2021 Technology & Business Predictions

Here are my technology & business predictions for 2021. I try to predict trends that are outside the mainstream, and with high expectations. It seems to get harder every year, and compiling this list for 2021 was by far the hardest yet.

Every year I score my own previous year’s predictions– see how my technology predictions fared in 2020 and work backwards.

Please share your feedback and thoughts on these predictions, either here, on LinkedIn or Twitter. I wish you a safe, healthy and prosperous 2021.

1. Microsoft Teams becomes the next operating system

The XBox was designed as a media device as well as a games console – even if it kept watching you all the time

Like them or loathe them, Microsoft manages to keep providing products for mass appeal during the the various stages of our digital lives. Microsoft keeps transforming these individual products into full platforms.

Examples include Xbox which wasn’t designed just a games console, it’s was also a set top box with full media capabilities; Internet Explorer (now Edge) isn’t just for browsing – it became so powerful for anything you browsed; Dynamics has turned from a straightforward CRM tool into an ERP platform; and now Teams has moved from a new version of Skype into our one-stop business productivity & communication platform.

Over the next year we’ll see Microsoft Teams appear as a consumer platform as well as a business tool. We’ll see more applications join the Teams platform, which will mean we’ll be able to do our banking, email, or pretty much anything inside of Teams.

Microsoft lost the browser war to Google Chrome, so they’ve moved the browser into a different product sector. Smart.

2. IPOs and M&As to accelerate

We’ll see even more business deals in 2021 than 2020. Venture Capitalists (VCs) regretted not doing more deals in the 2008-9 crisis, and they won’t repeat the same error this time. We’ll see VCs swoop in across all industries.

The 2020 IPOs of Lemonade insurance, Airbnb, Snowflake, Unity, and a myriad of other companies indicate how stock market investors are ready to invest in the next generation of companies.

The Lemonade Insurance stock price since launch 6 months ago (Source: Yahoo!)

We’ll see individual mega-mergers and acquisitions (M&A) increase too – in 2020 we saw the likes of RSA insurance acquired by Intact & Tryg, Slack by Salesforce, IHS Markit by S&P, Arm by Nvidia, Willis Towers Watson by AON, E*Trade by Morgan Stanley, GrubHub by Just Eat, Credit Karma by Intuit and the list goes on.

3. Sport, especially football, to experiences some turmoil

2020 has been a turbulent year for sport, and 2021 may get worse still. 2021 could see the perfect storm of TV rights holders in financial jeopardy with minimal gate receipts and sponsors who are also experiencing tough times.

The highest revenue sports such as football have been at their peak income for a couple of years. But this is all starting to unravel. For one example in France, MediaPro “won” the most recent TV contract and is struggling to pay a third of the outstanding invoices. And now the French government is having to bail out the French Ligue 1 clubs.

Rugby, cricket, cycling, the major American sports – MLB, NBA and NFL, the list of sports that are in serious financial trouble goes on.

We’ll continue to see individual billionaires buying sports clubs and new types of club financial ownership, such as SPACs. I expect to see a massive amount of change in sports organisations and competitions in the coming year.

In 2021 we’ll see the major social networks get more involved with sports organisations and clubs, although how this produces revenue remains difficult to quantify.

And then there’s the Summer 2020/21 Olympics in Japan… probably, definitely, maybe…

4. Retailers to do something about returned items

Here’s an amazing innovation opportunity for someone to solve.

According to an FT article which made me particularly sad: we have a massive problem with landfill.

Here’s a short summary:

“US consumers are forecast to send back a record $115bn worth of unwanted goods purchased over the holiday season, handing yet more business to delivery companies but hitting retailer profit margins and intensifying concerns over the environmental impact.

“About half of returned goods have little or no salvage value. In the past year in the US, almost 2.7bn kg of returned goods — equivalent to about 6,700 fully loaded Boeing 747 jets — could have gone to landfill.”

The retail sector needs to sort out what to do with all these returns. We can’t keep putting $115bn of stock, weighing 2.7bn kg, into landfill. We need to think of a model to resell this stock ensuring that someone is making some money (not just the logistics companies that moves it to the customer and back) and avoids the landfill.

Who wants to respond to the challenge?

5. Tech Titans move into healthcare

Off the back of COVID-19, we’re going to see Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Apple move much further into healthcare.

For years, the tech titans have avoided regulated industries as much as possible. However, it’s now looking likely that these companies will have some kind of regulatory framework next year to limit their massive influence on our lives and open up competition.

Many of the titans already have some healthcare footprint. For example, Alphabet’s Verily offers a range of Covid-19 platforms for the US government.

Expect to see the tech titans move into preventative care. They’ll become more involved in mental health, from retail addiction (Amazon suggesting fewer orders this week?) to screen-time (Apple suggesting you could do with a 48-hour break from your iPhone?) and exercise (Garmin suggesting spending the next hour brisk walking?).

6. Insurance data moves from batch to streaming data

I have a telematics box in my car to monitor my driving behaviour, so why does a car insurer ask me details on a form about my previous driving experience? Why does data from more than 12 months ago make any difference to my risk profile when the insurer has my most recent 10,000 miles of driving style on record?

We’ll see data move from batch processing (when a person fills in a form and the insurance company then calculates a premium based on the answers) to streaming data from my electronic devices to provide a closer to real-time risk analysis.

In 2021, expect to see devices which are “telematics on steroids”!

For example, we could see more integration with home insurance and video doorbells. Amazon, which owns Ring, launched the Always Home Cam last year. Always Home Cam is an automated drone that can move around your house looking for open windows or worse if you’re not around.

We’ll see more of these types of gadgets that links home automation, security and insurance products together, probably as a subscription service.

7. Personal lines insurance due for a shake up

Last year the FCA (UK’s Financial Conduct Authority) recommended insurers keep renewals as competitively priced as new policies. We are all too familiar with cheap insurance cover in the first year and then a significant increase to stay with the same insurer in the second year. So the FCA is encouraging insurers to stop this behaviour.

This all sounds great, but maybe a “blanket” personal insurance policy (a combined car, home, pet, travel, gadget and life) would be better? We’ve seen some ‘cooler’ new insurance products arrive recently (Dead Happy life insurance, who wrote “We thought life insurance was a bit shit…”, is a great example), and it would be great to see a new subscription insurance product arrive in 2021.

8. The rise of the [premium] email newsletter to balance biased media

The media industry continues to have a tough time adapting to the Internet. The music industry still struggles with the shift from royalties to streams, and newspapers are still struggling to work out how to monetise their content.

2020 didn’t help newspapers either – with Brexit and the US elections fuelling tribalism, and early inaccuracies reporting Coronavirus.

Worse could still be in store for newspapers, with services such as Substack coming along and eating their lunch. Substack makes it easier for content writers (let’s call them journalists here) to monetise traditional email newsletters.

In 2021 we’ll see more journalists building their own personal brand and offering Substack (or other premium email platform) subscriptions. In 2021, premium emails will become the new podcasts.

In July 2020, 100,000 people paid for a subscription to at least one premium email newsletter. That figure will at least double next year.

9. Offices and retailers

At the start of lockdown many people said they won’t return to offices. Ten months later, and we seem divided. I know people who don’t want to return to an office ever again. Personally I miss the social and team building aspects of getting together.

Here in London there is a housing shortage for councils to move people into.

400,000 people work in the square mile of the City of London, and 8,000 people live there. The living population of the City of London was over 130,000 in the mid-19th century, and dropped by around 25% each decade until the 1980s.

The City is exempt from government regulations that allow developers to convert office buildings into homes without planning permission. (Source: Homes & Property) so in the next few years we’ll start to see council-owned office blocks turned into accommodation. Expect this to start in 2020.

By the end of 2021, I expect most high streets will only consist of businesses that can’t operate on the Internet – hairdressers, nail salons, tattoo parlours and restaurants.

We’ll see some experimentation of how banks might combine together in a single shop unit. We could see local office hubs where employees can pay to stay local to their home but be surrounded by a few others.

I’ve always liked the concept of showroom stores, where maybe you can see the latest Nike trainers or Samsung TV, then go home and order them.

Other than the easy option of converting more shops into accommodation units, I also think shops will be converted into community areas. According to the Guardian in early January 2021, “Almost two-thirds of youth organisations with incomes under £250,000 say they are at risk of closure.” Rather than letting the shop units remain shuttered, it would be great if we can support these youth groups. Let’s see what happens.

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