CTOs and CIOs list the most important tech trends of 2021

2020 was a demanding year for CTOs and CIOs – what tech trends do they think will be the most transformative in 2021?
24 November 2020

What tech trends do CTOs and CIOs think will be critical in 2021? Source: Shutterstock

  • CTOs and CIOs had to deal with an unprecedented level of digital transformation in 2020
  • New IEEE study examines the challenges IT pros faced in the face of a major pandemic
  • 31% of UK CIOs and CTOs foresee AI and machine learning as the most important technologies of 2021

Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) and Chief Information Officers (CIOs) have had to lead their IT teams to oversee the sometimes hurried and demanding digital transformation efforts of 2020, a year strongly marred by the ongoing, pervasive effects of the global health crisis. The changing needs of a distributed workforce and the progressive shift towards off-premise and cloud migrations have been greatly speeded up this year – should enterprises expect more of the same in 2021? And which technologies will be vital to shaping the business landscape in a recovering economy?

CTOs and CIOs had to be ready for a lot this year, including the possibility that digital transformation budgets might be slashed as the economy got battered (budgets actually got cut for nearly everything else, but many firms realized they would need technology support this year). And within the first few months of 2020, it became clear that company technical teams would have to be mentally prepared for possibly their biggest digital migration, from on-premises or in the office towards working from home and in the cloud.

COVID-19 undoubtedly played a major role in speeding up technological adoption for a lot of industries, in offices and on factory floors. With the significant role that technology has played this year, a new study by the IEEE surveyed CIOs and CTOs from the U.S., U.K., China, India, and Brazil to see what different markets are considering the most important technology trends for 2021.

Nearly one-third (32%) of all respondents said that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will make the most impact next year. This was followed by 5G, which 20% of total respondents think will have a significant effect, and the Internet of Things (IoT) rounds out the top three with 14%.

All three of these emerging tech trends have been hot-button topics in 2020, with AI’s abilities to augment data analysis with self-learning and improving behavior being viewed as one of the most promising technology types for enterprise use.

Meanwhile, the high speed, high bandwidth capabilities of 5G are expected to supercharge IoT smart devices next year in a variety of fields, not least including agriculture, smart manufacturing, and smart city developments.

In the UK, almost a third of respondents (31%) cited AI and machine learning, followed by 5G, IoT and video conferencing at 16% each, as next year’s most important technologies and challenges.

19% of CIOs and CTOS surveyed believe that the manufacturing sector will benefit the most from technology in 2021, followed closely by healthcare at 18%, and then financial services (15%) and education (13%).

At the same time, more than half (59%) of CIOs and CTOs see their biggest challenge in 2021 as dealing with aspects of COVID-19 recovery in relation to business operations. These challenges include a permanent hybrid remote and office work structure (29%), office and facilities re-openings and return (10%), and managing permanent remote working (20%).

However, 16% said the agility to stop and start IT initiatives as this unpredictable environment continues will be their biggest challenge. Another 14% cited online security threats, including those related to remote workers, as the biggest challenge they see in 2021.