Better than just working with predictions, business can identify megatrends and ride on them for better resilience and agility.

As we near the third month of 2021, tech predictions for the rest of the year have died down. However, going beyond yearly predictions are megatrends — powerful and clear signs of things that will arrive and become a mainstay.

Edward Chow, Vice President (Asia Pacific), Stratus Technologies

What megatrends can organizations distill from the current global crisis to hinge their five-year forecasts on? Here are five that are expected to prevail throughout the year and beyond, contributed by Edward Chow, Vice President (Asia Pacific) Stratus Technologies.

  1. Automation will accelerate
    During the lockdowns, factories with machines that could be monitored and controlled remotely, could maintain some 80% of their regular output with a smaller crew, while others without automation could muster no more than 40% at best.

    This truth is going to drive more factories and businesses to automate their processes going forward, sparking a big structural change in 2021 and beyond. In fact, the World Economic Forum expects half of all work tasks to be handled by machines by 2025.

    In the coming months, businesses will also be enhancing safety by using automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to move dangerous or toxic materials around, operately remotely by human operators using smarter sensors and cloud capabilities.
  2. Edge computing brings new capabilities
    To enable automation, much had been changing at the Edge for a while, but the pandemic pushed this digitalization even faster. Thus, this year, edge computing efforts that were deployed quickly previously will be more deeply ingrained in the fabric of everyday processes in industrial and commercial settings.

    Instead of going back to a data center all the time, can businesses employing IoT devices for supply-chain management handle a continuous flood of sensor data better? Many are looking to do so by putting analytics at the edge. A tire maker, for example, can design machines that automatically adjust their parameters based on live data to tighten tolerances and reduce variance. A few millimeters of improvement in precision goes a long way here.  

    With on-site analytics, IoT will become more than a tool for measuring and transmitting data but also to complement the Edge to be more robust, resilient and easily managed.
  3. Quicker paybacks for tech investments
    In 2021, business will expect good returns on technology investments not in the usual 18 or 24 months but in a nine to 12-month window. After all, if a business cannot turn around fast enough in the pandemic era, it will struggle to keep up with stiff competition.

    In an ROI study in December 2020, Nucleus Research found that autonomous edge computing platforms achieved 230% ROI and payback in less than eight months on average. This was accruable to cost savings, cost avoidance and improved productivity from the use of autonomous edge platforms.

    In a recovering business environment, such ROIs will go complement the much-needed agility to digitalize to meet rapidly changing demands while making quantitative financial sense.
  4. Making AI more autonomous
    Thanks to its increasing market acceptance and more deployment at the edge, AI will be able to analyze data available from IoT at the edge to make more autonomous decisions in real time.

    In other words, human operators would not need to change the settings manually on a machine if the AI right next to the machine knows the operation well enough. It can adjust a machine to improve yield and reduce wastage based on the dynamic conditions at that moment.

    Businesses that can capitalize on AI to optimize their operation will create a competitive edge that will improve both the top and bottom line over time, thereby getting off to a good start in the recovery phase this year.
  5. Augmenting workers with technology
    As operational technology and IT continue to merge in 2021, the use of technology such as AI or augmented reality to boost productivity and safety in the field will become more common.

    As consultancy firm Deloitte put it, workers being augmented by intelligent machines will enable businesses to solve problems, gain insights and create value in better ways. For example, a worker can remotely control a robotic arm to handle heavy, delicate or hazardous parts while monitoring the process through the arm’s cameras.

    Change is being accelerated and workers of the future will tap on technology to boost their capabilities more than ever possible before.

Technology for agility

If 2020 taught us a lesson, it is that the best predictions cannot account for an event like the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, it also shows that businesses that were prepared for the unexpected will recover faster,  said Chow.

As the world looks to recover from this once-in-a-generation event, technology will be a key enabler for those looking to go beyond the pre-pandemic norm. Now, the race is on to discover which businesses will tap the five strategies above to truly transform in a different normal.