According to the study, firms will accelerate investments in technology to both enable their workforce and provide differentiated experiences.

Forrester predicts that 2021 will be the year that every company (not just the 15% of firms that were already digitally savvy) will double down on technology-fueled experiences, operations, products and ecosystems.

The study suggests that the success of organisations will depend on how quickly and how well they harness technology to both enable their workforce in the new normal and build platforms that differentiate them.

Investing in new technology, realising the full value of the existing technology stack and retiring technical debt will be critical to gaining a sustained business advantage, according to the research.

The reports aim to help global business and technology leaders craft a clear vision and gain a competitive edge to thrive in the year ahead.

The key highlights from predictions include:

CIOs will embrace cloud-first and platform strategies for speed and adaptiveness. In 2021, 30% of firms will continue to accelerate their spend on cloud, security and risk, networks, and mobility — including struggling firms looking to leapfrog and gain advantage coming out of the pandemic.

CIOs who are slow to adapt will have massive attrition and will get mired in short-term fixes that achieve only digital sameness through peer comparison strategies.

CMOs will drive customer obsession at their firms. They will put the customer at the center of everything they do: leadership, strategy and operations.

If they haven't already, CMOs will integrate marketing and customer experience in the coming months. Spend on loyalty and retention marketing will increase by 30% as they assert control over the full customer lifecycle in 2021.

Firms will cut CX technology spend in 2021 but will improve CX. As organisations tune their CX efforts for bigger impact, one voice-of-the-customer programme (and not multiple) will come to fruition, leading to consolidation of CX tools and technologies.

This move will save organisations hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars — but it will also help them realise the value of the technologies that remain. As a result, 25% of brands will achieve statistically significant advances in CX quality in 2021.

Remote work will rise to 300% of pre-COVID-19 levels. Most companies will employ a hybrid work model, with fewer people in the office and more full-time, remote employees.

As a major portion of the workforce develops the skills and preference for effective remote work, they will come to expect a work-from-anywhere strategy from their company rather than an exception-driven remote-work policy.

Regulatory and legal activity related to employee privacy infringements will double. The pandemic is igniting employers' desire to collect, analyse and share employee personal data.

While European regulators are already enforcing privacy rules to protect employees' personal data, countries such as Brazil, India and Thailand will soon do the same.

And in the United States, given the corporate practices and policies that often limit or deny employees a right to privacy, the battle to determine what is a reasonable expectation of workplace privacy will be fought in the courts, according to the study.

"The silver lining from the pandemic is that firms accomplished tasks that once seemed impossible or were not even on their roadmap — sometimes overnight," says Sharyn Leaver, SVP of research at Forrester.

"Shifting to remote work, standing up e-commerce platforms to sell online and organising events virtually to stay connected to their communities are just some examples of pivots that organisations had to make quickly," adds Leaver.

"The pandemic affirmed the need for digital transformation — only digitally advanced organisations were able to adapt and transform their businesses quickly," Leaver says. 

"The current economic climate has only increased the urgency for every enterprise, not just digital experts, to embrace technology as a strategic asset. Our 2021 predictions clearly indicate a trend toward technology acceleration," Leaver concludes.

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