Photo credit: From “Gartner Top Strategic Technology Trends for 2021

When looking forward to what will drive technology trends in 2021, it is not surprising that many result from the significant upheaval caused by COVID-19, including its impact on the economy, the workforce, and our growing need for flexible I.T. solutions.

According to a recent Gartner report, technology trends for 2021 fall into three often interrelated themes: people centricity, location independence, and resilient delivery.

People centricity recognizes that despite A.I. and automation, “people are still at the center of all business,” and “they need digitalized processes to function in today’s environment.”

Because “COVID-19 has shifted where employees, customers, suppliers, and organizational ecosystems,” technology that allows for location independence grew wildly in 2020 (ex. Zoom, LogMeIn) and will continue to trend up in 2021.

This past year has also required organizations to adapt to withstand hardship and change. Technology that supports company resiliency will not only grow but become a mainstay even after the pandemic wanes. “Whether a pandemic or a recession, volatility exists in the world,” notes Gartner. “Organizations that are prepared to pivot and adapt will weather all types of disruptions.”

“The unprecedented socioeconomic challenges of 2020 demand the organizational plasticity to transform and compose the future,” said Brian Burke, Research Vice President at Gartner.

The Internet of Behavior (IoB) is one of Gartner’s technology emerging trends that will enable this “plasticity” — or flexibility — and allow businesses to respond, survive, and even thrive during a crisis.

Many people are familiar with the term Internet of Things (IoT) — a network of interconnected physical objects that gather and exchange information and data over the internet. IoB combines IoT and other data and attaches it to specific human behaviors such as online purchasing, following a specific brand on social media, or even if and when you wash your hands in the workplace!

One example from Gartner:

“When employees at an industrial site returned to the workplace after it was closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, they noticed a few differences. Sensors or RFID tags were used to determine whether employees were washing their hands regularly. Computer vision determined if employees were complying with mask protocol and speakers were used to warn people of protocol violations. What’s more, this behavioral data were collected and analyzed by the organizations to influence how people behaved at work.”

So, in essence, the IoB is about using data to monitor and change human behaviors.

IoB data can come from a range of sources, including customer data, social media and facial recognition; it can be used by private or public entities, depending on local privacy laws. There is significant debate around the ethics around IoB, and we have already seen how misuse of data can harm innocent people in facial recognition technology (see our recent blog, Bringing Awareness to Racism in A.I.).

That said, it seems IoB is here and growing. ZDNet reports that “by 2025, half the world’s population will be subject to an IoB commercial or government program” and notes that “IoB tracking is already in place” even while privacy laws try to catch up.

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