The COVID crisis we all witnessed in 2020 has been a catalyst for expediting digital transformation at Fortune 500 companies, and AI has been at the heart of this transformation. AI is already used by 77% of consumers. With multiple technological innovations, AI is used in almost every industry today. Emerging trends show that AIaaS (Artificial Intelligence as a Service), powered by digital assistance, cognitive computing, machine learning, and AI-led business intelligence, will continue to transform the industry in 2021.
AI at the center of digital transformation
Given the change in business models that the COVID crisis demanded, adopting new channels in the front-line functions has been a necessity rather than a choice. Hence, in 2020 we saw increased AI investments in e-commerce, real-time digital customer journey mapping, and better recommendations through AI-based hyper-personalization. This was accompanied by programs to take customer service digital with the increased use of BOTs and non-voice channels. However, to be truly successful, enterprises will need to match the digital transformation of the customer-facing functions with operations across the enterprise.
We predict that in 2021, companies will significantly increase investment in AI programs that transform manufacturing and supply chain operations, as well as the middle and back-offices, to match the demands of the new digital rhythm set-up by the customer-facing functions.
AI can reduce the effects of black swan events like COVID
The COVID crisis also highlighted the disruption black swan events could cause. While predicting black swan events will be attempted, it will be more important to invest in AI-based always-on intelligent systems that pick up early signals and tightly integrate with decision support systems to enable appropriate responses to the rapidly unfolding events.
The pandemic has led digital technologies to get adopted much quicker than we’ve previously seen, offering new opportunities for AI adoption. AI has played a vital role at different levels, from contact tracing to managing patient care. We now gear up for more sophisticated tools, helping us manage such events better.
Cloud tech and edge computing central to all CIO strategies
Last year we had predicted that companies would focus on getting the data strategy right, and we will see increased investments in data platforms hosted on the cloud. This trend will continue to intensify in 2021. We expect that cloud tech and edge computing will be central to all CIOs’ strategy in 2021 as they gear up to manage the business team’s demand for increased agility and near real-time response internet at scale.
With this increased focus on the cloud, we can expect 2021 to be the year of the” Cloud AI engineer”- engineers who can deploy AI models at scale on the cloud and integrate them with existing products/IT systems.
Cracking the privacy code with AI
2021 will also see a renewed focus on data privacy, data standards, and regulatory framework around AI. 2020 opened with the CCPA coming into force, but then the attention across the globe pivoted to fighting the virus and managing its economic aftermath. However, privacy and ethical AI will be key topics to tackle for tech companies in 2021. The FANG companies are already in the crosshairs of regulators in many countries, and documentaries like “Social Dilemma” have enhanced the public’s awareness of data privacy. All it will take is one ransomware attack gone wrong and the release of sensitive data on the dark web to open the floodgates of scrutiny on the industry. Rather than waiting to be pushed to act, the AI industry should rally around and create self-regulation that establishes guidelines and enhances data privacy accountability.