Predicting what will happen in 2021 takes some spuds. Forrester have have had a go with the help of their network of stellar business leaders. Their brilliant and insightful report plus my thoughts below…

Read the full Forrester 2021 Predictions (EMEA) report here

Technology : Businesses will want to exit 2020 with pace and energy and rediscover their form as quickly as possible. That technology will enable this is no surprise, however in the face of reduced resources and budget will we really eschew traditional approaches to technology to adapt, optimise and innovate what we have and / or leverage bespoke / specific solutions and applications. We could, and we should, but we have rarely broken away from the pondering, cumbersome transformation-quo in the past.

Customer Relationships : A resurgent focus on compassion and humanitarianism in 2020 has brands trying to adjust and demonstrate values that match the moment and endear them to their customers. The bar here is moving very, very fast and those that live and breath equitable values will do well. Those that don’t will struggle and those that behave cynically or opportunistically will be made to stand out and the backlash this time will be far more damaging. Economic pressures on customers and businesses alike will make this harder, but even in that climate customers and observers will be unforgiving, whether too much so will also be a strong area for debate – doing nothing (even if that means doing nothing ‘bad’) will become harder and harder.

Structure and Influence : Another C-Suite role looks set to gain broader influence over E2E processes, this time the CMO. Following similar previous trends with Supply Chain, Digital and most recently Customer aligned senior leaders and roles. Given the investment dynamics that are coming and the resultant accountability that follows its logical to want to have visibility and control of the parts of the business that influence your success. A single view of the customer and their experience is a valuable asset if it can be achieved. Ruthless alignment on what to serve them and how is arguably more important than the thing you actually provide them or the mechanism you use. The increase in influence should be used to drive that simplification and focus on outcomes.

Omnichannel v Digital : The outlook seems bleak for Omnichannel businesses and business models in the face of more digital competition. The ‘downwards spiral of cost and complexity’ however may be an attitudinal issue solved more readily with courage than strategy or technology. Having lacked the do or die imperative to change for years has created the history that endorses this prediction however these businesses can simplify, be more focused on outcomes and leverage empowerment and accountability to reverse the trend and change the future. As long as the intent is strong and the cultural and behavioural side is given appropriate weight. It probably makes sense to also bring in specialist help to drive the change too.

Tech and Employee Experience : A new ‘X’ imerges. This time EX, ‘Employee Experience’ and at the most innovative organisations a focus of CIO’s no less. No surprise that the phrase ‘Visionary Pastures’ also appeared in this prediction. Long-time advocates of technology as an enabler of your people this is an incredibly exciting perspective for us here.

Remote Working : Transformed this year from a privilege to a mandate, and likely a right next year. Whilst not for everyone a couple of trends have loomed large in our discussions. Firstly, just how much we thought required face to face interaction and physical shared activity to accomplish can actually be done remotely and digitally and secondly, how much circumstance and necessity have improved accountability, decisiveness and empowerment over collegiate and overly compromising cultural norms. It seems we all had the ability to embrace this more engaging and productive way of working all a long. And in any case, the definition of a compromise is an outcome whereby all parties involved leave feeling at least mildly dissatisfied with the outcome…

In addition we have collectively rewritten some norms. Taken back the time we used to spend travelling, accepted that working from home sometimes comes with miniature and / or furry interruptions for all of us, the school run is a valid part of the working day, but that it also takes effort to switch on and off effectively – that effort and new found acceptance of realities are worth it.

Artificial Intelligence : Within the narrow discussion of regulation of AI surfaces the broader and much more critical question of to what degree to the huge technological disruptors of our time bear responsibility for the world they now shape. Where goes AI also goes Facial Recognition, Privacy Rights, Truth and Accuracy, Freedom of Speech and so on.  As well as behavioural expectations discussed in point two, there is growing discontent about the ethics of these organisations, their developments and whether they behave as good citizens overall – given their scale, can the disquiet ever reach a level material enough to them to drive change, or was regulation the answer all along? Do regulators understand the issues sufficiently to act well, and are they inclined to do so as Governments become some of the biggest customers of some of the most controversial capabilities?

B2B Marketing : We are still making the point in 2020, predicting for 2021 that B2B buyers are moving online (spoiler alert – THEY ALREADY ARE). The leap to automate and systemise these activities are symptomatic of a marketer ‘push’ mindset that continues to see cratering effectiveness and earns the ‘ham-handed’ description in the report. A buyer ‘pull’ perspective will highlight a much simpler set of demands that customers want and need, that are much more specific, precise even and that aren’t vastly different to what they were 5 years ago. My own prediction is organisations will widely fail to meet these needs again in 2021, but at larger scale than ever before, despite the advent of technology that should make meeting those needs core, basic and simple foundations of the business.

Similarly, moving B2B Selling remote has laid bare again the inaccuracies and inefficiencies in many of these interactions and processes. This would be a prime area that an innovative and flexible approach described in point one could yield real benefit and head-off the perennial issues that exist in this space that really aren’t that difficult to solve (with the right attitude and intent).

The Cloud : Perhaps an extension of the AI point above. Concerns about the privacy, security, compliance and transparency (Microsoft’s own Cloud Commitments) are being met on behalf of the public largely by policy and regulation, which is good news, except that those best able to meet these regulations, and indeed shape them as they develop, are those described in the article as the ‘Hyper-scalers’. Where then does that leave the smaller or new entrants and how do we ultimately get the market competition and consumer choice required to drive broad innovation and regulate (small ‘r’) the bigger players. And how well do we trust those lobbying and influencing when they are also engaged in new business models that impact our human rights in questionable ways?

Supply Chain : If you have persisted to the end expecting the most blinding bit of insight to come last, you’ll know that our supply chains becoming brittle and needing more resilience isn’t that bit of insight. Sorry. Consolidation of providers (often just for industries to survive), strict management of margins & processes and hardheaded pursuit of profit have made our supply chains such. The pooling and sharing of data and capacity are long over due. As is greater adaptability and more widespread sourcing / vendor models. That they are being looked into now is like staring through the wide swinging gate looking at the horse’s arse disappearing over the horizon, however… The concern is that this revolution, Supply Chain 2021 and beyond, is being defined, shaped and led largely based upon the needs of the large scale organisations across the length of the chain that got us here in the first place. Theirs is not a model that will expand regionalism, proliferation of providers, distribution of wealth and opportunity to invigorate the market place because the current inequality doesn’t benefit their business model, it is a core pillar of it. The question of our time that needs to be addressed is how do we make resilience and equity pay more than propriety and scarcity? Or at least mean more. I don’t predict an answer to this in 2021 but I do predict the question will get louder and thornier, and that in and of itself is progress I didn’t see predicted for 2020.

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