The past 18 months have been full of unexpected technological advances, as the whole shift to meet the demands of a new reality. Advances in fields such as e-commerce, artificial intelligence and the internet of things were already well established on the tech trends radar. The ICT industry is working in fields such as healthcare and education, which are among the most conservative in the adoption of new technology, would suddenly take center stage and progress in a matter of months in ways that would usually take years. Further, industrial as well as commercial sector have understood the importance of digital connectivity for decades, but it never predicted it would become the center point for everyday lives almost overnight. Today vaccines roll out and many of us eagerly await the return of gossip over the office premises. The key technology trends from 2021 that experts believe are likely to stick around for years to come.

Contactless Convenience:

Contactless technology is defining the customer experience post COVID, from touch-free payments and ‘just walk out’ shopping to biometric check-in for travel and accommodation. Even when shopping in-store, almost 90% of shoppers in the US now claim to prefer touch less or self-checkout features. And with security always a high priority in an increasingly globalized world, facial recognition security systems are becoming more and more common. These undeniably convenient and safe innovations have been made possible with more advanced memory chips and processors, better image sensors, smarter AI and faster communication networks, all of which will continue to improve in the coming years.  

While COVID-19 has dominated the headlines throughout 2020, consistent deployment and development of ICT infrastructure and its concomitant services has meant a continued trend towards digital transformation for societies, businesses and governments alike. As a result, contract payments due to the pandemic increased the demand for online transactions, subsequently raising the usage and adoption of e-wallets. As per the MasterCard Impact Study 2020, the Philippines (36%) ranks second to Malaysia (40%) in mobile wallet usage in Southeast Asia. The rapid changes in social and economic conditions and technological landscape drive a real revolution in the payment processing sector. Digital payments through e-wallets are likely to stay in a post-pandemic world. Further, among other technology trends accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of contactless mobile payments boomed in 2020. According to a recent report by analyst firm eMarketer, in-store mobile payments usage grew 29% last year in the U.S., as the pandemic pushed consumers to swap out cash and credit`1 cards for the presumably safer mobile payments option at point-of-sale. Also, contactless payments have emerged as an essential solution for all the businesses as it enables them to drive their business forward along with ensuring safety to combat the corona virus pandemic. As per the survey by Digipay that took place in mid march, around 30% of the respondents have started to use contactless payment since the pandemic began. And 70% of those users are likely to continue using contactless payments post COVID-19. For Instance: in the US, 51% of people have resorted to use mobile wallets like apple pay and other tap-to-go credit cards. Also, MasterCard has witnessed a surge of 40% in the contactless payments in the first quarter of 2021. This rapid adoption of contactless payments has also impacted the banking sector of the US, as some of the biggest credit issuers like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Capita One, US Bank and Chase have increased their issuance of EMV cards. Also, visa estimates that more than 300 million contactless cards would be in circulation by the end of 2020. 

Further, many consumers are more reluctant to touch cash or PIN pads when they go to shops so innovations that enable a ‘low-touch’ experience, such as contactless payments, have really taken off. Data from Barclaycard has revealed that 88.6% of all eligible payments in the United Kingdom were contactless in 2020 – and the average value of these payments rose by 29% after the contactless limit was increased from £30. Uptake of contactless payments in the US has lagged behind due to the infrastructure and lack of issuers actually producing contactless cards. But more recently, a lot of things have moved either online or to virtual wallets, and contactless card usage has increased in the US as well. MasterCard research revealed a 136% increase in contactless transactions in the US in the full year to July 2020, while Visa data points to the US having 175m contactless cards - the most of any market globally. Barclays US Consumer Bank issues cards with contactless technology for American Airlines and JetBlue card members, and new cards issued as part of the bank’s partnership with Emirates are now also contactless. All the cards issued can also be added into mobile wallets, which are continuing to increase in popularity. Also, the APAC markets like India and China have been aggressively promoting mobile wallets. Other markets within the region are also catching up with countries such as Vietnam and Thailand and are now emerging as the top adopters of mobile wallets globally. For Instance: as per the Global Data 2021 Financial Services Consumer Survey, Thailand emerged as top country globally in terms of mobile wallet adoption with 93.7% survey respondents indicating that they had a mobile wallet and used in a shop in the past 12 months. Thailand is followed by other Asian Market like Vietnam, India and China. Notably, the adoption level in the region is much higher compared to many of the developed markets such as US and UK despite widespread adoption in these countries, with adoption level standing only at 42.8% and 36.5% respectively. Further, with the mobile wallet usage on rise, banks and payment services providers (PSPs) are all gearing up to get a piece of the mobile wallet pie. For Instance, in China, Alipay and We Chat are the most preferred mobile wallet brands with more than 75% of the respondents using these more often to pay in stores, as per the latest Global Data’s 2021 Financial Service Consumer Survey. 

Hence, as per the Global Data, the availability of low-cost smart phones, growing awareness of mobile payments, rising internet penetration and the proliferation of mobile wallets has resulted in Asian countries shifting from cash transactions to mobile wallet payments. The ongoing covid-19 pandemic has further accelerated this trend as consumer are increasingly switching from cash to digital more of payments, with mobile wallet being the major beneficiary. These wallets are now increasingly becoming ‘mainstream’ payments and widely used for day-to-day transactions at supermarkets, street vendors, grocery stores, tea stalls, fuel stations and even inside taxis and auto-rickshaws. As a result, the seamless payment experience offered by mobile wallets has redefined the way consumers carry out their day-to-day activities. Mobile wallet usage is all set to disrupt the overall consumer payment space across the world with gradual decline in cash usage, a trend that is more prevalent during the current Covid-19 crisis. 

Online Learning: 

Digital workspaces and dematerialization won’t just benefit those in the workplace. At the peak of the COVID pandemic, over 1.6 billion children in 195 countries around the globe were sent home due to classrooms shutting. In an uncharacteristically swift action for higher education, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Universities and colleges to move their courses online while faculty, staff workers and administrators worked remotely in order to protect millions of students and themselves from the spread of this deadly virus. Through this, technology is reshaping the collective ambition for universal quality education and improving learning outcomes. Access to internet and technology is an urgent requirement and no longer is a luxury. The move to remote learning has not only provided ways to assess and teach differently but also encourage self-learning. Not everyone believes online education is an equal substitute for traditional learning, but a hybrid model may gain traction in the future. The blended learning format redefines the traditional education paradigm and positively impacts four basic equations in the process-student-student, teacher-student, parent-teacher and parent student. All four equations are regenerated, as a new collaborative model develops, which would create growth prospects in future. As well as video conferencing tools, other digital services such as language learning apps, e-learning software and virtual tutoring have all seen huge surges in demand. At the same time, initiatives such as Keep America Running have shown just how quickly the society can connect both emphatically and digitally for a common cause such as giving more students without an internet connection access to remote learning and narrowing the educational pide. 

As per the OECD, approx. 95% of students in Austria, Norway and Switzerland have a computer to use for their schoolwork, compared to only around 34% in Indonesia. And in the United States, virtually all 15-year-olds from a privileged background said they had a computer to work in, while nearly a quarter of those from disadvantaged background did not. The educational institutes are working continuously to improve educational opportunities through digital technology. While the extent to which e-learning continues once students return to their classrooms is yet to be seen, the necessity of connectivity for education has been made abundantly clear. And as 5G networks enable faster internet and more reliable connectivity that ever before, even in remote location, these possibilities will only continue to grow.

Additionally, the covid-19 pandemic is also likely to have a lasting effect on lesson design. The constraints of the pandemic have provided an opportunity for educators to consider new strategies to teach targeted concepts. Though rethinking of instructional approaches was forced and hurried, the experience has served as a rare chance to reconsider strategies that best facilitate learning within the affordances and constraints of the online context. While the blurring of the lines between traditional and distance education has been noted for several decades, the pandemic has quickly advanced the erasure of these boundaries. Less single mode, more multi-mode is becoming the norm due to developed skill sets and enhanced infrastructure that allow people to move across different delivery systems. The well-established best practices of blended or hybrid learning and teaching have served as a guide for new combinations of instructional delivery that have developed in response to the shift to virtual learning. The use of multiple delivery modes is likely to remain, and will be a feature of employee with learners of all ages. Future integrations of online education will no longer be bound to the traditions of single teaching modes as educators can support pedagogical approaches from a menu of instructional delivery options, a mix that has been supported by previous generations of online educators. 

As a result, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has left a profound impact on everyone’s personal and professional lives. Organizations worldwide have undergone radical changes on a large scale to keep up with the challenges caused by the pandemic. Several new IT trends such as use of online collaborations tools and services, remote working, virtual meetings and more have been on the risk to mitigate the lack of physical connection and social distancing challenges. Almost all companies that were either unaware of under using the potential of digitalization realized the importance of technology to bridge the gaps in the workflows. Now that the world is slowly recovering from the pandemic and is beginning to go back to normal, it is believed that some of these new IT trends are here to stay and have the potential to become the new reality even post-pandemic. 

Collaboration Tools: 

Regardless of their field, almost all organizations have been striving to achieve stable communications and collaboration among their teams. With teams working remotely, several enterprises and businesses, mainly in IT, retail and education have faced severe hits during the onset of the pandemic. Fortunately, with the help of several collaborative tools and services such as Slack, Microsoft Teams and Zoom ,IT as well as other sectors have received a major overhaul in terms of their capabilities and features to meet the growing needs for collaboration. Further, these tools are already making their way to be integrated alongside the primary mailing solutions within the organizations to serve as a common means of communication across the organization. Further, several ERP solutions have also started packaging collaboration tools alongside other business-essential applications. While business applications and their composition keep changing, it is evident that enterprises will continue leveraging the collaborative platforms to maintain an easy digital connection among the teams even after the pandemic.

Collaborative technologies that include video conferencing apps have been a big boon for businesses in times of the pandemic. They have ensured that meetings across organizations are conducted seamlessly without any glitches or delay. A recent report from App Annie showed that business conferencing apps have been experiencing record growth, especially in March, when there were 62 million downloads during the midweek of March. In Europe, social connectivity apps also witnessed phenomenal growth during the lockdown. Given the fact that most organizations have been relying heavily on technology during the lockdown, the spike in downloads of such apps in not surprising. Many traditional businesses got a boost once they started using video conferencing apps. Many such collaborative tools will go a long way in redefining the lifestyle and the way people work in the long run. In future, automation will gain prominence, as it will also lead to ‘Remote’ offices that will be a combination of digital and physical office space. There are apps to automate the entire business by integrating all the collaborative tools under one app making it a faster and more organized system. Many companies are already mulling over alternate work models where they are figuring out ways to cut costs through a complete virtual experience involving collaborative tools. The way work is conducted and business will run will change drastically with a heavier reliance on these collaboration tools. A post-covid 19 world will be very different with a lot of traditional systems becoming redundant but collaborative tools are here to stay and grow.  

AI-Generated Content:

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, business leaders weren’t racing to understand the role of artificial intelligence (AI) could play in optimizing business operations, boosting profitability and driving innovation. In a survey of conducted by McKinsey, global executives said that only 58% companies had incorporated AI into at least one product or process. Many didn’t fully grasp the potential applications and value of AI and as a result adoption of AI wasn’t scaling quickly. In the same survey McKinsey revealed that about three-fourth of companies that has adopted or planned to adopt AI said they would increase their investments over three years, But the majority of them have increased it by just 10%. However, now since the pandemic struck, investment in AI platform has skyrocketed, shifting from a ‘nice-to-have’ initiative to full-blown business imperative. The catalyst was the disruption to ‘business as usual’ and the gaps exposed in digital transformation initiatives where existing resources and human capital could not scale to meet increasing demand introduced by the pandemic. It became immediately clear that automation and digital intelligence were suddenly the only solutions that can perform urgent jobs at scale. In both long and short term, across front and back office applications, AI has the potential to add value to business workflows, augment employee capabilities and harness the power of machine and man in order to improve customer experience.

Further, as organizations deploy technologies that automate work or introduce machine intelligence in the organization, the limiting factor is translating these innovations into real businesses benefits which require talent that is beyond the developers, designers and data scientists that everyone is battling for today, companies will need to explore what new roles are likely to emerge in digital disruptors. Also, with many professionals, underwriters have been doing a job one way for decades and now are expected to do things differently. The role is primed for transformation as AI is poised to reconfigure and augment insurance underwriting. Fueled by an explosion of data, open source technology and low –cost data storage, AI has the potential to help underwriters analyze an incredible amount of information, find red flags and help make more accurate decisions.

Technology as a means to innovate and thrive: 

One of the major transformations of the digital age is to see more companies adopting a flat working structure, where career paths are less clear. In this new environment, a next-generation operating model that supports the opportunity to learn skills, to have taught leaders to provide mentoring and to involve new staff in meaningful projects as this will be critical to attract and retain the best digital talent. By moving beyond a one-size-fits-all-approach to talent management, human resources, digital workforce platform can help to create the conditions in which employees feel energized by their work valued by their organization and more inclusive in their environment.

With employees working nearly entirely at home for the duration of their local shut down, companies were forced to think carefully about the employee experience using the digital capabilities. Previously, employees might have had a grateful attitude for any benefits that offered increased workplace flexibility resulting from digital capabilities. Now, however, with companies across industries adapting to virtual work, the experience of employees online directly impacts their satisfaction with their work environment. 

With many businesses struggling to navigate the challenging environment that the pandemic has made, no one wants to deal with high turnover that can come from low employee satisfaction and the costs that come with hiring regular new employees. Instead, paying attention to the importance of creating a positive digital experience for employees has an immense benefit for business. Similarly, brands have also been forced to pay attention to the ease with which their customers’ can engage with digitally. With customer doing a high percentage of their interactions with brands digitally, businesses must prioritize ensuring that their customer do not have problems shopping and converting on their websites. Hence, emerging digital technologies is creating a dynamic environment for education, IT sector. 

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About IndustryARC: IndustryARC is a Research and Consulting Firm that publishes more than 500 reports annually, in various industries such as Agriculture, Automotive, Automation & Instrumentation, Chemicals and Materials, Energy and Power, Electronics, Food and Beverages, Information Technology, and Life sciences and Healthcare.