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The most important technologies in 2021 will be AI, 5G, and IoT, according to a newly released global survey of CIOs and CTOs by the technical professional organization IEEE.

More specifically, nearly one-third (32%) of respondents cited AI and machine learning, followed by 5G (20%), and IoT (14%).

Manufacturing (19%), healthcare (18%), financial services (15%), and education (13%) are the industries that most believe will be impacted by technology in 2021, according to CIOs and CTOS surveyed.

It’s no surprise that COVID-19 has upended organizations, observed Carmen Fontana, an IEEE member and cloud and emerging technology lead at Centric Consulting.

SEE: CompTIA’s 10 trends for 2021. No. 1: There is no normal. (TechRepublic)

“Digital healthcare accelerated out of necessity, as healthcare demand taxed available supply,” Fontana said. “EdTech, on the other hand, is accelerating out of frustration, as parents and teachers continue to struggle with educating children remotely.”

At the same time, more than half (52%) of CIOs and CTOs see their biggest challenge in 2021 as dealing with aspects of COVID-19 recovery in relation to business operations, according to the IEEE. These challenges include a permanent hybrid remote and office work structure (22%), office and facilities re-openings and return (17%), and managing permanent remote working (13%).

However, 11% of respondents said the agility to stop and start IT initiatives as this unpredictable environment continues will be their biggest challenge. Another 11% cited online security threats, including those related to remote workers, as the biggest challenge they see in 2021, the survey said.

“Things are not going back to the way they were,” Fontana said. “Employees have come to appreciate the flexibility of remote work, and employers are growing accustomed to the cost savings that come with fewer office expenditures. Companies that embrace the change, enabling their employees to be productive and collaborative from anywhere, will see the most gains.”

Technology adoption, acceleration, and disaster readiness due to COVID-19

CIOs and CTOs surveyed said they have sped up adopting some technologies due to the pandemic:

● More than half (55%) of respondents have accelerated adoption of cloud computing

● 52% have accelerated 5G adoption

● 51% have accelerated AI and machine learning

This aligns with what Fontana is seeing with her clients. “Their pre-pandemic cloud strategies took on increased urgency in 2020. I expect the momentum behind cloud to continue through 2021 and beyond,” she said.

The adoption of IoT (42%), augmented and virtual reality (35%), and video conferencing (35%) technologies have also been accelerated due to the global pandemic, the IEEE said.

One positive finding was that compared to a year ago, CIOs and CTOs overwhelmingly (92%) believe their company is better prepared to respond to a potentially catastrophic interruption such as a data breach or natural disaster, according to the survey.

What’s more, of those who said they are better prepared, 58% strongly agree that COVID-19 accelerated their preparedness, the study said.

When asked which technologies will have the greatest impact on global COVID-19 recovery, one in four (25%) of those surveyed said AI and machine learning.

This came as no surprise to Fontana, who said the fact that a quarter of respondents felt this way “really shows the growing adoption and appreciation of these technologies. What was up to just recently, ‘nice to have’ research and development projects, has crossed over into the mainstream and into the minds of key business decision-makers,” she said.

Cybersecurity concerns continue due to IoT growth

The top two concerns for CIOs and CTOs when it comes to the cybersecurity of their organization are security issues related to the mobile workforce including employees bringing their own devices to work (37%) and ensuring the Internet of Things (IoT) is secure (35%). This is not surprising, as the number of connected devices such as smartphones, tablets, sensors, robots, and drones is increasing dramatically, the IEEE said.

Slightly more than one-third (34%) of CIO and CTO respondents said they can track and manage 26%-50% of devices connected to their business, while 20% of those surveyed said they could track and manage 51%-75% of connected devices.

The survey’s findings show the shift into readiness by industry to invest in AI and commit to building stronger cloud computing infrastructures, said Karen Panetta, an IEEE fellow, and dean of graduate engineering at Tufts University.

“This will not only make businesses more profitable but also more dynamic in responding to anthropogenic events, like the pandemic,” Panetta said. “This will ensure that in the future, any business can maintain consistent operations and seamless services, even if in the background, they are reallocating and rerouting resources.”

The IEEE 2020 Global Survey of CIOs and CTOs surveyed 350 CIOs or CTOs in the US, China, UK, India, and Brazil from Sept. 21-Oct. 9, 2020.