The Technology Heroes of 2021

Dec 28, 2021
5 min read

There’s no denying that 2021 started with mixed feelings – fear of what the New Year with COVID-19 would be like on one side and optimism about the possibility of weakening the virus through vaccination.  The one hero that never failed us in the last couple of years was technology. If not for technology, the creation, production and distribution of vaccines to billions of people across the world would never have been possible. Technology has not just made life easier it has made it hopeful too.

The pandemic has brought in an urgency to develop better technologies for creating a better world. Before 2019, digitalization and automation were just nice-to-have options – but post-2020, they became a necessity to meet drastic changes in the way consumers purchased, where they ate, how they vacationed/travelled, and how they studied/worked.

According to McKinsey, “We’ll experience more technological progress in the coming decade than we did in the preceding 100 years put together.[1]

Here’s a list of technologies that emerged as heroes in 2021:

Artificial Intelligence

By 2025, 50% of enterprises will have devised artificial intelligence (AI) orchestration platforms to operationalize AI, up from fewer than 10% in 2020. – Gartner [2]

Artificial Intelligence or AI has become an invaluable asset for companies depending on technology to create better solutions for the future. Mimicking human behaviour and thought processes, AI has found application in several industries, accelerated by the COVID pandemic. The demand for better solutions from certain industries like healthcare, e-commerce, education, and office products has pumped up the demand for AI-based solutions.

AI has helped us tremendously to perform better and to cope better. While it has become online transactions safer through fraud detection and payment gateways, it has made life easier with improved clinical workflows in hospitals and detecting infections in a particular area with contact tracing. AI was used to process vast amounts of unstructured data to predict potential new cases by area, at-risk populations, and to come up with strategies to control the spread of infections.[3]

Process Automation and Virtualization

For businesses that suddenly became dependent on virtual systems to keep their operations running, SaaS applications built on the Cloud came to the rescue. Automating processes or taking them into the virtual realm became an overnight reality with distributed infrastructure such as hybrid cloud or multi-cloud platforms coming to the rescue. Simple process automation is set to become smarter with the application of AI and Machine Learning that enable applications to make smarter decisions.

While the biggest drivers of RPA (Robotic Process Automation) adoption are higher productivity and efficiency, better employee experience and decision making through data-driven insights are its other benefits.

There is no denying that investing in automation and digitalization are two other technology heroes that have kept many businesses running even during the pandemic and have also enabled the creation of several new businesses.

3D Printing

The ability to produce products faster, and at a lower cost is in high demand as customization and personalization rule the consumer markets. Also known as Additive Manufacturing, 3D printing has come to the rescue of healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Again, with the application of AI and ML, 3D printing could be made even more efficient and innovative with shorter lead times.

The urgent demand for ventilator valves, test kits, nasal swabs, breathing filters, face shields and oxygen valves in European hospitals had 3D printed product manufacturers jumping in to create products and quickly supply them to hospitals. Even though these are available only in a few countries as of now, the demand for innovative products has certainly pushed the 3D printing industry into a new mode, which may help to reduce the cost of printers in the long run as more companies join this emerging industry.

Medical Technologies

Thanks to advances in Genomics, the time taken to decode the full sequence of the COVID-19’s genetic material from the time it was first reported to the WHO was just two weeks[4]. This disclosure of the genetic code helped companies to rapidly start creating treatments as well as vaccines within just a few months of the emergence of the virus. Rapid PCR and antibody tests, NCG (Next-Generation Sequencing) have helped us to understand how the virus originated.

The vaccine development used initial sequence data on the SARS-CoV-2 genome and bioinformatics, while computational approaches and structural modelling helped to identify the right antigen targets. Gene editing technologies such as CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats)-Cas9 (CRISPR-associated protein 9) were also used to create new drugs and diagnostics to counter the spread of the virus.

Drones

Drones have emerged as a surprise hero of the COVID-19-hit world. [5]Lab samples pickup and delivery, aerial spraying of contaminated public areas, and public space monitoring during lockdowns are just some of the ways several governments have used drones to combat the spread of the virus. Ghana, Rwanda, Malawi, Sierra Leone could effectively harness this technology in their COVID-19 response. Even in China, drones have been used to boost disease detection and crowd management. Drones equipped with night-vision cameras, thermal sensors, high-definition zoom lenses, and loudspeakers have been used to enforce lockdown restrictions in Spain, France, Belgium, the UK, Greece, Lithuania, Bulgaria and California.[6]

IoT and IoMT (Internet of Things and Internet of Medical Things)

IoT was predicted to be the game-changer for the business world a decade ago when smartphones and wearable devices started entering the mainstream markets. Essentially a technology that unites machines/ devices and makes them “communicate” with each other, IoT and IoMT are likely to revolutionize the healthcare industry. Availability of fast and high-speed broadband, reduced hardware costs and people’s interest in smart wearables have pushed this demand in the last couple of years. IoMT devices were effectively used to remotely monitor patients, track medicine orders, and transmit medical information from the wearable device to healthcare providers.

IoMT devices can be of many kinds: fitness wearables like bands, wristwatches and necklaces, clinical-grade wearables like smart belts and chest straps, continuous glucose monitors, blood sampling devices and smart pills.[7]

And There’s More to Come

The technology heroes mentioned in this article are just a few of those who have made a big difference during very difficult times in 2020-2021. Driven by the pandemic, the momentum of next-gen technologies is bound to increase at an accelerated pace. As per the McKinsey Tech Trends Index, many technologies like Nanomaterials, Bio Revolution, Future of Programming, Next Level Process Automation and Virtualization, and Future of Connectivity, are all in the market-entry stage and have found mid-level industrial applicability. Distributed Infrastructure, Applied AI, Trust Architecture, and Next-gen computing have all reached high industrial applicability and are on the way to industry adoption at a cross-cutting technological level[8].

According to a McKinsey survey, a majority of the companies started viewing technological capabilities as a strategic differentiator.[9]Companies are investing not just to stay in the race but to be a forerunner in creating technologies that will be game-changers in building a bigger, better future.


References
[1] Top 10 tech trends that will shape the coming decade, according to McKinsey | Sean Fleming | Oct 2021
[2] Gartner’s IT Automation Predictions for 2022 | Brian McHugh
[3]Ten Technologies to Fight Coronavirus. EPRS | European Parliamentary Research Service | Mihalis Kritikos
[4]Ten technologies to fight coronavirus | European Parliamentary Research Service | Mihalis Kritikos
[5]How Drones Can Be Used to combat COVID-19 | UNICEF
[6]Ten technologies to fight coronavirus | European Parliamentary Research Service | Mihalis Kritikos
[7]Role of technology in COVID-19 pandemic | Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection | Raazia Saher and Madiha Anjum
[8]The top trends in tech. | McKinsey
[9]The new digital age: Rethinking strategy for the post-pandemic era | May 26, 2021 Survey