7 min read
Nov 18, 2020
Trends

Businesses Are Betting on These Top Tech Trends for 2021

Our research found that SMBs are planning to adopt conversational user interfaces, immersive technology, and artificial intelligence in 2021.

Z.C.
Zach CapersSenior Content Analyst

We asked 700 small and midsize business leaders about the investments they’re making in new technologies (methodology at bottom of page). In this piece, we’ll cover the three top tech trends that businesses told us they’re planning to adopt in the next 12-18 months.

It’s important to note that the technologies that companies are planning to adopt are impacted by what they’re already using. For example, data and information security tech is already being used by 71% of the businesses we surveyed, which helps to explain why only 18% are planning to adopt it. With that said, let’s take a look at the top tech trends for 2021 and beyond.

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Conversational user interface is the most talked about tech trend for 2021

Our research found that 37% of small businesses plan to adopt conversational user interface (CUI) technology in the next 12 to 18 months, more than any other emerging technology. 

Conversational user interface (CUI) facilitates text and voice interactions between people and machines. By interpreting spoken and written language, CUI technology improves user experience for customers while reducing operating costs for your businesses.

Common CUI use cases include:

  • Customer support

  • Employee support

  • Virtual call center agents

  • Virtual assistant

  • Voice-enabled applications

  • Meeting room assistants

Text-based chatbots have already been widely adopted, but recent advancements in natural language processing (NLP) technology is leading to more voice-based CUI implementation in virtual assistants and interactive business applications.

But unlike many emerging technologies, CUI tech is relatively affordable to get started with. Of businesses that have already set aside a budget for CUI, 46% told us they’re planning to spend less than $10,000.

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Virtual and augmented reality creating worlds of opportunity 

According to Gartner, by 2023, 40% of organizations will blend virtual and physical experiences, leading to increased workforce productivity and customer reach (full report available to clients). This complements our findings that 35% of small and midsize businesses plan to adopt virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) technology by the end of 2021.

VR and AR adoption is rising as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research on consumer behaviors in Australia found that while only 12% of consumers have used VR shopping (3D shopping) applications, 59% voiced a desire to try it as a means of reducing exposure to the coronavirus. Similarly, our recent research on business model changes found that 40% of small businesses created a new virtual service in response to COVID-19 so they could meet evolving customer needs.

But these immersive technologies aren’t only being used for retail purposes. VR-enhanced data visualization software is making it easier to explore and present information, VR modeling software is enhancing virtual tours for realtors, and VR meeting software is erasing distance for remote employees.

AR head-mounted displays are allowing field service technicians to visualize tasks and receive remote instruction while keeping their hands free. AR displays are also streamlining supply chains by speeding up order picking in warehouses and simplifying package identification during deliveries.

AR and VR are also revolutionizing how employee training efforts are designed and carried out by fostering interactive learning environments. These tools are particularly beneficial for jobs that involve dangerous situations (e.g., power line maintenance) or distant environments (e.g., remote pipeline).

The wide range of utility offered by VR and AR appears to be attracting a similarly wide array of investment. A slight plurality (35%) of the businesses in our survey that have already budgeted for VR and AR are planning to invest between $10,000 and $50,000.

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AI and machine learning are making businesses smarter

We published a report earlier this year that identified AI as the future’s most disruptive technology. With that in mind, it makes sense that 35% of our respondents plan to implement artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology over the next year and a half.

AI and machine learning algorithms are increasingly embedded in everyday software used not only by data scientists, but also by employees of all skill levels to automate processes and simplify tasks. Augmented analytics tools leverage AI and machine learning to quickly gather data and surface meaningful insights so that your business can spend more time focusing on strategic goals.

Formerly the domain of large enterprises, AI cloud computing services and developer toolkits are quickly leading to the democratization of AI and machine learning technologies for small and mid-size businesses.

Still, investment in AI topped the other tech trends in this piece with 73% planning to spend more than $10,000. Nearly one in 10 (9%) are planning to spend more than $100,000.

As we move forward, deep learning AI is finding its way into the other two technologies on our list, including the natural language processing used in conversational user interface and the advanced computer vision technology that powers many augmented reality tools.

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Putting the top tech trends for 2021 in context

Other top tech trends from our list that SMBs are planning to adopt include drones, wearables, and 3D printing. But even the best laid plans often go awry and priorities change as fast as technology does. Few businesses expected to spend much of 2020 rushing to adopt remote work solutions for employees or developing contactless experiences for their customers. 

That SMBs are still planning to invest in emerging technologies despite an ongoing pandemic and uncertain financial environment goes to show the importance of keeping up with tech trends and staying ahead of the competition.

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Looking for software to help your business keep up with the top tech trends?

Methodology

GetApp’s 2020 Tech Trends Survey was conducted from August 24 to September 11, 2020 among 700 respondents who reported leadership positions at U.S. small and midsize businesses with two to 499 employees and $5 to $250 million in revenue.

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