2021's Key Technology Trends

While the pandemic has accelerated the world's move toward digital, this list of trends explains what comes next.

While I usually don't believe in either Christmas songs or lists of key New Year's trends until after Thanksgiving, Gartner recently produced an early list of technology trends for 2021 that provides some pre-turkey food for thought.

The most intriguing trend is what Gartner calls the Internet of Behaviors. The name itself reeks of consultant-speak for me, but the trend is profound. It combines the ever-growing reach of the Internet of Things with a surge in ability to understand customers, based on the burgeoning array of digital interactions with them.

Lots of commentators have talked about how the pandemic has accelerated the world's move toward digital. That's true and important, but this trend explains what comes next. Once interactions become digital, they can be easily captured and analyzed in ways that in-person interactions cannot. Digital interactions can also be easily tweaked, through what Silicon Valley calls A-B testing, and continually improved in ways that make customers happier while boosting revenue for insurers.

Basically, the Internet of Behaviors -- or whatever better name emerges -- is a road map of the sort that Amazon and other tech-based giants have been following for decades. Insurers can't follow their exact road map: Regulators wouldn't come close to allowing the tinkering with prices and product features that happens with Big Tech. But insurers can still massage all the newly accessible data and develop a deep understanding of their customers and prospects, even while using digital interactions to cut costs and speed processes.

What Gartner's list calls Anywhere Operations should also be a big one in 2021, I believe. While many businesses found it surprisingly easy to switch from in-person work to Zoom meetings and other forms of digital interactions, a second wave of digital innovation should be coming soon.

Former colleagues of mine at some of the big consulting firms say that travel won't rebound to anything like prior levels -- the in-person interactions were largely designed to show a commitment to client service that would justify those hefty fees, but nobody liked it, and it is turning out not to be necessary. So, the firms are all working on tools that will go beyond today's Zoom meetings, to make remote work as effective as possible. The firms are developing digital white boards that everyone can write on at the same time, ways for people to disengage briefly from a call to have a sidebar discussion, etc.

While the consulting firms are likely to be pioneers in Anywhere Operations, the capabilities should start rolling out to the rest of the business world some time in 2021.

Cybersecurity Mesh should also become important. As a colleague of mine puts it, the firewall approach to cyber is history. It's no longer realistic to think you can build such a secure wall that you can keep bad guys out. There are just too many entry points -- as Target learned the hard way in 2013, when hackers got into its central computer system through its HVAC operation. And, if you rely on a firewall, then there aren't enough safeguards to stop the bad guys once they've breached the perimeter and are roaming around inside. The Cybersecurity Mesh approach focuses on identity. I need to continually prove my identity to the system, and then am allowed to do whatever my status says I'm entitled to do. Under this approach, the equivalent of security guards will continually interrogate actors inside a computer system and kick out those who don't belong there.

There are certainly drawbacks to this approach. The continual authentication of identity could slow processes, and hackers will still find ways to impersonate people with significant privileges in the system. But, conceptually, the Cybersecurity Mesh idea could move us beyond firewalls.

There will be many more lists soon enough on what to expect in 2021. Tis the season. But I hope this discussion serves as a useful appetizer.

Stay safe.


P.S. Here are the six articles I'd like to highlight from the past week:

9 Months On: COVID and Workers’ Comp

Does COVID open the door for future infectious disease coverage under workers’ comp? Likely, yes.

6 Megatrends Shaping Life Insurance

The life insurance and retirement market is set for profound change in the next decade.

New Paradigm for Reinsurance

Can the global reinsurance market morph into a new paradigm, allowing a more responsible and sustainable market to emerge?

How AI Can Tackle Claims Staffing Gap

A job description with “acquire AI superpowers” might appeal to millennials more than “study policy footnotes and calculate claim reserves.”

NPS Scores Provide 3 Keys to Growth

Automation, analytics and the right ecosystem of partners can drive up customer satisfaction and let carriers grow in these chaotic times.

How to Boost Chance of Being Acquired

The founder of Limelight Health offers three key lessons on how to increase your company’s chances of being acquired.

Paul Carroll

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Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is the editor-in-chief of Insurance Thought Leadership.

He is also co-author of A Brief History of a Perfect Future: Inventing the Future We Can Proudly Leave Our Kids by 2050 and Billion Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn From the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years and the author of a best-seller on IBM, published in 1993.

Carroll spent 17 years at the Wall Street Journal as an editor and reporter; he was nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize. He later was a finalist for a National Magazine Award.


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