Trends for 2021: Better, More Sustainable Use of Technology Tools Likely to Feature High on Business Agenda


2020 was a year that defied predictions and expectations. While it may seem presumptuous to attempt to predict trends for the year ahead considering the ongoing unpredictability and volatility, the past few months have revealed some very important insights that are worth bearing in mind in the year ahead.

Experts and leaders from SAP Africa have analyzed what is happening in their industries and areas of business, and have made some predictions over the business and technology trends likely to shape 2021:

Cathy Smith, Managing Director: SAP Africa – Leadership with purpose

“2021 will be marked by a fundamental change in the role of leadership in business. Leaders are no longer only responsible for the top and bottom line. In our current environment, leaders need to think strategically about their purpose and how that purpose drives corporate strategy. It’s not enough for it to be an add-on or the domain of a single division or department. Instead, a company’s purpose must be completely integrated, meaningful and relevant, and do good for both the business and the broader community in which it operates.”

Dumi Moyo, Head of Mid-Market: Southern Africa at SAP – Driving down costs and improving remote workforce management in SME sector

“Employees need the flexibility to work from anywhere and any time, and companies need to support this new way of thinking and managing employees if they want to attract the best talent. Digital human capital management solutions can help drive employee engagement, productivity and retention. SMEs should approach any digital transformation strategy with a view to prioritize the human element, particularly by focusing on simplifying processes, improving the employee experience and enhancing employee engagement.”

“The impact of the pandemic on the SME sector means most businesses are seeking ways to improve their productivity while also driving down costs. SMEs should seek modern enterprise resource planning tools that can help them manage information end-to-end and ensure the right people have the right information at the right time. In our current state of disruption, the ability to tap into a real-time view of the total performance of the business is invaluable to decision-making.”

Rudeon Snell, Global Senior Director: Industries & Customer Advisory at SAP – Learning to live, work with our AI companions

Artificial intelligence is the most significant of the technologies currently redefining businesses and entire industries. Specifically, the continued drive toward AI-human collaboration will allow intelligence to seep into every facet of our lives. The cost of specialized machine learning chips is falling at the same time sensors and high-speed 5G networks are proliferating. We’re heading into a future where every device will become intelligent.”

Despite the economic slowdown in 2020, analyst firm IDC predicts worldwide AI revenues will surpass $300-billion in 2024, growing at a 17.1% compound annual growth rate.

“Adoption of AI applications is growing as they continue to improve in performance while costs are falling. This is partly due to the use of open-source and cloud technologies, which may also enable the rise of new AI-as-a-Service platforms that will enable humans to partner with AI in every aspect of their work across industries. AI algorithms will become entrenched in everyday business operations, serving as cognitive collaborators to employees – supporting creative tasks, generating new ideas, and tackling previously unattainable innovations.”

Mervyn George, Executive Advisor for Innovation Strategy at SAP – Renewed vigour over sustainability

“The events of 2020 will drive renewed vigour in the fight against climate change. The pandemic has put the spotlight on our relationship with nature and our efforts at building more sustainable societies. Things we took for granted, such as commuting to the office and regular international business travel, are likely to be curtailed as organizations seek greater sustainability and cost-efficiencies in their day-to-day practices. However, for a sustainable business strategy to be effective, measurable outcomes need to be defined, and executives must report back on their performance against such KPIs in a transparent manner at a boardroom level.”

“Organizations will prioritize investments into new, so-called clean technologies to ensure minimal impact on the environment. We are also likely to see organizations and individuals alike rally around the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with a focus on leveraging local supply chains and reducing our reliance on environmentally-harmful products, practices and processes.”

Samantha Naidoo, Telco Industry Value Advisor at SAP – 5G to enable greater connectivity & more connected things

“One of the most significant new technologies in 2021 is likely to be 5G and its planned rollout in South Africa’s major urban centres. The improved quality of service offered by 5G will drive innovation and enable new business models.”

“When 5G is introduced en masse in the local market, expect to see a boom in media consumption as demand for content increases and the cost of accessing content falls. We are also likely to see widespread adoption of 5G in manufacturing, healthcare and other industries where the Internet of Things plays a major role, especially since the number of IoT devices is expected to grow from seven billion in 2018 to 22 billion by 2025.”