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Top 5 strategic predictions for 2021

The Coronavirus pandemic disrupted global economies and businesses in many unprecedented and unprepared for ways. Some argue that the pressures of 2020 have cultivated a breeding ground for a necessary, albeit overdue, reset in business and technology. Gartner and Forrester have put forward their strategic predictions for 2021 and beyond – both hinging on the premise that said reset is right around the corner. We have taken a closer look at both of these lists and saw significant overlap between the two, further deducing greater probability of 5 broader estimates for 2021.

Looking towards ‘accelerating out of crisis’

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven businesses worldwide to not only reimagine but reinvent their futures. Forrester aptly describes this reinvention as ‘accelerating out of crisis,’ as we look towards 2021 as a hopeful future more certain than the times we live in now. [1] 

The world of business to come is marked by innovation and efficiency rather than ambiguity and stagnation, with 2021 forecasted as the year that non-traditional approaches will flourish.

Innovation means success will be measured in new ways 

‘Non-traditional approaches’ largely refer to those methods adopted by the rare and lucky group of businesses that prospered regardless of relentless pandemic pressures. Forrester suggests that measures of success and business value were clearly defined in 2020 and these markers will be carried into years to come. Distinguishing factors include ‘how customer-obsessed, resilient, creative and adaptive [businesses were].’ [2]

An intense focus on people and technology 

The pandemic necessitated global introspection as social distancing, working from home and sheltering in place put the human condition at the forefront of people’s minds and business models. This prompted a deeper focus on how customers and employees interact with businesses and further, how this interaction can be nurtured in order to uphold continuity.

Paired with this fixation on the human condition is a greater dependency on technology, and more specifically, a careful look into the ways in which businesses harness their technology in order to drive a new normal and empower their workforce. Technological advancements in conjunction with this people-centric approach will forever change the landscape and as Gartner suggests ‘will be key in resetting, restarting and responding to a world of uncertainty.’ [3]

Top 5 predictions based off of Gartner and Forrester forecasts 

We took a closer look at both Gartner and Forrester predictions and as outlined above, have inferred that their forecasts largely fall under a reset of people and technological developments. These projections can be further split into 5 broader predictions for next year and beyond:

1. CIO’s in 2021 and beyond

As cyber security becomes a crucial component of any business, implemented and integrated from end to end rather than the reactive bolt on approach that’s traditionally been taken, Chief Information Officers (CIO) will play a larger part in day-to-day operations of their businesses.

Gartner notes that CIO’s have taken the lead throughout COVID-19, specifically driving digitalisation across their organisations. In the future they will take an active role focusing on employee experience and greater collaboration so they can further cultivate an enhanced understanding of their workplace ecosystem and improve the integration of technology.

By investing in their employees and working towards dissolving resistance in their organisations, CIO’s will close any gaps between what a business and their technology can achieve. As Forrester suggests, they will ‘make the needed investments to foster social collaboration, make information easier to find and use, and provide security that’s less distracting.’ [4]

2. Automation in the workplace 

The increase and improvement of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) in the past decade will play a great role in the workplace over the coming years. Automation will play a key role in customer satisfaction and the overall customer experience – as well as streamlining ongoing pandemic-related work changes. A large majority of remote workers will benefit from new forms of automation, such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), conversational intelligence and machine learning.

Gartner has predicted that farms will introduce automated factories that will provide end-to-end production and delivery of products, suggesting that ‘customers will be the first humans to touch more than 20% [of] products… in the world.’ [5] This will vastly shift the way we use our resources and the ways in which jobs are allocated.

Interestingly, while Gartner suggests automation will act as a competitive advantage and decrease largely human-led positions, Forrester suggests that automation and AI will enhance existing jobs. More specifically, they will be used to assist B2B sellers in ‘upload[ing] buyer and seller activity data to CRM systems’ ultimately improving sales. [6]

3. Business operations reinvented, signalling towards a customer/society-centric focus

Circumstances of 2020 have demonstrated how critical the customer/society focus is to leadership, strategy and operations. The pandemic essentially ‘plunged consumers and businesses into crisis mode,’ creating an emotionally vulnerable population that values genuine and comforting customer experiences. [7]

Gartner suggests that ‘sentiment analysts, media metric and contributions to society measurements’ will matter, and businesses will need to measure what the public thinks and says about them in order to create innovative and meaningful products. [8] Over the coming years, we expect to see businesses take an intense customer and society-centric focus in order to improve customer and employee retention rates, as well as realign their business operations with a host of new consumer needs.

4. Cloud meeting solutions and digital records will be used to forge a new pathway in performance and recovery 

The workplace impact of the pandemic solidified the great importance and necessity of cloud computing in today’s economy. The rapid uptake of cloud applications upheld working from home behaviours, enabling prolonged remote operations and efficient communications. We will see continued and increased use of cloud meeting solutions and virtual assistants at the forefront of pandemic recovery, as they maintain ease of communication and enhanced productivity.

Further to this, we will also see the digital records of these cloud communications driving performance estimates. These records will act a type of digital surveillance and will likely be analysed to improve overall employee experience and ensure compliance to workplace policy, laws and regulations. As Gartner notes, ‘as the use of these digital surveillance technologies increases, ethical considerations and actions that bring privacy rights to the forefront will be critical.’ [9]

5. Users and employees will be increasingly policed 

2021 will involve a much closer look at security and risk considering the havoc that 2020 wreaked. The move to remote working opened Pandora’s box of insider threats, internal risk and increased security incidents.

Forrester suggests that Chief Information Security Officers (CISO’s) and security and risk leaders will need to work together in order to minimise any direct or residual internal risk. [10] Gartner notes that user/content moderation will be equally prioritised by Chief Executive Officers (CEO’s) across the globe in order to cultivate a ‘safe’ environment. [11]


While 2021 is forecasted as a year of innovation and efficiency, marking the beginnings of an acceleration out of crisis, it will still not be a swift return to business as usual for many across the globe.

The landscape that lies ahead will likely be as unpredictable and challenging as the one we are currently facing, with a myriad of unseen and unprepared for twists along the way. That being said, we still anticipate great things are on the horizon, and 2020 has taught businesses across the globe difficult and preparatory lessons in resilience and adaptability.


[1] Forrester Predictions 2021: pg. 2.
[2] Ibid: pg. 2.
[3] Gartner: Newsroom – Press Releases [October 21 2020]: Gartner Unveils Top Predictions for IT Organisations and Users in 2021 and Beyond.
[4] Ibid: pg. 6.
[5] Gartner: Newsroom – Press Releases [October 21 2020].
[6] Ibid: pg. 12.
[7] Ibid: pg. 3.
[8] Ibid: pg. 3.
[9] Gartner: Newsroom – Press Releases [October 21 2020].
[10] Forrester Predictions 2021: pg. 9.
[11] Gartner: Newsroom – Press Releases [October 21 2020].

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