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2021 Technology Predictions: Agility is King was originally published in Logistics Tech Outlook
The creation of operational agility will serve as a barometer for technology investments in 2021. Agility helps companies strike a balance between efficiency and resiliency. While efficiency and resiliency are, to a degree, at odds with one another, the extraordinary circumstances of 2020 have cast a light on the risks that are associated with the pursuit of efficiency without consideration of the impact of inflexible or rigid operations. These hard lessons learned will frame organizational decision-making in 2021 and beyond. Technologies that help organizations respond quickly to disruptions in the market and their supply chains will see accelerated adoption.
Cloud is a lynchpin technology for 2021 and beyond because it provides an architecture for agility and gives companies the ability to scale and adapt to whatever scenario they face. A mature technology, implementation is rapid and low risk, offering world-class reliability without the hazards of managing your own IT infrastructure. The pandemic-wrought roadmap for businesses in 2021 and beyond includes a continued focus on remote work, as well as flexible infrastructures and operations. Cloud is an essential ingredient and will ramp up significantly this year.
Organizations are at the mercy of the bottlenecks engineered into their processes. As 2020 has revealed, a stable labor pool can be easily disrupted, whether due to health, availability or regulation. This poses an operational risk to companies. Of course, automation technologies carry a cost, as well, but I predict that there will be a recalibration of technology adoption once the cost of labor disruption is calculated against the investment of automation.
Artificial intelligence will continue to move into mainstream. The promise of AI is nothing new, but there has been a steady shift from concept to application, and 2021 will see adoption curve upwards as those applications are commercialized. As companies move to increasingly digitized ecosystems, their data repositories are becoming far more robust; with additional data sources and improved data integrity, advanced analytics powered by AI are giving companies new tools to make informed decisions about their business.
Another trend that is likely to flourish in 2021 is the combining of technologies to create new, multi-modal workflows. As voice, visual, touch and video technologies mature, we are likely to see them used in new and innovative ways. In the case of order picking, for example, a picker may be voice prompted to go to a particular location, where a body cam scans a barcode on a shelf, a visual wearable illustrates what needs to be picked, the body cam then reads the item barcode to confirm the correct item is picked, with voice prompts alerting to any error along the way. This type of integrated workflow automates processes that otherwise bog down manual processes and carry risk for human error.
2021 will forever be known as the year after 2020. Whether companies thrive, survive or take a nosedive will be centred on how well they adapt to the unpredictability of their marketplace. While we cannot see into the future, successful companies will integrate technologies and strategies that make them nimble enough to pivot so fast that it seems as though you can see the future. The pursuit of that agility rests at the intersection of cloud flexibility, balanced automation, applied AI and innovative use of mature technologies.