BT On 2021: Four Forecasts For Digital Change – And Why 5G Will Be ‘Bigger For Enterprises’


Karonis, Chief Technology & Innovation Officer, BT Enterprise

2020 was a year that no person or company will ever forget. The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. Overnight, people, communities, businesses and public sector organisations were faced with a health crisis not seen in this magnitude in over a century.

From a business perspective particularly, companies that already set the foundations of a digital infrastructure were ready to respond effectively with digital solutions. Those that hadn’t, scrambled to keep up. 2020 was the year where we saw an immediate shift from digital being a ‘nice-to-have’, to being critical to customer and operational success, writes FOTIS KARONIS.

With so much change in 2020, how will businesses fare in 2021? How will businesses continue to react and respond to the changing needs of society, customers and employees? And what is the role of technology in all of this? Here are my top predictions for the business sector in 2021.

1 | The way to enterprise 5G

5G will take time to mature, [but] take-up [will] grow in the coming months and years. This will be driven by the mass availability and adoption of [consumer] 5G mobile devices. As… 5G network[s] continue to roll out across the UK, we’ll see more and more consumers take up 5G devices, prompting a surge in 5G adoption amongst businesses.

Fotis Karonis – one third of businesses to invest in 5G in 2021

Though 5G will bring vast benefits to consumers – ultra-fast speeds, network reliability, lower latency – the main applications of 5G will bring enormous benefits to the business industry by enabling a plethora of innovative use cases. In fact, it is said that 5G is the first generation of mobile to have a bigger impact on enterprises than consumers.

We’re already starting to see this shift take place. New research says take-up of 5G, IoT and AI was sluggish in 2020; [but] one third of businesses will invest in 5G in the next 12 months, with the figure likely to grow as 5G becomes more prevalent. Businesses that can harness [5G] early on can reap significant benefits; saving time, boosting efficiencies, unlocking innovation and creating a sustainable future.

In the coming months, industries such as manufacturing, logistics, education and healthcare will start to understand how low latency and ultra-fast connectivity will revolutionise their operations. Our partners and customers are already implementing this: Belfast Harbour is deploying a private 5G network across its 2,000 acre site; Worcester Bosch is trialling autonomous robots to transport products and materials.

From remote real-time monitoring of robots on factory floors, to 5G-powered remote diagnostics in healthcare, 2021 will be the year when we see a shift in 5G adoption, driven from consumer uptake and paving the way for all major business industries across the UK.

2 | Reshaping the workplace

Until now, hybrid and flexible working was not the norm for many organisations. But we’ve seen time and again through 2020 how businesses have adapted quickly and effectively in the face of uncertainty. It’s surreal to be living through a historical pivot-point where we’ve transitioned – virtually overnight – to a completely remote way of working.

We’ve seen businesses and public sector organisations across the UK lay the foundations for more workplace flexibility. Although we are no longer attached to our desks and offices, we are no less productive. Technology has given us the ability to work anytime, anywhere, from any device.

We may see trends shifting further in 2021, from a work-from-home (WFH) approach to a work-from-anywhere (WFX) policy. Agile and flexible working will become standard for many industries in 2021 and will become a selling point for businesses looking to recruit and retain valuable, top talent.

Engagement will also drive productivity. In an era of remote and hybrid work, employers will face a new kind of challenge: how to attract, retain and engage their talent through virtual and digital channels. Those businesses that can crack that code, ensuring their employees feel passion for the job, and connected to their teams, will be the ones that not only survive, but thrive into next year and beyond.

3 | Collaborative tools, cloud infrastructure

In this always-connected age, with remote workers in distributed offices, productivity needs to be supported by the right collaboration tools for employees to work best. With many companies extending work-from-home opportunities through 2021, we will see an increased reliance on platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Slack and Discord.

The reliance on these tools will see IT teams leverage the power of cloud infrastructure to store the significant influx of data from them. Due to this, 2021 will provide teams with the awareness and need for competent management of collaboration software.

4 | COVID-19 and digital transformation

Digital transformation has been the buzzword of countless businesses for a large part of the past decade. However, the current pandemic, coupled with the rapidly shifting landscape of the workplace and the changing nature of customer experience, has paved the way for businesses to interrogate their workplace operations and internal cultures.

A new 5G readiness report says 43 per cent of UK companies have already accelerated their digital transformation plans as a direct result of the pandemic. Service providers across the country are taking additional requests, as public sector bodies and large corporates have asked for help to fast-track the introduction of more software-driven technology to support remote working, and have virtual interactions with customers for the first time.

Digital transformation will rise to the top of the agenda for more businesses than ever before in 2021. Business leaders will start to consider integration of digital technology into all areas, changing how they operate and deliver value to employees and customers. We’re already seeing an increase in collaboration tools, in connected devices and in cloud adoption, and 2021 will see these explode to new horizons.

Once the pandemic subsides, we’ll still see organisations continue down the road of digital transformation, providing flexibility, cost savings, and advantageous business plans which will be able to handle potential future obstacles. The burden will be on IT and cybersecurity teams to future-proof organisations and secure themselves from a 360-degree perspective.

  • Karonis is Chief Technology & Innovation Officer at BT Enterprise.

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