There were a handful of news events in 2020 that are sure to continue to have a profound impact on how businesses operate as we enter 2021. More than likely, these events will continue to materialize as we get deeper into the year.
The largest of these events is sure to be the development of two COVID-19 vaccines, which are currently being rolled out in phases. These promising vaccines offer great hope that the world will slowly return to its pre-pandemic ways, despite the fact that COVID-19 cases continue to rise and will most likely continue to negatively impact businesses in the early part of the new year.
The second news item that will impact business is the now-approved $900 billion fiscal stimulus package that provides additional financial support to individuals and businesses that were hardest hit by the pandemic.
This stimulus package follows an initial injection of $3 trillion into the economy immediately following the darkest early days of the pandemic — a package that was almost five times greater than what was delivered during the financial crisis 10 years earlier.
The passing of this latest package was needed to help affected businesses as well as the large population of unemployed since the start of the pandemic nearly a year ago. Entering 2021, the unemployment rate stands at 6.7 percent, still significantly higher than the 3.5 percent rate that stood right before the pandemic hit. The job market has regained only about half of the 22 million jobs that were wiped out by the early days of the pandemic.
One thing is clear entering 2021: Most businesses will continue to amplify their reliance on technology, particularly in work-from-home environments, schools, entertainment and manufacturing, which have implemented automation solutions to increase efficiencies and offset the loss of skilled workforce.
Following are a handful of technologies that are sure to become even more important in 2021.
Workforce automation: While it has the tendency to take many forms depending on the industry, workforce automation is about implementing a system to complete repetitive, easily replicated tasks without the need for human labor.
The “Amazon Effect” of manufacturers: This automation is enabling manufacturers to scale projects more rapidly, with the highest level of precision we’ve ever enjoyed. From the use of analytics and data, which helps manufacturers with accurate order fulfillment (reducing waste), to just-in-time deliveries that adjust to seasonal needs (holiday shopping and quicker orders for pandemic supplies), manufacturers are leaner and more efficient. Many have taken a page out of Amazon’s playbook, which showed companies around the globe how to operate with the use of technology at a grand scale.
Immersive reality solutions: Manufacturers are going all-in on immersive mixed reality technologies, which include augmented reality and virtual reality. Millions of consumers are already using these types of technologies on their smartphones each day (think Snapchat filters). Manufacturers are now using these solutions to overlay virtual or special digital environments to augment design, production, training and customer services uses.
Cloud technology platforms: In order to handle the extremely large databases and graphics files needed for technologies like immersive reality solutions, enterprises and manufacturers are moving to the cloud. This enables businesses to scale projects more quickly, as well as leverage a more secure data environment to avoid cyber-intrusions on local data systems.
Work-from-home environments: Experts believe the work-from-home movement will persist long after the pandemic. While this is expected to be the case for many office roles, even manufacturers will see more of this as VR and AR technologies are implemented for them. Designers and even plant floor workers will leverage immersive mixed reality technologies during the design/build phases.
Perhaps this is an optimistic outlook on the economy, but there are several signs pointing toward a significant rebound in 2021, and many businesses and industries should feel the results of this impact. The vaccines should give people the confidence to return to a more normal pre-pandemic way of life. Despite the loss of jobs, household net worth has risen for the millions of people still employed since they haven’t been spending on things like dining out, sports and travel.
As these services begin to reopen, and vaccinated Americans have the confidence to go out again, spending should rebound in 2021. This ripple effect will generate demand across many other industries that produce goods and offer services to support consumers and businesses.