More surprises may be in store next year; 2020 has definitely put the world in DEFCON 1 mode for expert predictions…

The year of the pummeling pandemic will be gone not soon enough. ‘Tis also the season for industry leaders to share their hopeful predictions for the various industries.

  • APAC first to be hit, and will be first to recover
    Ashutosh Sharma, Forrester’s VP and research director, said that the pandemic accelerated the need for digital transformation, so the current economic climate has increased the urgency for every enterprise to embrace technology as a strategic asset. “The Asia Pacific region (APAC) is finally entering a decade of a digitally-levelled playing field. Firms in the region will be at par with or even exceed the rest of the world in terms of technology-driven business model innovation. The pandemic affected Asia Pacific first, and we expect it will also be the first to emerge from the crisis.

    2021 will be the year that every company will double down on technology-fueled experiences, operations, products, and ecosystems. Firms will accelerate investments in new technologies and platforms to enable their workforce and provide differentiated experiences.

    According to the firm’s Asia Pacific 2021 Predictions, the success of organizations will depend on how quickly and how well they harness technology to enable their workforce in the new year and build platforms that differentiate them.

    Here are the other key predictions from Forrester:
  • Platform wars will heat up in the region. With the battle for supremacy heating up in APAC, most companies will become platform businesses to survive in the digital era. A quarter of firms will shift from experimenting to pragmatically connecting the ecosystems essential to their customers.
  • CMOs will assert control over the full customer lifecycle. Chief Marketing Officers will put the customer at the center of everything they do: leadership, strategy, and operations. As a result, spend on loyalty and retention marketing will increase by a third.
  • Workplace engagement will be lessened. In the face of the pandemic the physical, mental, and economic challenges that employees have had to contend with will extend into 2021, causing business innovation in APAC to drop by 25%.
  • CIOs will embrace cloud-first and platform strategies. The new year will see 30% of firms continuing to accelerate their spend on cloud, security and risk, networks, and mobility—this will include struggling firms looking to leapfrog and gain advantage in the wake of pandemic recovery.
  • Zero Trust adoption finally catches up in APAC. As a somewhat laggard region for zero trust, APAC will be ripe for change as it accelerates cloud adoption amid an explosion in remote-work and changing regulatory and consumer trends. At least one government in APAC (currently there are none) will embrace a zero trust cybersecurity framework in 2021.
  • AI will play a bigger role in workplaces
    Andy Watson, Senior Vice President & General Manager (Asia Pacific Japan and Greater China), SAP Concur predicts the following:
  • Digital pivoting set to continue surge. The pace of digital change in business and society will sharply increase. Many companies were in the early and intermediate stages of DX when the pandemic struck. They pivoted and sped up that transformation to address global disruption and customer needs, and now they will be expected to continue operating within this new context.
  • Automation and AI go together. Automation will become essential, not an optional extra. The role of automation will increasingly involve AI use in the workplace in 2021 and beyond: intelligent automation. The use cases may include enabling efficient day-to-day communications between knowledge workers doing their jobs from home, and automating invoicing and expenses to keep valued partners paid and to preserve budgets. More businesses will lean on AI algorithms to make quick decisions backed by real-time financial transparency. 
  • Productivity gets the AI and ML boost: More manual processes will get automated and data-driven to afford firms a competitive boost by improving productivity. For instance, a recent SAP Concur-commissioned study found that as much as 38% of employees in APAC submitted expenses manually. Firms can save tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars each year (and improve staff satisfaction as well) by automating their finance and administration processes.
  • Finance and accounting need to embrace data intelligence
    Terry Smagh, Senior Vice President & General Manager (Asia Pacific & Japan) at BlackLine has these visions for the next year…
  • Quicker digitalization needed in F&A roles. Future Finance & Accounting (F&A) professionals will need to be quicker in accelerating adoption of modern technologies. In the next five years almost 80% of accounting tasks, such as audit and statutory and regulatory reporting, are expected to be carried out by machines.
    Businesses are placing a renewed focus on risk management, control environments, and cash flow optimization, and are leveraging automation and AI to address these areas.
  • Human talent will still need to drive the technology. F&A professionals will be needed to define rules and input for automation to produce more accurate and relevant output. Future professionals will take on strategic higher-level analytical tasks and advance to become invaluable sources of counsel. This will require them to be well-equipped with data analytical skills, as they have to transform financial data produced by machines to extract concise and decision-driving insights that drive business forecasts.
  • Cybersecurity will be the F&A bugbear. The huge surge in cyberattacks this year is worrying for the finance sector, as it is the most susceptible to cyberthreats due to sensitive data. In fact, financial services firms are 300 times as likely as other companies to be targeted by cyber criminals. Cybersecurity will no longer just be the responsibility of IT professionals. F&A professionals should also take active steps to ensure confidential data is kept secure and private.  

On the whole, data will continue to be critical in making financial decisions for businesses. Given that the pandemic has also sped up the growth of big data, more organizations will leverage insights from data to enhance their internal processes, enable real-time knowledge and new ideas which were not possible to obtain in real-time previously. With time, such business intelligence will help more organizations survive and remain relevant and resilient.