The more candles are lit, the deeper futurists, think tanks and experts look into their crystal balls. The keyword "tech trends 2021" alone delivers tens of thousands of precise hits on Google, the most important oracle of our time. If you skim through some of them, you almost feel a bit like you're back in childhood, when you would rattle the snow globe courageously but basically haphazardly – in the hope of satisfying some restless need.
While Gartner talks about the "Internet of Behaviours", "Intelligent Composable Business" and "Total Experience", Deloitte talks about "MLOps", "DEI Tech" and "Supply Unchained". German-language sources speculate that "the hour of the cloud has struck", that 2021 is "the year of the customer" or simply that "everything will be different" in the new year.
While some of the predictions are unsurprising, others are science fiction – i.e. far removed from the real challenges facing our society and many companies, especially SMEs. For these are often still at the very beginning – when it comes to systematically tapping into data, let alone using it profitably.
What is thought-provoking, however, is something quite different. The vehemence with which we chase after neologisms every year – and disconnect the discourse from what really counts: people. In this way, technology is presented as a supreme and arbitrary deus ex machina that will one day redeem us. If not in 2021, then later.
Let's get one thing straight: it is important and right that technology has a high value – especially in its function to support, relieve and complement us humans. For example, the cloud makes it possible for us to work together across all borders. Artificial intelligence helps us to recognise patterns in large amounts of data that we would not discover ourselves. And IoT makes it possible to use energy more efficiently.
It is also clear that technology will take up more and more space, not least due to current developments, and that has corresponding implications.
Nevertheless, the human element – and yes, even the all-too-human element – is and will remain crucial, especially now that so many aspects of our lives are being squeezed into source codes and displays. This includes the heartfelt, passionate and creative just as much as the angry, irrational and perplexed. The words between the lines, the embrace of spring and the joke on Monday morning.
It also means that sometimes we don't know where to go from here – and that's exactly how we find new ways. And it means thinking carefully about the meaning we want to give to technology. Because technology is not an end in itself – it is up to us to determine how we want to use it.
Contrary to all Terminator dystopias: All these human qualities will never be digitalized, as prophesied by tech-augurs like Ray Kurzweil. A brief reality check helps to dispel such fears. Artificial intelligence, for example, still needs hundreds of thousands of images to distinguish a cat from a cow.
Instead of searching for redemptive answers in ephemeral ivory towers, we would therefore do well to take a step back and give more space to the human again. To answer some basic questions before we turn to technology and examine which of these can effectively help us.
For companies, these can be the following questions:
Perhaps we also need a new relationship with customers and partners, especially now that no stone is left unturned – and thus more mutual support and complementarity.
In answering these questions, then, lies buried the whole mystique – long before the use of technology.
Companies that start looking for possible answers in good time will be the ones that experience the next "normality" – no matter what technological smoke grenades are fired one day.