5 Technology Predictions for 2021

Written by: David Immerman

Read Time: 6 min

Many of us are ready to move on from 2020 and organizations are no different: this year presented immense and unforeseen challenges. Both people and organizations had to learn hard lessons and realized they needed to be better prepared for the unexpected. This included immediate shifts to a work-from-home lifestyle and remote work operating models, and more.

Based on what we’ve learned from an unprecedented year, we’ve formed five predictions for industrial companies in 2021 to better prepare for the future business climate and lessen the impact of unpredictable events.


1. Manufacturers turn to digital thread for supply chain resiliency

2020 shined a bright spotlight on vulnerabilities for companies across the world as most were drastically underprepared for the COVID-19 crisis. Manufacturers were not exempt; 75% of manufacturers cited supply chain disruptions at the peak of the pandemic. During the crisis, factories went offline overnight jeopardizing business continuity from access to suppliers or critical product information.

We expect manufacturers will look to technology to be able to be more responsive in the face of uncertainties that impact the resiliency of the supply chain.

Digital thread is one technological framework fundamental to manufacturer’s supply chain resiliency in 2021.

The digital thread is a single source of data truth creating consistency, collaboration, and alignment across the supply chain. This digital continuity unifies the seemingly endless upstream and downstream supply chain stakeholders with real time, in-context, accurate information.

Defining and then prioritizing use cases are necessary preliminary steps to conducting a digital thread strategy. Following these exercises with a well-scoped internal digital audit to identify and source the relevant data to the selected use case provides the most efficient path to success.

Forming these digital thread strategies will be a pressing item for manufacturers to unify their workforce on a single source of data truth, their surrounding ecosystems in 2021, and fend off future economic uncertainties.

2. SaaS revolutionizes product development

The transition to work-from-home was seamless for most desk workers because of access to software to do their jobs, whether it was collaborating through email and video conferencing or creating and sharing content through Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. Many of these leveraged the cloud or SaaS delivery models. This wasn’t as straightforward for those in product development: Mission-critical software applications (CAD, PLM etc.) largely resided on-premises in inaccessible physical offices.

COVID-19 has only propelled the inevitable SaaS wave impending on product development organizations as the massive benefits for innovation, collaboration, and total cost of ownership become impossible to ignore. Cloud-native platforms, like Onshape or Arena, allow dispersed product development personnel to collaborate globally in real-time on product design iterations accelerating the pace of innovation.

Onshape customers sidestepped this dilemma and were able to adjust seamlessly in the face of the pandemic with powerful remote accessibility and design collaboration features readily available to engineers globally. With remote work becoming a tenet of current and future operating models, increased globalization, and internet ubiquity, SaaS will be the predominately chosen platform to free desk workers from their traditional cubicles and desktops.

SaaS benefits have already become mainstream for other functions such as sales (CRM) and product development will reach a tipping point for SaaS in 2021. Gartner forecasts the SaaS market will be over $120 billion in 2021.

3. Enterprise AR strategies drive use cases across value chain

Augmented reality (AR) is rapidly gaining major media buzz as novel consumer applications seemingly appear overnight from advancements in mobile devices. This gives a mere glimpse of the untapped potential that will transform the enterprise in 2021. 

The enterprise excitement is driven by the increasing pervasiveness of AR applications across the value chain. Simply put, every area in a business can gain value from augmented reality. Due to this widespread applicability, companies will form enterprise strategies around the technology and partner with AR vendors who can support the myriad use cases.

Sales teams in innovative companies like Fujitsu are using AR virtual product companion to showcase products in potential customers' physical sites. Marketers are winning awards at wine distributors (19 Crimes) by using AR for engaging immersive experiences.

Last year, we predicted mission-critical operations-oriented AR use cases would gain momentum as factory operators and service technicians leverage it for real-time assembly instructions and service guidance. This continues to prove true with bleeding-edge companies like Howden and Toyota driving operational efficiencies and worker productivity.

The ecosystem of AR adopters, vendors, and partners is quickly forming for 2021 to be the year enterprise AR takes off.

4. IIoT market turns to flexible platforms and purpose-built solutions 

At this moment, there are several technology trends impacting the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) market ranging from increasingly ubiquitous sensorization and connectivity to the adoption of the cloud and predictive analytics. On the business-end, IIoT programs are maturing quickly. Across the board pilot projects are being fully implemented into production environments and expansions contemplated for additional sites, products, and endpoints.

What’s increasingly clear is that not every IIoT technology provider can support these colliding trends. End users of IIoT are rapidly partnering with IIoT providers with flexible platforms and solutions for support.

A flexible IIoT platform has comprehensive functionality throughout the IIoT stack – from the edge to the cloud. This flexible architecture supports horizontal scalability for the growing amounts of connected devices, data processing requirements from these devices, and tools to manage the entire deployment ecosystem, including growing amounts of diverse users who leverage the platform.

Over the past few years, the industrial market has demanded more pre-built IIoT functionality for adopters to achieve faster time-to-value while spending less time and resources developing solutions from scratch. This push towards the ’80/20 rule’ where adopters receive 80% of the platform pre-coded and packaged, and only 20% requires custom development, is the goal for many. IIoT providers have acknowledged these industry demands and are turning to a solutions approach where pre-integrated technologies oriented towards high-value industrial processes offer adopters an expedited path to production-ready use cases and the financial benefits they generate.

We expect these two converging trends will continue to create a shakeout of IIoT contenders from IIoT pretenders in 2021.

5. Spatial computing explodes in consumer space, which bleeds into manufacturing 

Spatial computing is poised to be the mega technology trend to capture consumer and commercial mindshare in 2021. But what is it? Spatial computing is the digitization of spatial relationships between machines, people, objects, and environments to enable and optimize their interactions. The technology has already been traveling along its maturity curve with ride-sharing applications completing millions of daily trips, automated mobile robots (AMRs) fulfilling orders in warehouses, and self-driving vehicle starting to traverse our streets.

Much of these forms of spatial computing have been in-perceptible to the human eye, but this is quickly changing. Spatial truly shines bright when its applied through augmented reality and technology advancements are making this a reality. Mobile devices are adding spatial sensing capabilities including LiDAR on the iPhone 12 Pro, which will generate a tidal wave of spatial applications. AR hands-free headsets like the Microsoft Hololens 2 are also advancing computer vision methods to generate spatial intelligence for front-line workers.

Manufacturers are well-positioned to benefit from these spatial computing advancements for both their machines and workers. The future of work for manufacturers will be a collaborative mix of machines and workers completing synchronous tasks suited to their own inherent strength and spatial enables this.

PTC president and CEO Jim Heppelmann explains how spatial can be leveraged by a front-line worker to direct an AMR around a facility, potentially carrying out tasks too burdensome for the worker.

 can give the worker ‘superpowers’ by replacing traditional work process optimization techniques such as Taylorism and scientific management with continuous worker data analysis.

Heppelmann explains how this scenario could greatly eliminate bottlenecks in great detail:


Spatial computing will truly revolutionize how we interact with the physical world, whether it’s through our daily lives or how we work, and 2021 will present the beginning of this new era of computing.

Learn from 2020 for a better 2021

We experienced adversity and change – greater than we could have possibly imagined -- in the past year. Industrial companies were no exception and the disruptions to daily operations exposed vulnerabilities for the digital laggards. To deal with these challenges, digital leaders quickly turned to technology for business continuity and strategic differentiation. The mantra for success is to accept, plan for, and benefit from forthcoming technological waves to circumvent future economic uncertainties and gain a competitive edge in 2021 and beyond.

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Tags: Connected Devices Augmented Reality Industrial Internet of Things SaaS

About the Author

David Immerman

David Immerman is as a Consulting Analyst for the TMT Consulting team based in Boston, MA. Prior to S&P Market Intelligence, David ran competitive intelligence for a supply chain risk management software startup and provided thought leadership and market research for an industrial software provider. Previously, David was an industry analyst in 451 Research’s Internet of Things channel primarily covering the smart transportation and automotive technology markets.