Despite the importance of staying in tune with developments in your industry, 60% of CTOs and CIOs in top companies claim their IT modernization programs are not ready for the future.
The global health crisis that swept across the globe from 2020 triggered a digital technology shift across all industries and markets, effectively changing businesses and entire industries forever.
The latest trends present growth opportunities—for forward-thinking businesses. But, simultaneously, the rapidly-changing landscape threatens to derail apathetic leaders and their organizations.
Read on to discover the most important digital transformation trends and how they will impact your customers, markets, and industries. By the end, you’ll have the insights to guide your business decisions and strategies to grow your business and fend off the competition in your space.
Digital transformation trend #1: The growth of low-code platforms
Low-code is a modern approach to software development that uses graphical interfaces rather than traditional hand-coded methods, leveraging automation and integration technologies to quickly create applications—even if you have little coding experience.
Workflow applications solve critical needs for health workers, safety professionals, and people working from home to set up their remote workspaces. The need for low-code environments has risen in response to the demand for remote work following the pandemic, making low-code one of the most notable digital transformation trends in 2021.
More leaders are turning to these platforms that offer integration, low-code, and remote process automation to solve the complex issues of business today, including improving employee engagement and enhancing the customer experience.
When the government of New York City wanted to start tracking the spread of COVID-19, officials hired a startup called Unqork to develop an online portal that would collect data on the city population. With this data, city officials could get quick insights on positive cases and the people in close contact with these cases.
Unqork created the portal with a no-code software development platform, which offered a fast and flexible way to get the app to market. It also had the capacity to process vast reams of data and adapt to changing regulations with data privacy.
Digital transformation trend #2: Increased investment
While the pandemic decimated businesses and industries, it encouraged investment in digital transformation programs. As a result, Grand View Research expects the investments in digital transformation technologies and processes to grow at 23.6% CAGR from 2021 to 2028.
Digitization is a $336 billion industry, and maintaining a double-digit growth rate is rare for industries that size. However, the Global Trade Magazine attributes that meteoric growth rate to such issues as:
- Office closures
- Restrictions on travel and movement
- Supply disruptions
A recent COVID-19 Digital Engagement Report reveals that the trends during the last year accelerated the average company’s digital communications strategy by six years. Furthermore, Gartner reports that 69% of leaders expect an increase in funding in 2021 because of the pandemic.
Digital transformation trend #3: The growth of consumer data platforms (CDPs)
A customer data platform (CDP) is software that brings together information from multiple disparate sources to create a unified customer profile that other systems can access.
The market disruptions and the uncertainties that businesses faced since the pandemic began have increased the demand for CDPs. In 2017 CDP deployments stood at 19% and dipped to 17% in 2019. However, 2020 saw a sudden 29% rise in CDP deployments.
CDPs enable businesses to gather high-quality data about their customers to improve their products, offerings, and operations. Although CDPs provide anonymized user data to companies, attribution tools can help users tie the data from their CDPs to the people in their customer relationship (CRM) and data management platforms (DMPs).
Ultimately, these platforms help you better understand your target market and stronger relationships with your customers. In a customer-centric age, we can expect CDPs to be one of the biggest digital transformation trends.
Digital transformation trend #4: Hybrid cloud growth
There is a burgeoning interest in hybrid cloud technologies as organizations seek a more agile and flexible cloud infrastructure to manage the rapid changes in modern markets. In addition, businesses are striving to be more prepared for sudden and unprecedented changes.
By combining private and public cloud solutions, businesses can achieve their key objectives, including:
- Meeting their users where they are at the moment
- Managing exponential data growth
- Being proactive with issues surrounding compliance, security, and privacy
Spending on public cloud infrastructure exceeded traditional IT infrastructure spending for the first time in September 2020. Much of this growth is because public cloud providers like IBM, Oracle, Google, Azure, and AWS are making significant investments in the space.
Meanwhile, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), like Dell, are increasing their investments in hybrid cloud ventures. In addition, these OEMs are building networking tools to facilitate improved cloud and on-premise data center connectivity.
Digital transformation trend #5: An increase in automation
Keeping project workloads balanced without escalating costs is a complex task for IT teams. Many organizations use their applications and data in silos, preventing real-time cross-application and cross-platform data flow. As a result, IT teams must do the manual work of connecting and collecting data across systems.
The need for real-time data flow has led to greater investment in automation across several industries, including healthcare and financial services.
In the past, automation had two key objectives—cut costs and improve performance. However, Bain & Company says that in 2021, the demand for automation is driven by risk reduction, quicker decision-making, and resilience in business operations.
Businesses are using automation to modernize their legacy systems, improve their business process, and migrate their applications to the cloud. In one study, 81% of IT teams plan to use automation to enable their team members to spend more time on innovative projects. Although automation has been around for a while, its value has increased in 2021.
Digital transformation trend #6: A focus on cybersecurity
From January to April 2020 alone, attacks on cloud servers and banks increased by 630% and 238%, respectively.
With more people embracing remote work, companies must expand their cybersecurity strategies and infrastructure to cover mobile, work-from-home devices, and home networks.
Businesses will benefit from proactively preparing for sophisticated attacks as attacker strategies are constantly evolving. Malware, ransomware, and other malicious activities surged dramatically in 2020, pushing cybersecurity to the top of the priority list for companies. Companies may struggle to protect sensitive data without a robust security posture, which endangers the public trust in their business.
Companies that provide firewall and intrusion detection solutions can benefit from this digital technology trend. Likewise, solutions from companies in the security information and event management fields will be in high demand in the years ahead.
Digital transformation trend #7: Customer-focused AI and ML in the financial sector
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) have become core components of modern business, handling many complex processes that improve the user experience in industries like finance, healthcare, and manufacturing.
Consumers already had high expectations of their financial institutions before 2020, and 68% of financial service consumers say COVID-19 elevated their expectations of their providers’ digital capabilities.
Financial service providers are adopting autonomous systems to help them with these higher expectations. Analysts expect the financial sector to save over $1 trillion in operating costs by incorporating AI and ML.
Furthermore, IT managers can use these technologies to automate customer queries and other low-value repetitive processes. That way, they can redeploy their human resources to addressing more high-value and complex tasks, such as strategic planning.
Bank of America, for instance, has a virtual assistant named Erica that engages customers and handles basic queries and complaints. This chatbot has processed more than 35 million requests for over six million users, proving efficiency is not an issue. It’s little surprise that AI chatbots are one of the fastest-growing digital transformation trends this year.
Digital transformation trend #8: Contactless healthcare
Contactless healthcare is one of the digital transformation trends that rose to prominence due to the pandemic. Telehealth visits grew 5,000% since the pandemic started until June 2021, changing the dynamics of healthcare more than it had in the previous decade.
The concept of contactless healthcare shifted from a faint heartbeat to rapid growth in just under a year. Even as the pandemic gradually recedes, telehealth platforms are pivoting to offering ready-made integrations to electronic health record (EHR) servers, applications, and databases.
These solutions cater to the emerging needs of patients, covering:
- The geographical location of the patient
- Types of patient care
- Family-members participation
- Access to real-time language translations when on telehealth visits
Before the pandemic, many healthcare engagements required in-person visits, such as hospital registrations and payments. Now, people can process these matters online.
In addition, as patients adopt geo-tracking solutions for managing check-ins, they could book appointments anywhere. As a result, healthcare providers will see a reduced need for investments in non-essential physical infrastructure for medical purposes.
Even as the pandemic gradually recedes, telehealth platforms are pivoting to offering ready-made integrations to electronic health record (EHR) servers, applications, and databases.
Digital transformation trend #9: Pharma sector innovation
Thanks largely to the rapid advances in technologies like AI, IoT, and blockchain, the pharmaceutical industry is undergoing a major transition.
One recent example is the drugmaker Novartis, which partnered with AWS and Microsoft to use data science and AI to accelerate drug discovery. However, this Swiss pharmaceutical company is not alone in using technology to drive growth in the industry.
AI and ML helped to identify protein structure and the analysis of target patients for the COVID-19 drug development. With AI, data science, and predictive analytics, the pharma industry can analyze patterns in data sets and get quicker, more accurate insights to understand success rates, implications, and benefits of new drugs. Going beyond R&D, the use of advanced technologies in the pharma sector will help improve diagnosis and help with storing patient data in electronic health records (EHR) systems.
Digital transformation trend #10: Digitization of supply chain tracking
Before the global health crisis in 2020, businesses were considering supply chain digitization to help them improve their operations and lower costs. The pandemic was a catalyst, driving more businesses to adopt key digital transformation technologies en masse, including:
- Cloud deployments
- Artificial intelligence
- Robotic process automation
- Use of sensors and IoT
Harvard Business Review surveyed 200 business leaders across industries like financial services, technology, and manufacturing. About 95% of key decision-makers agreed that the pandemic disrupted their supply chain processes and sourcing management.
The pandemic crippled supply chains across the globe. However, it also ushered in the rapid adoption of new digital technology solutions. Leading enterprises are now at the forefront of digital transformation trends in the supply chain space. For example, in 2020, IBM introduced AI and blockchain to improve supply chain management. These tools help businesses with predictive insights and visibility into blind spots that would otherwise cause disruptions in supply chains.
Digital transformation trend #11: The growth of IoT across many industries
The use of home and industrial internet of things (IoT) will become mainstream as 5G technology continues to gain widespread usage. This shift will change many businesses' operations, including how they deliver products, offer customer service, manage their assets, and more.
According to TechJury, 35 billion IoT devices will be installed globally, and 46 billion devices connected in 2021 alone. With that many devices installed and connected, IoT will wield influence across multiple industries. For example, Google is currently on track to dominate the consumer IoT space, with Google Home expected to have the largest IoT device market, claiming a 48% market share by 2022.
However, consumer IoT is only a piece of the IoT puzzle. Other IoT categories include:
- Infrastructural IoT: This is the provision of connectivity itself. For example, 5G for IoT comes under this space. Telcos have a tremendous opportunity here.
- Commercial IoT: Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication is an example of commercial IoT.
- Military IoT: This is the deployment of IoT solutions in military fields, including surveillance robots.
- Industrial IoT: Includes uses for smart farms and IoT-enabled agricultural practices as well as industrial big data.
Digital transformation trend #12: Mobile apps and gamification in education
Gamification is making significant inroads into academic curricula globally, as educators have turned a potential problem into an asset. Students are often engaged on their smartphones and favorite applications, so by rolling out educational apps and games, schools can channel young people's addiction to games into something productive.
Of course, it helps that the Research Institute of America found that eLearning increased retention by 25% to 60%, whereas traditional learning has only an 8% to 10% retention rate.
However, gamification is not the only benefit of making learning solutions available on mobile apps. Accessibility is also an advantage. Study materials can be made available in text, video, and audio formats, and students can access them anywhere and anytime.
Schools, educators, and academic professionals are adopting new digital technologies that provide instant learning access and gamified experiences. This class of technologies includes:
- Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) platforms
- Integration of blockchain to MOOC platforms for skill and learning verification
- Immersive learning with extended reality (XR) technologies, including virtual, augmented, and mixed reality
- The adoption of AI for tailored learning experiences and the use of robotic learning solutions like Roybi Robot
As the demand for homeschooling for K-12 and 100% online college degree programs grows, mobile apps and gamification in education will continue to flourish.
Digital transformation trend #13: Food industry informatics
Food industry informatics includes bioinformatics and ingredient informatics. The pharmaceutical space has traditionally been the hotbed of bioinformatic innovations and the active ingredients market. According to Verified Market Research, the active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) market will reach $281.9 billion by 2028.
However, food and beverage companies are finding opportunities in a field that used to be exclusively for drug development. Many F&B businesses want to speed up their ingredient discovery by investing in bioinformatics—companies that use specialized technologies to find the effect that potential food ingredients will have on consumers’ health.
These companies are also turning to ingredient informatics, which helps companies in the food business understand their customers' response to new food formats, products, and flavors. In the years ahead, these partnerships will accelerate the product development process in the food industry.
As the latest digital transformation trends continue to reshape global business systems, the companies that embrace innovative technologies, tools, and strategies will reap the rewards to move to the top of their industries.
Conversely, companies that are not adequately prepared for these changes—or choose to ignore the trends—could lose revenue or even be forced to close shop in the face of intensifying competition.
Since the year 2000, 52% of Fortune 500 companies have ceased to exist, with many fallen behemoths owing their collapse to a failure to adapt to change. Even the most established enterprises are not immune to digital disruption.