Eclipse Predictions for 2021

Happy New Year and welcome to my annual predictions article. The new decade clearly got off to a great start, let’s see what 2021 will bring to our technology table this year.

I will make five predictions for the year ahead and summarize with a Too Long; Don’t Read, style takeaway for each as follows:

Prediction: There is no possible way this year can suck as bad as the last one, seriously, I cannot hear the word unprecedented ever again.

Key Takeaway: 2021 is showing some light at the end of the tunnel and Eclipse is certain it’s not an oncoming train. You can do this, 2021, the bar is incredibly low!

As always, these predictions are the sole provenance of NostraDavus and I reserve the right to pretend I said something different and you just read it wrong.

Wait, hold on, Dave, don’t you usually go back and review last years’ predictions for accuracy and veracity? Let’s take a look, we want to see how you predicted all of the calamity that 2020 brought.

Well, here’s the thing, my powers of prognostication are, unfortunately, very narrow, and only apply to telecom and technology. The crystal ball does not work for pandemics, wildfires, alien invasions, asteroids, or any other plots of Hollywood popcorn flicks. Read on, however, and you will see that some of the January 2020 predictions were eerily prescient as it relates to some of the adaptations we had to make in the way we work and how we use technology to do it.

If you are tired of thinking about, talking about, and reflecting on 2020, please feel free to skip ahead to the to 2021 predictions. I completely understand.

2020 Predictions in Review

1. UCaaS Continues to Explode & An Industry Leader Gets Acquired

At the time, I called out that this was a not-so-bold prediction, but it turns out that there was a once-in-a-lifetime accelerant to this prediction. The rush to send an enormous chunk of the workforce home with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, created an expansion that was well beyond what I had imagined. Those who were slower to adopt what had already become the new mainstream way of doing things with cloud UC struggled to send people home and lacked visibility into the way people were working once they finally got them there. Clients with forward thinking technology consultants, such as Eclipse, were already on UCaaS services and sent employees home with ease. In addition, I predicted that Microsoft would acquire a major leader in the space, which they did in May with the acquisition of cloud communications infrastructure provider Metaswitch.

Grade- Spot on accuracy on all fronts. I am doubling down on acquisition activity this year, see below.

2. Edge Moves to the Forefront

I was certain that 2020 would be the year that edge computing would hit mainstream awareness. I argued that as 5G networks started to roll out more robustly, demand would start to increase applications that required high-speed computing at the edge. I’m not sure if the chaos of 2020 slowed this down or if I was just too early, but I am willing to admit that this one may be a little further down the road than anticipated.

Grade- Just a bit outside.

(You should have read that in Bob Uecker’s voice. If not, I’m disappointed in you). I guess we will all have to keep driving our own cars for now while we wait for the robots to take over.

3. The Experience Economy Invades IT

This prediction stemmed from businesses starting to challenge IT to stop acting like “run guys” and start thinking about how technology could help businesses drive revenue, increase customer satisfaction, and drive productivity. I predicted that businesses were going to demand not just that technology work, but that it improve all aspects of the business operations.

Grade- Hit it on the screws. This one is only going to accelerate from here. IT must reinvent itself as technology advisors to their business or risk being relegated to utility status within in the business.

4. And, by the way, Employee Engagement will become Key as well

If you go back and read this one in full, you can kinda-sorta see where I predicted the work from home revolution that was going to occur in 2020. Bottom line is that technology needs to remove friction from the work experience and allow employees to work from anywhere, all while using the tools that are most comfortable for them. I predicted that enlightened companies will use technology to attract and retain talent. I will further that here by saying from this point on, employees will be interviewing companies by asking how technology makes them productive and allows them to work where they want to. I do think there is some danger in the new work-from-anywhere world, more on that in future posts.

Grade- Crushed this one. Technology needs to bring joy to the people who use it, or at the very least, not raise their blood pressure. HR should get used to hearing interviewees ask how easy it is to work from home and what tools they are providing to engender remote work.

5. SD-WAN Roars and a Few Players Separate from the Pack

2020 was the year where a lot of companies wished they had already made the move to software defined networks. At Eclipse, we have always referred to SD-WAN as the cloud-ready network, and last year validated that having this architecture and the elasticity, security, and flexibility it can provide, is the way forward. This continues to be one of the most rapidly evolving areas of technology and the fact that most of the SD-WAN providers have been acquired by hardware giants is accelerating the investment and the speed of change. I am tripling down on SD-Networks, more on that in a minute. All enterprise networks will be software-defined by the end of decade.

Grade- On the money. Software Defined Networks are the way forward. The only question is how quickly large enterprises will be willing to tackle the status quo of their embedded infrastructure.

Once again, I beat my 60% of the time, I’m right every time benchmark! Thank goodness I didn’t waste all of the prediction prowess on pandemics and whatnot. On to the 2021 predictions!

2021 Predictions

1. Customer Experience and Engagement Becomes THE Key Business Differentiator

2020 ushered in disruption in every segment of the economy. How we work, shop, eat out, and entertain ourselves has changed dramatically. It’s harder than it has ever been to get the attention of prospective customers, so when you do, you must wow them with a great experience and keep them coming back with a frictionless and engaging buying process. Customer service needs to be near instantaneous and available on any channel a customer might want to use, including long ignored mediums like video and SMS. Investing in the technology and tools to enable world-class customer experiences and engagement are no longer just the realm of progressive-thinking companies, they are mandates for businesses that are going to survive in this new era. According to Forbes, companies that lead in customer experience outperform laggards by nearly 80%, and that gap is going to grow.

Key Takeaway: If you are not hearing the words experience and engagement at your company, you may already be in trouble. Investments in technology to engage and delight your customers (and employees for that matter) are a must for all companies. If you don’t know where to begin, call Eclipse.

2. Get Ready to Get Sassy (SASE)!

This is a little industry wonkish for now and the term SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) is already starting to be marketed heavily and is at the beginning of its hype cycle. SASE is the convergence of networking and security that will ultimately lead to a cloud service model combining all aspects of both. A lot of marketing in the space right now is around SD-WAN vs. SASE and why one is better than the other. The reality is that, in a sense, they are both derivative of the broader category of Software Defined Networking (SDN). As investment continues and technology progresses it will all continue to blur together into networks that are flexible, cloud-centric, simple, and secure.

Key Takeaway: Networking will continue its light-speed evolution toward all users, locations, and devices on one networking fabric that leads with security. As always marketing is ahead of reality, but this will become a corporate network standard in short order, and in that vein…

3. Security Isn’t Everything, It’s the Only Thing

Among all the other awesome stuff that happened in 2020 was what may turn out to be the worst cyber-attack in history. State actors used SolarWinds Orion, a commonly used infrastructure monitoring tool, to infiltrate networks of government, military, and business entities around the world. The long-term consequences and damage of this hack have not yet become apparent, but suffice it to say this is really bad. My friend, Jim Cook has been writing a lot on “Digital Responsibility” lately and the gist of it is this:

  • Cyber-security is a board-level responsibility
    • security no longer falls solely on the shoulders of the CIO
    • the integrity and protection of data is now at the feet of the entire C-suite
  • All businesses should assume that bad guys are trying to compromise them
    • organizations need to be investing heavily in their security posture
    • hiring outsourced help to close the enormous talent gap that currently and will continue to exist in security expertise is paramount

Key Takeaway: Information security is so important that responsibility for its protection is now a board and CEO obligation. The massive cybersecurity talent shortage makes this task seem even more insurmountable.

4. Voice Becomes the Killer App

I still marvel at the way our networks have held up under the unforecasted demand of 2020, and the fact that we had developed enough real-time communication tools to keep school, business, and government functioning. This would not have worked in the dial-up home internet era. The pandemic showed us all the importance of reliable and easy-to-use communications tools. Video meeting platforms became prevalent as we moved classrooms, business meetings, and even Supreme Court Hearings online. This much is certain, we are not going back to where we came from. We will be using technology to connect visually and verbally from here on. The only way this will work going forward is if the tools are intuitive, easy, and most of all, work. Nothing in this era is more annoying than when the voice glitches or the video stream freezes. If we are going to inculcate these technologies into our daily lives, they will need to get more robust, dependable, and easier to use.

Key Takeaway: We are going to be putting substantial strain on the tools and networks that allow us to stay in touch and the free pass for spotty quality is about to expire. IT teams need to be prepared to support the diaspora of employees from wherever they are working on a multitude of platforms and tools.

5. Technology Mergers and Acquisitions Heat Up

I am going to focus solely on communication technology for this prediction. It’s safe to say there will be a lot of M&A activity in 2021 as the economy split dramatically into winners and losers during 2020. I believe that there is a ton of room for growth in collaboration, UCaaS, and CCaaS (Contact Center as a Service) and I also believe that the space is both mature enough and too crowded. This will be the year where large internet companies (Google, Microsoft, Amazon) make a big push towards becoming the dominant players in the communications space, supplanting traditional players from telco and infrastructure. I also believe that UCaaS niche players like RingCentral and Zoom will take their enormous stock price winnings from 2020 to start picking off companies and technologies that fill out or expand their portfolios. (Bonus Sub-Prediction: Microsoft will buy both a traditional UCaaS operator and a Cloud Contact Center provider to strengthen their now dominant Teams platform).

Key Takeaway: Cloud communications has won, it’s time for the industry to begin the process of consolidation. Microsoft will attempt to become the most complete and dominant provider in the cloud communication and collaboration space.

There you have it, another year of fearless technology predictions. Thanks for taking the time to read, and as always, please share in the comments your thoughts and predictions of your own.

I look forward to a time in the near future when we can all get out from behind the video screens and keyboards. In the meantime, I’m sending virtual hugs in lieu of the ones we will all share in due time.

Wishing you a healthy, abundant, and love-filled 2021.

Dave