Sat | Feb 27, 2021

ADVERTORIAL | Technology trends to watch for 2021

Published:Wednesday | January 20, 2021 | 7:01 AM
Professor Hopeton Dunn, graduate director for Media Studies at the University of Botswana.
Professor Hopeton Dunn, graduate director for Media Studies at the University of Botswana.
Dr Wade Marr, president of the Vector Technology Institute.
Dr Wade Marr, president of the Vector Technology Institute.
Dwayne Russell, general manager of MC Systems.
Dwayne Russell, general manager of MC Systems.


Six major technology applications are among the key trends to watch out for in 2021. These are:

• Expansion in remote working and video conferencing

• Increased competition in remote educational delivery tools

• New uses in Artificial Intelligence (AI) for creativity and Augmented Reality

• Enhanced connectivity through 5G

• Telehealth and telemedicine

• Cybersecurity and distributed cloud infrastructure across different locations.

According to local experts, most of these applications were tried and tested in new ways during 2020 with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, and consumers are set to intensify their usage or to consolidate their benefits in 2021.

Dwayne Russell, general manager of MC Systems, the technology company of The Jamaica National Group, said remote working and video conferencing have become the new ‘norm’ for life in 2021 with the imposition of the social distancing measures, resulting from the pandemic.

“The need for remote collaboration of distributed groups for businesses, schools and other organisations has significantly increased the use of existing virtual platforms and has created a surge in new service providers on the market,” he said.

Professor Hopeton Dunn, graduate director for Media Studies at the University of Botswana, indicated that the first trend to watch is a continued rapid expansion in video conferencing applications, such as Zoom, Go-To-Meeting, Skype, Lifesize and Google Hangouts.

“As face-to-face corporate meetings remain risky, given the expected slow pace of rollout of anti-COVID vaccines globally, corporate executives, government institutions and small businesses will continue to need cost effective and user friendly, virtual conferencing resources,” he said.

“The biggest winner in this technology space over the last 12 months was Zoom, which was able to quickly scale up to meet phenomenal demands emerging from small and large clients, when staff members suddenly had to work from home,” he added.

The developer, Zoom Video Communications, indicated accelerated growth from 10 million average daily meeting participants in December 2019, to an exponential 300 million daily meeting participants by April 2020. The company, founded by US-based Chinese billionaire investor Eric Yuan, reported a fiscal third quarter revenue growth of over 300 per cent by November 2020, following a 355 per cent growth in the preceding quarter.

Dunn, who is a former Director of the Caribbean School of Media and Communication (CARIMAC), UWI, predicts that while this hot growth pace may cool by mid-2021, as vaccines enable resumption of some direct business interactions, this technology and other competing virtual conferencing applications, such as Microsoft Teams, will remain among the most essential tech tools through 2021.

Remote educational delivery technologies

Dr Wade Marr, president of the Vector Technology Institute, said social learning will become a feature in 2021. He said with the growth in online learning, learners will work in groups to complete projects in much the same way that it is done in the workplace through collaboration methods and tools.

“This collaborative learning style will help in a more student-centred approach of learning from each other and development of skills outside of the set curriculum,” he noted.

In agreement, Professor Dunn said the rise of COVID-19 has escalated the demand for remote distance learning facilities to meet the needs of educational institutions at all levels. He said it is in this zone that software applications for schools have proliferated most in 2020 and there will be continued fierce competition in 2021.

“Longer established tools such as Moodle and Blackboard are now facing stiff competition from up to 50 other applications such as Adobe Connect, Google Classroom, Evernote and Edmundo, to name a few, all attempting to break into regional school networks or specialised language markets for remote education delivery. In 2021, these growth and competitive trends will continue, as schools and colleges battle to deliver educational content anywhere, anytime,” Dunn noted.

Expansion of artificial intelligence (AI)

Mr Russell said AI will continue to drive many applications and enable new ones in the digital domain in 2021.

“The use of AI and augmented reality (AR) have grown in 2020, and 2021 will evidence further growth with replacing of more tasks accomplished by robotics and less input of humans as a factor of the pandemic. The integration of AI and AR into businesses have created transformational changes and benefits where the customer experience is greatly enhanced and improved even in the absence of human interaction. The use of AI and AR will increase with the development of 5G internet,” he said.

Professor Dunn noted that another area of expected accelerated grow is AI for creativity, involving machine learning to deliver art or paintings on ‘canvas’. He cited a recent Christie’s art sale, where a painting created by algorithms was auctioned for a record US$43,200, underlining prospect for such artistic applications.

“This sector of the global art market is set to grow dramatically in 2021. The use of Big Data in art valuation and analysis will also grow rapidly in 2021. It will enable such outfits as ARTBnk to quickly assemble historic, qualitative and quantitative data on an art object to assist an expert or inexperienced valuer in determining both authenticity and a fair price. AI for Creativity will also increasingly facilitate digital photography, cultural data mining, enhanced text editing and fashion design and virtual displays,” he said.

Enhanced connectivity through 5G

Mr Russell said although the development of fifth generation (5G) technology is new, it gradually grew in 2020 and will expand further in 2021.

“The need for higher-speed internet and well-connected homes and smart cities have made 5G internet technology and infrastructure relevant. Some internet and telecommunication service providers across the globe have already started the implementation of this infrastructure and in 2021 others will follow suit,” he said.

Adding to the discussion, Professor Dunn said while COVID-19 has slowed the pace of marketing 5G mobile applications, work on the associated technologies has continued unabated in 2020, and will continue to grow in 2021.

“Claims that 5G comes with serious health risks will also grow, as tech providers, corporates and governments seek to extract benefits from the technology in the form of faster downloads, enhanced industry connectivity and more efficient network operations,” informed Professor Dunn.

He said countries, such as the USA, China, Thailand, Japan and South Korea, Australia and parts of Western Europe, are leading the way in the global commercial deployment of 5G applications.

“Apart from rapid download speeds and higher resolution in streaming video, 5G promises faster deployment of robotics, as well as more rapid growth of dedicated virtual reality and AR applications,” he said.

These 5G enabled applications, he said, can help in real estate marketing, educational modelling, architecture and design, as well as in previewing court case scenarios and pre-trials, among other practical and creative applications.

Further expansion of telemedicine

Mr Russell said that with healthcare being of major importance in the pandemic, the landscape of the health industry has had to transform to meet the demands of large numbers of people requiring speedy medical attention.

“Whereas the use of telehealth and telemedicine were less common in pre-pandemic environment, they have become widespread in 2020 and are expecting to dramatically increase in 2021,” he said.

The MC Systems general manager said the health and pharmaceutical industries have taken on new models, such as virtual care visits, where patients can be diagnosed, tested and receive fast feedback and results from their doctors via an innovative interface without physical contact.

“Innovation has taken place in the pharmaceutical industry where the output of COVID-19 test kits and vaccines for use on the market is achieved in a much shorter time frame than was the norm in the past,” he added.

Cyber security & cloud services

Mr Russell informed that cybersecurity has become increasing relevant during the pandemic, which he said is evidenced by recent increases in cyber-attacks on small and large enterprises. Data privacy has become critical in the operation of businesses, especially in the environment where collaboration and data sharing take place across various physical locations and with much of their staff relying on a cloud network for operations.

“As with cyber security, cloud services are also very relevant for businesses seeking to scale its operations in various locations to its customers and therefore gain greater value than with on premise infrastructure,” he said.

Emerging technologies: Boon and bane

Dwayne Russell, general manager, MC Systems, a member of The Jamaica National Group, said

the advantages of the emerging technologies are very obvious and rewarding for businesses that quickly adapt and integrate these technologies.

“They can gain leverage to scale across economies, to gain greater presence and sales online, to lower the churn of their existing customers and possible attract new ones. The pandemic has made implementing some of these technologies critical to the survival of businesses, thus the advantage is to be able to continue to exit as a business within this environment. Another important advantage is the improvement in the customer experience in an environment where consumers desire less contact because of the pandemic,” he said.

He however noted that a major disadvantage is the inability of businesses to quickly adapt in such a dynamic environment, whereby the impact of the pandemic may have been sudden and overwhelming for some. He stated that the nature of business should require constant forecasting, innovation and agility to maintain sustainability.

“Therefore, the pandemic could be viewed as a blessing in disguise for some that have fast-tracked their business model to adapt to the new norms,” he pointed out.

“The pandemic has made the message more obvious, that some components of new technology and innovation or changes are needed to remain relevant in business and life generally. Most of the advantages of emerging technologies are so beneficial that they outweigh the disadvantages. However, even if the pandemic ends in the near future, these technologies will continue as the mainstay,” he said.

Turning to the disadvantage to humans, he said some negative consequences may result, such as depression and loneliness for those who crave and prefer physical interactions. He said although technology has allowed greater virtual collaboration, some, especially from the older generations, have not adapted to the new reality and still have challenges adjusting to new technology.

“The pandemic has influenced the increase in all these trends and has taught that an acceleration in digital transformation and automation becomes more and more critical for companies with a focus on efficiency and sustainability,” he said.

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