What’s hot in IT: 5 key developments in 2020, and 5 possible trends to see in 2021

As 2020 comes to a close, Professor Sowmyanarayanan Sadagopan of IIIT-Bangalore lists the top five developments in IT, and what he expects from the sector in 2021.
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The year 2020, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, was practically a “wash out year” for most individuals, organisations, and governments. Yet, a lot happened; more so in IT that is eternally hot.

Sitting in a corner office in “namma Bengaluru” in India, let me take stock of the developments in the year 2020 and hazard my guess of the possible developments in the year 2021

Of the many, the following five stand out as outstanding developments in the year 2020

 1. IT makes WFH (Work From Home) a reality

  • When Prime Minister Modi announced immediate 21-Day “lockdown” on March 24, 2020, many office staff, particularly those in the IT industry, started dusting their expensive video conference solutions (HP, Cisco, or Polycom) to keep their activities going.
Solutions like Cisco WebEx got people’s attention, but the real hero was Zoom, which suddenly caught everyone’s attention. It was simple to use, worked on desktop, tablet , and smartphone alike, and it worked even with limited connectivity. Today Microsoft Teams and Google Meetings are picking up speed.
  • Suddenly, IT enterprises found that practically everyone can work from home at nearly 100 percent efficiency. TCS CEO even announced that they expect most of their workforce to use the WEF option 75 percent of the time.

2. Semiconductor industry in 2020 had some tectonic shifts

  • In September 2020, graphics chip maker Nvidia announced its decision to buy ARM Holdings – the company behind ARM Processors that power practically every smartphone on the planet – for a whopping $40 billion.
  • In October 2020, AMD, the pioneering processor company, decided to acquire Xilinx, a pioneer in fabless chip manufacturing for $35 billion.
  • In November 2020, Apple announced its decision to abandon Intel chips in favour of Apple-designed M1 chip to power MacBook Air. Already, the new MacBook Air is setting new benchmarks in high-performance PCs.

3. Arvind Krishna becomes IBM CEO

  • In April 2020, Dr Arvind Krishna took charge as the global CEO of the iconic IT company IBM. Arvind is a BTech (EE) graduate from IIT, Kanpur, and a Ph.D. from Univ of Illinois. We had Manipal Alum Satya Nadella take over as Microsoft CEO in 2014, and IIT-KGP Alum Sundar Pichai taking over as Google CEO in 2015. But Arvind taking over as IBM CEO is special as IBM is the oldest IT company on the planet (started way back in 1911) unlike the new generation companies Microsoft and Google.
  • In 2019, the 30-year IBM veteran Arvind Krishna who started his career in IBM Research architected IBM’s acquisition of RedHat for a whopping $34 billion in 2019.
  • In October 2020, Arvind Krishna announced the division of IBM into two companies in 2021 to focus on the cloud.
  • Arvind Krishna was the Chief Guest of the 53rd convocation of IIT-Kanpur on October 22, 2020.

4. WhatsApp Pay finally takes off in India

  • In November 2020, WhatsApp Pay got permission for a full launch from NPCI (National Payments Corporation of India) after two years of its initial limited launch. While Paytm, PhonePe and Google Pay are available, none of them have the reach of WhatsApp and the simplicity of a message to make payments, that too with end-to-end encryption. Being part of Facebook and the attendant criticisms of privacy violation, WhatsApp has not set the market on fire though. Hopefully, it will happen in the year 2021.

5. Data Science gets democratised

Data Science, Analytics, AI/Machine Learnings are buzzwords that caught the attention of millions of students in India in the year 2020 with a promising career.

There are many online courses from international players like Coursera and EdX as well as Indian EduTech majors like upGrad; several IITs and IIITs offer online courses in Data Science

But none of them could succeed in democratising Data Science education the way IIT-Madras Online BSc Course on Programming and Data Science could.

It is the first time that an Indian “Ivy League” Institute is offering such a degree. It remains to be seen as to how well it gets delivered on the ground over the next 5-10 years.

  • For Foundation Level with eight courses and 32 credits (with estimated effort of 10 hours per course per week) that can be completed in one to three years has a fee of just Rs 32,000.
  • For Diploma Level with six courses and 22 credits (with estimated effort of 10 hours per course per week) that can be completed in one to two years (after the Foundation Course) has a fee of just Rs 55,000.
  • For Degree Level with 11 courses and 40 credits (with estimated effort of 10 hours per course per week) that can be completed in one to three years (after the Diploma level) has a fee of Rs 100,000.
  • As of December 9, 2020, IIT-Madras has admitted 8,154 students for the first batch of online BSc Degree.

 Of the many, the following five stand out, at least for me, as possible developments in 2021.

1. Solution to Infodemic

Infodemic refers to large-scale information explosion and super-fast spread of information like an epidemic. This is particularly true for incorrect, malignant, inflammatory, and often untrue information.

Infodemic spread in the past decade as “fake news” has become a major nuisance and sometimes even a threat to humanity at large.

Unlike print media or electronic media, social media has “no barriers to entry”. It is instantaneous. It reaches a much larger population, thanks to the near-universal reach of smartphones. It is available 24x7 thanks to high-availability cloud computing architecture and ubiquitous mobile networks.
  • Companies like Facebook and Google face much of the heat
  • Involvement of high-power people including the US President brings it to center-stage.

Large research groups across the globe are studying this problem and hopefully, some sane solutions may emerge in the year 2021.

2. Online education gets mainstream

Early success has been reported for most universities across the globe who are delivering online education reasonably well for a reasonably long period of nearly a year in 2020. Educational administrators are now looking at online education as a super-efficient way to dramatically increase the reach and decrease the cost of educating millions. 

  • Online is no substitute for face-to-face education with its instant feedback, continuous improvement, simultaneous participation of the entire class population in the “discovery process” that is at the core of education.
  • Classroom education has elements of peer-to-peer and group learning and learning-by-doing that do not always easily translate into online education

However,

  • We expect superior tools that go beyond today’s LMS, content creation tools of Adobe, video delivery tools like Zoom that will truly transform education. COVID-19 has triggered the right thought processes for developers of such tools.

Also, tools customised for specific segments will emerge instead of will emerge (instead of one-size-fits-all tools today) for high school students, Liberal Arts courses, Science courses, Technology courses, and Professional courses (Law, Design, Architecture). 

The year 2021 will be a history-making year for online education.

3. 5G gets real

  • The world took to mobile communications thanks to 2G GSM standards, pioneered to a large extent by European nations.
  • With 3G, mobile telephony took off in a big way. Nokia as a phone company reached phenomenal success (selling as many as 400 million handsets a year at its peak). 3G adoption got a big push with the introduction of the Apple iPhone 3G in June 2008.
  • 4G followed through in many “avatars” including LTE; it was an incremental evolution.
  • 5G however is a “big bang” evolution with tremendous possibilities. Countries like China and South Korea have gone 5G way in a big way in 2019 and 2020. With Apple iPhone 12 going 5G way 5G adoption in the US will see a big rise.
  • Indian government has been discussing the 5G auction for a while, though no decision has been made. The government is also funding 5G technology in a big way in IIT’s and IIIT’s. IIT-Madras even talks of Indian Standard for 5G, though the industry view of a country-specific standard is very divided. The year 2021 will see 5G introduction in India for sure, though wide adoption might take till 2023. Newer applications involving IoT devices in large numbers can be supported by 5G.

 The year 2021 will be an exciting year to watch in the area of 5G.

4. Data protection will get its due attention

  • With multiple data breaches even by marquee companies like LinkedIn, data security has been receiving a lot of attention. With major data platforms like Aadhaar it is of paramount experience, particularly in the post-Covid-19 world with the rapid digitisation of health information.
  • Indian government has been taking a proactive approach by way of accepting Justice Srikrishna Committee Recommendations in 2018.
  • Kris Gopalakrishnan Committee on data protection looked into the issues of implementation and submitted its report in 2020. The government of India is likely to get the recommendations implemented in 2021.

The year 2021 will see data protection for the Indian context comprehensively addressed.

5. Multi-screen devices in mainstream

  • Though multi-screen phones were attempted for many years, Samsung Fold introduced in 2019 was the first really exciting two-screen model that attempted to combine the convenience of a small device to use as a phone and the comfort of a large two-screen display when folded. There were initial hiccups; the price point being high not many were willing to experiment. Samsung delayed the sale by several months.
  • Others who followed include Huawei with its Huawei Mate, LG with its LG V50 and Lenovo with its Motorola Razr in the year 2019.
  • Samsung re-launched Galaxy Z-Flip in Nov 2019 and Galaxy Z Fold 2 in Sep 2020.
  • Microsoft took a different approach when it launched Surface Duo Phone in Sep 2020. The two-device model combines the power of two screens to give a different experience in combining the information that is relevant rather than merely a large display. Microsoft too (like Samsung) is having initial hiccups and the steep rice is not helping the wider option as well.

The year 2021 could well be the year of multiple screen phones when Apple will also likely be to launch a product in this space. That will be transformational.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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