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Tech Trends Set to Reshape Business in 2021

In one year, we’ve seen more digital transformation than in the last decade. 

In 2020, the global pandemic revealed opportunities for tech to step up and help advance society forward. Given the urgency to find solutions to keep businesses running, we witnessed a sharp rise in tech adoption, which is likely here to stay. 

And while the pivot to online presents exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs, it’s also amplified existing disparities between small and large businesses. For example, Amazon triumphantly doubled its quarterly profits over the last year. For small businesses, the outlook was widely different, with 43% temporarily closed, unsure of their future, or simply unable to pivot to a less ‘in-person’ service. 

While compliance with social distancing ushered in impressive tech innovations in 2020, the biggest tech trends in 2021 allow us to do a whole lot more to keep agile and efficient — there’s even talk of robots! 

Many small businesses assume disruptive tech like drones, big data, AI, and the like are outside of their reach. This simply isn’t the case. To keep your business in good shape this year, you might find our annual tech trends post helpful. We will focus on how small businesses can apply the latest technology to cut costs, automate tasks to free up time, and keep customers happy. 

Let’s get started. 

The Internet of Things

Let’s start with one of the most prominent tech trends today; the Internet of Things or IoT. IoT is the equivalent of non-living things talking to you! We’re talking about billions of physical devices connected to the internet, from using the self-service check out in the supermarket, checking your step count from your smartwatch, or driving a car with built-in WIFI. 

Thanks to the arrival of super-cheap computer chips and the ubiquity of wireless networks, IoT is everywhere. For individuals, IoT connected devices enhance living standards through smart home devices, e-health, and learning solutions. For industry, use cases are vast. If product design is the key to your success, IoT can capture data on how the user is engaging with your product. If cutting costs is vital, you can use sensors for control and optimization.

Most notably, IoT helped deliver a safer retail experience. 2021 is all about further reducing friction in the buying experience. You might offer a chance for customers to interact with your products remotely or pre-purchase items with the help of virtual or augmented reality (more on this later). 

Predictable names like Amazon (their Automated supermarket runs on IoT devices) and Tesla are already using IoT to run their business. But smaller-scale businesses can save money, manage inventory, and control processes better with this tech. Adding radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to merchandise for inventory tracking is one example. When your inventory is automatically updated as items are sold and sold items are set for reorder, you save hours maintaining an accurate inventory and maximizing store efficiency.  

Besides convenience and gaining time back from inventory management, IoT devices can deliver significant savings. Take the Google Nest Thermostat E. The device promises a 12% reduction in energy consumption for heating, which could mean thousands of dollars saved per year. For any business with security cameras, switching to a connected camera linked to the cloud storage will cost significantly less to run than a standard CCTV, where setup alone can cost between $1,000 and $4,000 to install. 

This year, IoT is essential for businesses that want to be resilient and deliver changes customers want to see, all while increasing their bottom line. For that reason, we’re certain the practice of using smart devices for routine business activities will become standard across most industries. Fortunately, the cost of ownership of IoT devices keeps decreasing. Most IoT devices are wireless and use Wi-Fi — which most businesses have already — installation and implementation are easy and affordable. 

Hedgehog working on the cloud

The ‘as-a-service’ cloud revolution

Many businesses are already using the cloud to store data that they don’t have hardware space for or that they want to keep safe and backed up remotely. But storage isn’t the only way to use the cloud. If you’re using Salesforce, Google Docs, Microsoft 365, Photoshop, WordPress.com, or SAP, you’re well-acquainted with Software as a Service, or SaaS, services. 

Virtual working and coronavirus-linked workforce transformations have ushered in cloud tech innovations as companies figured out new ways to make this work successfully. SaaS cloud apps have witnessed massive usage over the past few months, with tools such as WebEx, Microsoft Teams making work from home a reality for many. 

Thanks to the flexibility of the cloud, innovators can deploy this cutting-edge tech with little upfront investment. Take Zoom, for example, which has quickly become a household name thanks to the speed with which it could add servers and increase its coverage and quality of service thanks to the cloud. 

There’s an abundance of opportunities for next-generation office tools currently under development. Expect growth in this area to continue through 2021. Businesses of all sizes will continue to adopt new platforms for better communication between employees, monitoring. 

Augmented reality 

Augmented reality (AR) is often a real-life view of something that projects or inserts images onto the screen or viewer — think Snapchat Lens or the game Pokemon Go. AR for businesses took off last year, and we can see that the commercial applications of this innovative technology are endless

AR, in conjunction with the other trends discussed here, assists with tackling current challenges, namely by allowing us to limit in-person activities where there could be a risk of viral transmission. In 2021 we expect to see more businesses developing new virtual and augmented reality services to provide their customers with in-person experiences to increase engagement. 

AR provides a close to hands-on experience while taking the risk of making an online purchase, improving customer satisfaction scores, reaching customers outside of their vicinity, and cutting down on returned items. Likewise, AR offers a way to provide excellent customer service in-store. Shoppers can scan products on a shelf and receive instant information about the product, all without having to touch an item. 

While fun and exciting, this tech wizardry will also give your brand reputation a healthy boost. That’s why everyone from solopreneurs to new businesses is using AR to make sure they stand out. In 2021, even small businesses can implement cost-effective augmented reality solutions. There are plenty of opportunities to implement AR on a budget, thanks to tools like Photogrammetry to create hyper-realistic 3D models and Snapchat-for-business opening businesses to head-turning advertising opportunities. 

server, clock, and plant

Big data technologies for everyone

2020 saw organizations accelerating their digital business strategy to become more agile and able to make quicker business decisions informed by big data. But for them to achieve this, businesses must obtain more and better access to information, augment that information with better insight, and respond quickly to the implications of those insights. 

Data and analytics guru Bernard Marr said: “While the average small business has less self-generated data than big players… this doesn’t mean big data is off-limits.”

Small businesses that do their business online or rely on software such as CRM collect a lot of data that could be just as useful. They can take customer feedback, traditional in-house data from sales or customer service logs from social media, and public data sets to get a fuller picture of their customers. 

With data analysis tools, you can find the best way to collect and collate data from various resources. This can help you better understand your customers, how they engage with your business, and how to win them over again and again. With Trendera and Trend Hunter, for example, trend forecasting based on mass data is available to answer specific questions for all types of businesses. With this data, you can build a picture of your customers or compare economic conditions or the time of the year to see what they want and when.

In 2021 we expect to see more tools to bring data opportunities to small businesses and, thanks to cloud services subscription, for very little investment. 

speedometer that's on fire

5G has landed!

The need for a reliable and fast connection became urgent when digital collaboration, remote work, and videoconferencing became a part of all of our lives. The new 5th generation mobile networks will offer the fastest service yet. If you think 5G is just about delivering faster web pages or less time waiting for your favorite cat video to launch on Youtube, you’re mistaken. 

Every advancement from 3G onwards has unlocked new use cases for the Internet. With 3G, we got web browsing on mobile devices and data to drive services. Then 4G dropped, bringing music and video streaming. Naturally, 5G will make our website faster, bringing happier customers and, with a bit of luck, more conversions. The extra bandwidth of 5G will open more doors in terms of what is possible. 

Nearly every industry will be impacted in some way by 5G. The world’s largest data center provider Equinix suggests that 5G can help your business innovate. According to their website, “Businesses will be able to more easily experiment with and leverage disruptive technologies such as drones, artificial intelligence, robotics, and others.” There’s also the simple fact that thanks to 5G and remote work, a business can cut costs of running a brick-and-mortar site.

The extra speed will make all of the other trends we discuss here available anywhere, any time. We forecast that 5G will boost IoT innovation in particular, and by doing so, present new and lucrative opportunities for small businesses. For example, you can use Virtual Reality to create dynamic video experiences for customers. Imagine that instead of delivering a pitch in person, unlike your competition, your small business created a 5G holographic projection where clients can view a 3D video without 3D glasses. It’s a game-changer!

Webizens reassess the cost of convenience

In 2021 and beyond, many online services users will start asking, ‘what is the price of convenience? Is it worth giving big tech all of my data in return for convenience, and where do we draw the line?’

Big tech has maintained for some time that the vast swathes of data they vacuum up, analyze, and then execute on is a force for good. They cite many benefits, from increased productivity to healthcare. Still, cracks are starting to show in the major players’ stories.

EasyWP’s Matt Russell sees this as an opportunity for positive action and change:

 “Dangerous and growing monopolistic trends are increasing, and users, or webizens in general, will fight back. Webizens are smart. And users are increasingly aware that there is a price to convenience and that big tech isn’t as trustworthy as perhaps we’d like. Backed up by stronger regulation, 2018 was the year of GDPR, and 2019 the CCPA.

I expect more awareness will drive more decision making on exactly what data users share and with who. And those with a more robust track record of safeguarding and being good stewards of data will emerge as the primary choice to engage with.” 

An average individual who has spent years online will have generated hundreds of gigabytes of data. Those who work online or do business online will generate even more. And it is those who primarily do business online who are likely the first to start asking these questions as they look to use business services where they have trust with how their data is used going forward.

WordPress swallows the Internet

There is a lot of noise about WordPress surpassing over 50% of all websites in the coming years. WordPress is incredibly versatile. Anyone with little to no tech skills can start a website and begin an online business for free! This versatility plus low barriers to entry are what drives WordPress’s popularity. Given the new thinking around convenience, privacy, and data, this can only mean good things for an open-source CMS like WordPress. 

Russell shared his thoughts on this.

“I believe WordPress will start to emerge as the default option for the savvy webizen who

  • doesn’t want to experience vendor lock-in or a walled garden like many of the site builders offer. 
  • wants to know exactly where their data is stored and who has access to it 
  • appreciates the agility of WordPress combined with a competitive free market of web hosting providers.”

For Russell, providers like EasyWP that can address the issues above, offering the right combination of WordPress Hosting + WordPress + Gutenberg, will be a force to be reckoned with and become the default Operating System of the web. 

WordPress with Gutenberg has the opportunity to become the de facto standard for constructing a presence online. In fact, some might argue it already is. But when you factor in the increased consumer awareness on data and factor in the desire to not be “locked-in” to any specific company, WordPress itself likely reaches a 50% market share.

Russell notes: 

“In 2020, we’ve already seen these trends firmly cement themselves, and they will grow. Privacy will be a future battleground, data location and stewardship will be a future battleground, and putting consumers before profit is already a battleground. These are all essential topics for Namecheap. For many years, we’ve fought for privacy, that we’ve fought for consumer rights, that we’ve put consumers before profits. Just look at the effort we’ve made recently with the .org price increases.”

Adaptation is essential in 2021

It’s safe to say that no one could predict where 2020 has taken us. On the plus side, the pandemic has shown how quickly we can adapt and innovate when we absolutely need to. COVID-19 has also demonstrated the importance of digital readiness, allowing business and life to continue – as much as possible – during shocks like a pandemic. 

We expect to see more of the same in 2021. Working flexibly and selling online seems solidified ingrained in our culture now. While AI, big data, are trends that are just getting started in many ways, we expect to see more small businesses adopting them next year. 

As we’ve displayed, the latest technology is available for any business to remain competitive in a post-COVID-19 world. And thanks to cloud tech, WordPress, 5G, and the Internet of Things, small businesses can compete with the best of them without spending a fortune on training, hardware, or software.

What are your technology trends predictions that will affect business in 2021?

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Isobel Weston

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