If there’s one thing we can learn from 2020, it’s that predicting the future isn’t predictable. So many factors can significantly affect our plans, reaffirming them, or throwing them off course.
If there’s one thing we can learn from 2020, it’s that predicting the future isn’t predictable. So many factors can significantly affect our plans, reaffirming them, or throwing them off course. The best course of action is to stay agile and build an organisation that can respond to the circumstances. Despite uncertainty, there are some key trends for 2021 we can bank on.
In this article, I‘d like to highlight how themes such as cybersecurity and AI will be, and should be, at the forefront of businesses in 2021 and share my thoughts with entrepreneurs on how to best address these trends to stay at the forefront of changes.
Cybersecurity will be at the front and centre for every enterprise
If 2018 and 2019 were the years of digital transformation, 2020 and 2021 are shaping up to be the years of cybersecurity. Increased digitisation as a result of remote working during the pandemic, comes with increased risk. The ability to effectively secure digital assets and provide products and services to customers in a safe and secure manner are central for survival in the Covid era. According to PwC, 55% of business and technology executives are increasing their cyber-budgets for 2021 and 50% say that cyber and privacy will be baked into every decision or plan.
According to Furtado and Coveware, the average cost of a ransomware attack payment by a medium business in Q1 of 2020 was an eye watering figure of over $178,000. I would advise founders to consider the importance of cybersecurity as they set up their business; focusing on it early on and implementing secure systems from the set-up stage will help to steer clear of threats and save pain, agony and money in the long run.
Explainable AI will drive broader AI adoption
As companies are increasingly leveraging ML models to make mission-critical decisions, enterprises will be looking for solutions that can help unpack black-box ML models. Users need to have visibility into concept drift and bias detection to ensure the reliability and fairness of ML solutions. The stakes are high: irresponsible AI can lead to everything from solving a business problem incorrectly to the erosion of public trust and even ethical issues around race, gender, or other forms of bias that could have real impacts on peoples’ lives. With such issues, companies also run the risk of non-compliance with regulators. Enterprises are increasingly looking for explainable AI solutions such as Seldon Alibi which enables model inspection and interpretation to ensure fairness and eliminate bias. This will be fundamental and mandatory across many organisations before they can roll ML models at scale. In 2021, we will see broader adoption of AI in many industries driven by explainable AI.
Cloud-first will be the new normal
In 2020, it became necessary to forgo conventional workplaces as millions of people began to operate from their homes or away from office spaces for the very first time. A sudden change to remote working resulted in companies acceleration to cloud adoption which also saw an increase in the cloud-first approach in pre-emption of how businesses could operate even after the pandemic.
While cloud-first was already an important theme even before covid, companies that are not cloud-first will essentially become obsolete in the long run. We’ll also see more cloud-only companies in 2021 as this becomes the new norm. Incumbents across all verticals are now exposed to threats by the cloud-first and cloud-native startups that are leveraging the speed, flexibility and cost-effectiveness of the cloud to disrupt traditional ways of conducting business.
Open source will gain prominence
The shift left trend has been gaining a lot of prominence in the recent years with major enterprises such as Microsoft, IBM and Google playing an active role in contributing to and leveraging open source projects. Open source is increasingly becoming popular among developers as it helps build communities that understand and solve a common problem. Open source, by definition not only is free but is also typically vetted by a large community of earlier users and developers. In 2021 and going forward, I expect more buying decisions in IT to be increasingly influenced by developers who prefer to test before they buy. Companies such as Seldon and snyk (now valued at over $1B) are examples of how open-source companies will continue to dominate the enterprise software category. We’ll see more VC dollars backing open-source companies in 2021.
The digital health revolution will accelerate
The multi-trillion-dollar global healthcare industry will see a rapid transformation in 2021, driven by initiatives partially spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Covid created the perfect storm enabling startups to disrupt the slow, inflexible and heavily regulated healthcare industry. We’ll see more of everything from remote patient monitoring to genomics and drug discovery.
Additionally, we’ll see continuing convergence of tech in the healthcare sector to enable innovative solutions to pain points across the value chain. Healthcare tech will see an increased investment from VCs as it continues to have a massive impact on diagnostics, drug discovery & development, genomics and patient monitoring - each of these are multi-billion dollar markets that have been ripe for disruption for years. I also anticipate an increased adoption of AI in the healthcare sector as healthcare professionals, pharmaceutical companies and health insurance providers are looking for better ways to serve the patients leveraging the massive amounts of data available. This sector presents a massive opportunity to entrepreneurs and investors alike - we will see many established companies finding themselves in fierce competitions with much smaller startups. This will also drive a massive M&A wave in the next 2-3 years as many of these multi-billion dollar corporates try to gobble up as many startups as they can to defend their market position.