Digital transformation in 2021: 5 trends to watch

5 min readJan 27, 2021


As we look at the year 2020 in the rearview mirror (thank goodness) and begin to think about digital transformation in 2021, the first word that comes to my mind is accelerated. In businesses across all industries, the unprecedented challenges of last year forced digital roadmaps to be rapidly redrawn, digital toolboxes to be urgently refurbished, and digital transformation initiatives to go into hyperdrive.

When the 2020 coronavirus pandemic forced people to isolate in their homes and businesses to minimize personal contact with customers, organizations were driven to hit the accelerator on their digital transformation efforts. The shift to a work-from-home workforce, as Gartner puts it, caused many organizations “to vault years forward in the space of a few weeks.” And the shift from in-person to digital services led to similarly dramatic shifts in healthcare (telemedicine), retail (online ordering), financial services (online/mobile banking), and other industries.

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In adapting to this dramatically different environment, businesses that had already invested in digital transformation had the advantage of a head start over those that had not. Those that were reluctant to embrace the digital mandate found themselves scrambling to piece together a digital strategy with hastily acquired assets.

And businesses that long for a restoration of business-as-usual are coming to a grim realization that returning to the pre-pandemic status quo is not an option. Even after the crisis passes and restrictions are lifted, employees will want to continue having the option to work from home, and consumers who have become used to digital conveniences will continue to expect their availability.

As we enter 2021, our task will be to rebuild the disrupted digital roadmaps and re-establish the vision of digital transformation that will take us into the future. We’ve identified five trends that provide some insight into what that vision will entail.

Digital Transformation Trend #1: Revisiting digital roadmaps

The lockdowns and social distancing requirements that arose during the pandemic presented businesses with a unique challenge — how to leverage their digital toolboxes to minimize personal contact while continuing to serve customers. Organizations that had traditionally relied on face-to-face interactions were required to pivot to an “online first” model and implement the tools needed to support all aspects of a very different customer journey.

Take, for example, the case of certification testing. To ensure the integrity of the process, organizations have traditionally relied on closely supervised in-person testing at designated test centers. When COVID lockdowns made this impossible, tests had to be administered online … but this approach raises a series of additional questions, such as how to verify the identity of test-takers and how to prevent testers from accessing online resources or receiving help from other individuals during the exam. So in addition to an online testing platform, organizations need verification and monitoring capabilities to ensure testing integrity. And of course, everything needs to integrate seamlessly with their existing architecture.

In the product engineering that will enable adjustments to digital roadmaps, we believe we will see closer collaboration between IT and lines of business, a “democratization of innovation” that enables business and IT teams to partner in driving digital transformation. Gartner predicts that by 2024, 75 percent of large enterprises will be using four or more low-code development tools for IT and “citizen” development, and low-code application development will account for more than 65 percent of application development activity.

Digital Transformation Trend #2: Transforming customer service capabilities — internal and external

When the pandemic hit and lockdowns began in March 2020, customer service centers were flooded with inquiries and requests, while at the same time agents were pivoting to a work-from-home operational model. As a result, some wait times extended into multiple hours while call resolution rates dropped to near zero.

This crisis was a wake-up call for customer service organizations that had been slow to embrace digital transformation — or ignored it altogether. When the demand for service overwhelms the organization’s capacity to resolve issues via traditional means, such as the 1:1 customer-to-agent phone call, a new approach to capacity management is required.

Solutions such as messaging, speech-to-text, self-service applications, and virtual agents provide contact centers with flexibility in capacity management while also broadening customers’ options in how they interact with the business. As my colleague Amit Unadkat puts it, “The customer care model of the future reallocates the priority of its various channels as needed to optimize its response to customer needs with maximum flexibility.”

Digital Transformation Trend #3: Taking advantage of smart automation

Last year’s “one-two punch” of pandemic and recession required businesses to reevaluate how they approach the processes that make up their day-to-day operations. Health and safety regulations required new workplace rules to minimize contact between employees, while the economic slowdown forced many businesses to cut budgets and reduce headcounts. With these changes came also the realization that another pandemic — or similarly disruptive event — could easily happen again, and by building in resilience and agility today, businesses can be better prepared for future crises.

With business-as-usual no longer an option for any department, many organizations are turning to AI- and ML-driven solutions to keep operations moving while adapting to the new realities. Robotic process automation (RPA) and other automation technologies are nothing new, but the rapid redrawing of business parameters that occurred last year has compelled many organizations to accelerate adoption of these solutions and inject AI into new areas where it can go beyond classic rule-based automation.

Whereas earlier applications of AI and ML focused on automation of individual tasks, we are now seeing an evolution in the direction of process-based automation (automating a series of tasks within a process) and functional automation (automation that spans multiple processes). Organizations that are more advanced in their AI journeys are even moving towards automation at the level of the business ecosystem.

While the benefits automation at the task level are well known, those advantages pale in comparison to what is now possible at higher levels. By taking advantage of AI- and ML-driven solutions today, organizations position themselves to reap ever greater rewards as this evolution continues.

To read trends 4 & 5, view the full article here:




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