2020 was a year of profound change throughout the world, and it brought a range of adaptations people have made to adjust to the new normal. Wearing face masks and social distancing in public are two everyday examples of the lifestyle changes people have made that we encounter daily. So, too, have technology trends adapted to the new landscape. Some of these trends are continuations of initiatives started in the past decades while others are necessitated by the changes in how we work and do business. Here are some of the trends we can look forward to in 2021 and how they impact the way we do business.
Proliferation of AI and Chatbots
Artificial Intelligence has been making a steady climb in importance and value to business in the past decade. The sheer volumes of data being collected today are staggering and only growing. With the proliferation of smartphones and IoT devices, sensors are gathering data from a broad and increasing number of points all over the world. Engineers have risen to the challenge and created a robust backbone to collect and store data at an unprecedented scale while allowing for the growth that will continue to rise exponentially.
These vast seas of data require a skilled navigator. After all, data by itself is nothing more than a collection of observations representing both signal (what we want to measure) and noise (the clutter that obscures the signal). To gain insight into the meaning of the data and to use it in drawing conclusions, it must be processed and analyzed. Such a task would not only be daunting for a person to tackle solo—it would be impossible. Enter AI for data analytic processing.
The tools and methods of data analysis have existed for decades, but what is truly new and exciting is the access to these tools is growing with the aim of capturing a wider audience. Cloud services providers offer machine learning product suites geared towards adoption. These products lower the technical barrier to entry that previously may have held some smaller and medium-sized businesses back from implementing AI and machine learning. With access to these tools now more widely available, we should expect to see much more data-driven decision making and the use of predictive analytics to project future performance.
With more people avoiding public spaces due to Covid-19, companies face a dilemma on how to meet its customer service needs. The dilemma is two-fold, because the increase in demand for remote assistance was so sudden and so universal, simply adding more staff to call centers is an insufficient solution. Instead, an increasing number of businesses are employing chatbots that use AI to perform basic customer service tasks. These chatbots can retrieve and relay answers to common questions, and they can triage incoming customer service requests in a manner that reserves live customer service for the more complicated instances that require a personal touch. The value of chatbots to a business therefore comes in two forms, both as a means to spread information and messaging important to the business, but also as an efficiency tool, giving employees an opportunity to target their efforts at adding the most value to customer interactions.
Further in the world of AI, voice search is on its way to becoming the standard method to perform online searches. With billions of voice assistants deployed on mobile phones, and the growth of smart speakers reaching the hundreds of millions, users are learning to speak their minds, as it were, and to interact with search platforms through the spoken word. AI is used both to process the voice input and to generate relevant search results to the user. As more consumers adopt voice interaction, companies should ensure that searches for their information are easily accessible via voice. In addition to supporting voice search for their own knowledge bases and websites, so too must companies adjust their search engine optimization to guarantee continued relevancy in search results.
Continued Explosion of Cloud Services
The adoption of cloud services and SaaS was well underway prior to 2020, but when Covid-19 required many businesses to suspend their in-person operations, the importance of cloud services came into much clearer focus. With work now being spread out over a larger geographic area than a single office, employers face new opportunities as well as fresh challenges.
The upside of cloud services is clear to the distributed workforce. Having access to company data through the internet from anywhere on Earth is a convenience that became a necessity as the bulk of the workforce no longer congregated in a central office or even a larger WAN. The concern has always been around the security and ownership of a company’s proprietary data. For the cautious business, building and securing their own infrastructure was seen as the industry standard and even a requirement for some kinds of business and data applications.
Cloud services have responded by offering their customers a great deal of freedom and autonomy. For example, while a 3rd party cloud service may offer a company a hosted solution for their sensitive data applications, the company retains control of its security keys, and remains the authority on what users and applications can access their data. In most cases, this safeguard satisfies any customers concerned about losing ownership of their data by hosting it on a shared service.
Security and authentication only grow in importance and significance as company data and applications are widely spread geographically. Web applications require secure access, and the OAuth 2.0 standard addresses the needs of secure access while offering developers simplicity in incorporating strong user authentication. The standard allows for both the secure access to the application as well as the safeguarding of the user’s private credentials. Developers must give their users at least an option of OAuth 2.0 authentication, otherwise companies may choose a solution that does offer the option to better integrate with other systems the company may deploy.
Progressive Web Applications (PWAs) Outpace Native Apps
While the concept of a progressive web application is not new, its adoption is growing in response to changes in the marketplace. A PWA gives the user a rich, modern interface while offering the advantages of fast loading and offline operation. These features position the PWA favorably against the native app experience, particularly on smartphones.
As regulations and practices around hosting and platforming continue to evolve, companies may find that choosing to develop a PWA helps them to better target their development resources at a solution rather than satisfying the requirements of a particular platform. By developing an application as a PWA, the need to maintain platform-specific versions of the app is eliminated. Further, app distribution platforms have requirements their customers must adhere to and adapt with as the requirements change. A PWA gives the developer autonomy in distributing an application, while also avoiding any fees associated with listing. As the demand for web applications increases, choosing the PWA path saves time in both the short and long terms, giving the company greater freedom at making updates or releasing new products.
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