that Gartner says will shape future enterprise IT operations

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Companies need to focus on architecting resilience and accept that disruptive change is the norm, says research firm Gartner, which unveiled its annual look at the top strategic technology trends that organisations need to prepare for in the coming year.

Gartner unveiled this year's list at its flagship IT Symposium/Xpo Americas conference, which is being held virtually this year.

At the outset of the symposium, it's clear Gartner is expecting human and technology interactions will continue to challenge IT executives as companies weather the Covid-19 upheaval and current economic challenges.

"The need for operational resiliency across enterprise functions has never been greater," said Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner. "As organisations journey from responding to the Covid-19 crisis to driving growth, they must focus on the three main areas that form the themes of this year's trends: people centricity, location independence and resilient delivery," Burke said.

With those concepts as a backdrop, Burke identified Gartner's top strategic technology trends for 2021:

Internet of behaviours (IoB)

Technologies that use facial recognition, location tracking and big data, and connect the resulting data to associated behavioural events, such as cash purchases or device usage, are growing, Burke said. Organisations use this data to influence human behaviour — a trend Gartner calls the Internet of behaviours (IoB).

For example, to monitor compliance with health protocols during the ongoing pandemic, organisations might leverage the IoB via computer vision to see whether employees are wearing masks, or via thermal imaging to identify those with a fever.

Gartner predicts that by year-end 2025, over half of the world's population will be subject to at least one IoB program, whether it be private, commercial or governmental. "While the IoB is technically possible, there will be extensive ethical and societal debates about the different approaches employed to affect behaviour," Burke said.

Privacy-enhancing computation

By 2025, 50 per cent of large organisations will adopt privacy-enhancing computation, which protects data in use while maintaining secrecy or privacy, for processing data in untrusted environments and multiparty data analytics use cases, Burke said.

Organisations should start identifying candidates for privacy-enhancing computation by assessing data processing activities that require transfers of personal data, data monetisation, fraud analytics and other use cases for highly sensitive data, the Gartner analyst said.

Cyber security mesh

The idea here is that anyone can access any digital asset securely, no matter where the asset or person is located, Burke said. It decouples policy enforcement from policy decision making via a cloud delivery model and allows identity to become the security perimeter. By 2025, the cyber security mesh will support over half of digital access control requests, Burke said.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the multi-decade process of turning the digital enterprise inside out," Burke said. "We've passed a tipping point — most organisational cyber assets are now outside the traditional physical and logical security perimeters.

"As anywhere operations continues to evolve, the cyber security mesh will become the most practical approach to ensure secure access to, and use of, cloud-located applications and distributed data from uncontrolled devices."

Distributed cloud

The impact of distributed cloud services has been on Gartner's list for a few years now. Gartner says distributed cloud is the delivery of public cloud services to different physical locations, while the operation, governance and evolution of the services remain the responsibility of the public cloud provider.

It provides a nimble environment for organisational scenarios with low-latency, data cost-reduction needs and data residency requirements. It also addresses the need for customers to have cloud computing resources closer to the physical location where data and business activities happen.

By 2025, most cloud service platforms will provide at least some distributed cloud services that execute at the point of need. "Distributed cloud can replace private cloud and provides edge cloud and other new use cases for cloud computing. It represents the future of cloud computing," Burke said.


The concept of hyper-automation, which Gartner says involves the combination of multiple machine learning (ML), packaged-software and automation tools to deliver work, was also in last year's top strategies list, and it continues to gain strength.

Although hyper-automation has been trending at an unrelenting pace for the past few years, the pandemic has heightened demand with the sudden requirement for everything to be "digital first." The backlog of requests from business stakeholders has prompted more than 70 per cent of commercial organisations to undertake dozens of hyper-automation initiatives as a result, Burke said.

"Hyper-automation is now inevitable and irreversible," Burke said. "Everything that can and should be automated will be automated."

Anywhere operations

Burke said that anywhere operations refers to an IT operating model designed to support customers, enable employees and manage the deployment of business services everywhere across distributed infrastructures. By the end of 2023, 40 per cent of organisations will have applied anywhere operations to deliver optimised and blended virtual and physical customer and employee experiences.

Total experience

In last year's trend report, Gartner stated that through 2028, "the user experience will undergo a significant shift in how users perceive the digital world and how they interact with it, or a 'multiexperience.'" Conversational platforms with improved voice-driven and dialogue-management capabilities will change the way that people interact with the digital world.

Burke said Gartner is taking that notion one step further this year with total experience (TX), a strategy that connects multi-experience "with customer, employee and user experience disciplines," Burke said. Covid-19 has transformed the digital experience with technology like touchless interfaces, and organisations need a TX strategy as interactions become more mobile, virtual and distributed.

Intelligent composable business

An intelligent composable business radically reengineers decision-making by accessing better information and responding more nimbly to it. For example, machines will enhance decision making in the future, enabled by a rich fabric of data and insights.

Intelligent composable business will pave the way for redesigned digital business moments, new business models, autonomous operations and new products, services and channels.

"Static business processes that were built for efficiency were so brittle that they shattered under the shock of the pandemic," Burke said. "As CIOs and IT leaders struggle to pick up the pieces, they're beginning to understand the importance of business capabilities that adapt to the pace of business change."

AI engineering

Artificial intelligence will mature across multiple disciplines as the need for more automation grows, Burke said. But Gartner said research shows only 53 per cent of projects make it from AI prototypes to production.

The road to AI production means turning to AI engineering, a discipline focused on the governance and lifecycle management of a wide range of operationalised AI and decision models, such as machine learning or knowledge graphs.

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