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Top 10 Strategic Predictions for 2021 and Beyond


Every year at its IT Symposium/Xpo conference, Gartner presents a list of what it calls strategic predictions. This year’s list includes prognostication of some radical changes in underlying technologies, business processes, and in how organizations deal with societal issues.

As described by Gartner fellow Daryl Plummer, this list is meant to serve as a supplement to the research firm’s annual list of strategic trends. Whereas the other list specifies clear trends, this is a bit more speculative. (For comparison, here is last year’s list.)

(Daryl Plummer)

Daryl Plummer

For 2021, Plummer said, many people wish they had a reset button they could push so we could start over and get another chance. This would lead to “all sorts of possibilities to change the things we have done.” Not only may we want to reset, we may have to, he said, because technologies are being stretched to their limits. Moore’s Law is running out of steam, chip density improvements are slowing, and power and battery improvements are insufficient. Meanwhile, things in the world are changing fast, with work processes and societal issues changing. But rather than just trying to restart to a “new normal,” Plummer said we need to start pivoting to new ways of thinking and to forge new trails.

Plummer said that executives need to keep in mind three big principles: that innovation and efficiency is in play, greater ways of effectiveness must be found, and the impact on society can no longer be ignored.

He then introduced the predictions, along with a “near-term” event that Plummer said was good for gauging whether each is on trend.


1.       By 2025, traditional computing technologies will hit a digital wall forcing the shift to new paradigms such as neuromorphic computing.

(Non-traditional computing technologies)

Plummer talked about how innovation was particularly impacting underlying computing technologies, in a number of different ways, particularly over the next five years. He said conventional computing is hitting a wall, and that performance, power consumption, and storage are all being stressed.

He said CIOs should “expect a decade of radical innovation,” begin to look for long-term game changers, and start to pilot new computing technologies and architectures.

In the near term he said that through 2021, advances in quantum computing, DNA storage, and cost reductions driven by circuit density increase will make notable headlines in mainstream media.


2.       By 2024, 30 percent of digital businesses will mandate DNA storage trials, addressing the exponential growth of data poised to overwhelm existing storage technology.

We are collecting more information than ever before, and this is running into limitations into how long it can be stored—typically  about 30 years with today’s storage media.

DNA storage—encoding  ones and zeros into the nucleotide-based pairs of a synthetic DNA strand—will  give us storage density far behind what conventional storage can do. Plummer said a gram of DNA can store all human knowledge for an entire year, with a lifespan that lasts thousands of years. CIOs should monitor the explosion of data, and monitor DNA trials and consider how it might be used, as either archival or active storage.

These technologies are closer than you think, he said, so through 2021, CIOs should watch for minor breakthroughs in random access to DNA data, because today such access is expensive, slow, and requires decoding the whole DNA strand to get information. But he said this will be important in the exabyte-to-yottabyte scale.


3.       By 2025, 40 percent of physical experience-based businesses will improve financial results and outperform competitors by extending into paid virtual experiences.

Businesses that now offer physical experiences are more and more offering virtual reality experiences, Plummer said, and the pandemic has made people much more open to this. So executives should look for opportunities to use digital twins and IoT (Internet of Things) data to create enhanced experiences. We need to experiment, so that customers can tell us what works and what they need.

In 2022, he said at least three leading providers of physical experiences will make more than 10 percent of their revenue from virtual immersive experiences.


4.       By 2025, customers will be the first humans to touch more than 20 percent of the products and produce in the world.

From the moment the seeds are planted and fruit is picked, lots of people touch the products we use, Plummer said, and the same concept is true for manufactured products. Now, he said new technologies are automating more processes, and this has been accelerated in the response to the pandemic. For many organizations, such automation can be a “new source of competitive advantage and disruption.”

CIOs should “make hyperautomation as a principle, not a project. It should be a part of everything you do,” he said. He said executives should update processes while they automate, and use scenario planning to decide where to apply full automation.

Through 2021, he said we should watch for an increase in planning for 100 percent automated factories and farms.


5.       By 2024, 25 percent of traditional large enterprise CIOs will be held accountable for digital business operational results, effectively becoming “COO by proxy.”

Organizations will reset responsibility, risk, and rewards to find greater effectiveness, Plummer said, starting the next group of predicts.

A large percentage of end-user companies do not have a chief operating officer (COO), and yet the concept is essential to the idea of digital business success. Understanding the business, how it impacts the ecosystem the business exists in, and being able to work with the technology that runs this are all crucial, and CIOs often are in a great position to do this. The creation of above-the-line value happens through a fusion of technology and business goals, he said.

 CIOs will be charged to fill the gaps between what the technology can do, what the business can do, and what the business wants to do. They need to help business leaders to rethink differentiating business capabilities as digital products, and refactor business capabilities into new steps, with composable business blocks.

Through 2021, he said the trend of CIOs in highly digitalized traditional businesses reporting to the CEO will become a flood.


6.       By 2025, 75 percent of conversations at work will be recorded and analyzed, enabling the discovery of added organizational value or risk.

You will be recorded, from every device around you, Plummer said. “We have no privacy, so get over it.” So we have to start thinking about what this means.

The question is how to take the data and get meaning from it, such as measuring satisfaction of your employees, customers, and citizens, and how to make things better for them. Such monitoring can lead to new organizational value.

He said a CIO should create an ethics board with employee representatives to ensure that the data is used responsibly, and that people’s privacy is not violated for no good reason, but rather used as an advantage for them. He suggested that people should be able to opt out of things they want to opt out of.

Gartner suggests that in 2022, a major corporate acquisition will use analysis of recorded conversations as the primary data source for deciding which employees to retain.


7.       By 2025, customers will pay a freelance customer service expert to resolve 75 percent of their customer service needs.

We will become more effective when customers can resolve serious issues outside of company channels, Plummer said. He said this is similar to people looking up how to resolve issues by finding videos on YouTube, though for the best answers, customers may have to spend more money.

CIOs need to identify popular freelance experts and collaborate with them to build a network of experts. They also need to understand legal and regulatory risks and listen to customer feedback.

Though 2021, there will be a 15 percent rise in customers seeking outside help after being frustrated by traditional support channels.


8.       By 2024, 30 percent of major organizations will use a new “voice of society” metric to act on societal issues and assess the impacts to their business performance.

The final category of predictions deals with how external groups, communities, and employees will put pressure on corporate brands to measure their impact on society.

Plummer asked what fires, viruses, and inequality have to do with one another? He said they all give us an opportunity to make change to better our society.

He said it is important to have business metrics on an organization’s impact on society. Such measurements are getting very good, as reliable as the click-through analytics that many businesses now use. And bad brand perception has had a negative impact on businesses in most countries. As a result, Plummer said, it should be a C-suite imperative, to measure what people are saying about our brands and to have the composable terms to react very quickly if necessary.

Plummer said organizations should sense the opinions of society on a regular basis, adopt tools measure its impact on society, and use “business composition” to react quickly.

Over the near term, Gartner says more product brands or message will be changed or dropped through 2021 than in the previous five years.


9.       By 2023, large organizations will increase employee retention by more than 20 percent through repurposing office space as on-site childcare and education facilities.

Global worker demand for childcare assistance is still unmet; and it will be an important perk for attracting employees to help them cut the cost of childcare. He expects that large companies will begin repurposing spaces that they aren’t using now, starting in the pandemic, but continuing afterwards.

 CIOs should help evaluate real estate holdings and potential facility spaces, and set and state goals upfront, and audit existing care benefits to make sure employees can pay for childcare.

By 2021, 20 percent of private childcare centers will have closed their doors permanently, leaving a dearth of qualified providers to meet demand.


10.   By 2024 content moderation services for user generated content will be surveyed as a top CEO priority in 30 percent of large organizations.

Plummer said this applies to any company with an online presence, not just social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok. That’s because anyone who lets outsiders post content will face some malicious content, and brand advertisers must neutralize polarizing content, at least showing a balance. Industry standards for content moderation will emerge, but they haven’t yet.

CIOs need to invest in content moderation services now, including methods of enforcement and reporting on those services. In addition, he said, companies need to collaborate to create industry standard content tags. “There should be a collective response,” he said, “It’s not up to one company, it’s work we all have to do together.”

Through 2021, brands that create or commission content will develop industry standards for authentic content on brand-owned websites.


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