Tech in the year ahead


7th January 2021

Predicting the future of technology is hard enough in a normal year. Where the pace of development and innovation continues unabated, seemingly limited only by our human imagination. Although in the world of Artificial Intelligence, that barrier may soon be broken as we hear about AI capable of writing new Beetles tracks. I'm not sure how I feel about that…

Last year was far from normal, with huge step changes in how people spent their time and communicated with one another.

Although the technology industry has experienced many of the same human challenges, it is new technology that has supported us when times were tough.

We now rely on our television streaming services more than ever. We chat face to face with loved ones of all ages through video calls. As the business world has embraced home working, the line between our work life and social life has blurred beyond recognition. With regular Zoom and Teams calls, we now peer into one another’s previously unseen homes and lives. Even with pets and children making the odd appearance.

What does the future hold for tech companies?

As we embrace new technology, there are still certain areas we need it to bridge the gap. Businesses now grapple with how to replicate the personal interactions that can generate business leads and stimulate growth. Marketing becomes more remote and data led, we all need to find innovative ways to make it more personal. A tweet wall during an online event doesn’t replace human interaction.

Looking ahead, our technology experts delve into what is coming next in 2021.

Online content

As our work and social lives move online, the range and functionality of online content has expanded. 2021 will likely see content become more dynamic and interactive as companies strive to stand out from the virtual crowd.

Our online interaction will look to replicate the off-line world. Content will load faster and be more intuitive to navigate; and consumer sites look at chat-bots and online AI help to supplement overrun call-centres. The Thames Valley’s own Volume AI is leading innovation in this sector, and was a winner at the Thames Valley Tech Awards earlier this year for its continued work in this area.  For corporates, webinars are now an essential part of the marketing mix. In 2021, I would expect to see growth in fulfillment packages so organisations can engage with their audience at a more individual level. Using technology packages to replicate some of the networking opportunities that are missed from larger in-person events.

Big data

The more time we spend online the more data we are generating, which is quietly being recorded and analysed by big-data tools. Organisations generate a wealth of data already just crying out for innovative analysis and commercialisation.

The more data is captured and analysed, both in real time and over a sustained period, real innovation and new commercial fields will emerge. The data analysis tools themselves are not as headline grabbing as their uses. Examples include:

  • Real time camera-tracking and GPS position to support the extended trials of automated vehicles, which will continue on UK roads this year. This is an exciting area, showing fast growth with innovation partly driven from Oxford University and Thames Valley-based spin-out Oxbotica.
  • Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tracking is being used to monitor supply chains locally and globally. We even see events companies exploring how RFID can help music festivals and concerts provide safe events once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. This can be through touchless transactions, limiting interactions with staff and tracking attendee locations for contact tracing.
  • Technology to enable remote monitoring and diagnostics for engineers. Removing the need for onsite visits and can quickly solve technical problems.
  • Embedding data capture technologies into clothing to help save lives. Thames Valley Tech Award winner, Kymira, known for their wearable sports garments, are developing innovative technologies which support health monitoring across an expanding range of medical conditions.

With the advancement of real time analysis technology, it enables a single skilled engineer or healthcare worker to proactively monitor their target from the safety (and comfort) of an office or their own home. During the pandemic, the NHS has increased its use of remote monitoring technology to limit hospital visits, keeping staff and patients safe, minimising travel time and contact risks. In the healthcare context, in particular, this not only frees up capacity within the hospital but allows for a more sustained and natural monitoring environment rather than a snapshot which could otherwise be obtained from in-person monitoring.

Environmental policies

The global pandemic has slightly overshadowed what would otherwise have been the year of the Climate Challenge. With new impetus from a change in leadership in the US, and plans announced by our own Government to make Britain a leader in green technology, carbon-neutral and sustainable technologies are likely to receive significant focus in 2021. The UK continues to make significant investments in research and development in a number of fields, from extending battery life and efficiency needed to support increased use and adoption of electric vehicles, as well as increasing the efficiency of solar production.  It is now able to generate energy in low light conditions, perfect for the UK winter climate!

Environmentally sustainable solutions are further enhanced by the remote monitoring and diagnostic capability which reduces both the actual and environmental impacts of maintenance and support. There is also significant interest in more consumer-focussed technology – looking at sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics including potato starches and crustacean-shells.

Meditech and public trust

As technology continues to support every aspect of our daily lives, it was inevitable that in the midst of the pandemic the medical sector would see substantial growth in technological developments.  As Zoom and Teams have replaced traditional face to face meetings, the health services have also embraced online diagnostics and therapy sessions. As these technologies develop, its important companies can retain public trust and confidence both in the company and the technology. The pace of innovation often means that regulators (whether in Health, Financial Services, Data and other industries) are behind the curve in terms of the specific risks and impact to customers or consumers in their sector. Whilst the public is very willing to accept technology, consumer surveys continue to demonstrate some unease and distrust around data collection and use.

Recent research from the ABI (Association of British Insurers) found that consumers want more tailored products and services but have a growing distrust around data collection and use.

It’s also become political. With GenZ’s favourite social media TikTok, and its Chinese owner ByteDance coming into the limelight, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are becoming increasingly vocal about how Chinese tech companies capture use data.

Transparency (one of the cornerstones of data protection legislation) would appear to be valued by the public.  Strong action was taken by the UK’s data regulator, the Information Commissioner, in response to well-publicised data breaches (including some sizable fines) should act as both a comfort to individuals that corporates will be held to account, but also serve as a reminder to business not to get complacent.

Although there has not been much press given to international scale data breaches, the numbers remain high – and more likely as the workforce continues to be dispersed from a central office.  We anticipate that 2021 will see a growing number of claims for compensation arising out of data breaches – however small, as individuals understand and assert their rights.

We now start 2021 with a freshly agreed Brexit deal, removing some of the uncertainty for businesses over the impact on cross-border data flows in the short term, but how it will impact businesses in the real world is yet to be seen. In 2021, we should see new standard contract clauses that more closely reflect current Controller-Processor- Sub-processor data models to relieve this concern.  Hopefully in 2021 the regulators will be catching up with current practice (for now at least).

Looking ahead

If the key to 2020 has been resilience, the driver for 2021 will be the ability to adapt and change. That is certainly something that our technology companies are particularly suited to deliver.

Helping dynamic tech companies adapt and grow

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