My Tech Themes - Dec 2020: Reflecting on 2020, Predicting 2021

Speculative thought piece reflecting on significant developments in remote work, digital transformation, tech regulation including predictions on talent dispersion, big tech growing stronger and brick&mortar reshaping.

I'm starting a tradition (how scary, since I'm not a traditionalist) of speculative thought pieces reflecting on significant developments in tech as I see them. It's, of course, inspired by various prediction-focused newsletters and posts written by number of Silicon Valley thought leaders.

This is -6m reflection and +6m prediction from December 2020. Please don't base any investment decisions on these themes. I hope that taking the time to reflect and find what I consider big themes of past and future 6 months will improve my focus and judgment over time. I wouldn't bet on it either πŸ˜‰

Let's dive right in πŸ‘‡πŸ‘‡πŸ‘‡

Reflecting on the last six months, three macro technology themes stood out for me:

1. Remote work acceleration:

The pandemic forcibly distributed everything from work to education to healthcare. Technologies enabling remote collaboration, telemedicine, and online learning saw more rapid adoption in 6 months than in prior decades. This leap will forever change how we operate and I don't think anyone would argue with me on this one.

2. Digital transformation urgency:

Overnight, businesses without robust online presence and e-commerce were exposed. A decade of gradual digital transformation was compressed into months for corporations and off-line businesses and teams. Every company now realizes becoming digital-first (or at least digital-first when needed) is imperative.

I believe there would be some doubters hoping to return to status quo but I believe they're wrong. We're never going back to "before-pandemic" status.

3. Tech regulation rising:

As technology permeates society, we’re seeing intensifying scrutiny. While regulators played catch-up in recent years (and always), the events of 2020 have put Big Tech oversight firmly on the priority list. One would think that the days of unchecked power, even celebrated power, might be numbered.

But one never knows; the whole American economy is built on regulation protecting the status-quo and the big guys, so we'll have to wait and see if anything good comes out of these attempts.

Looking ahead, three key themes will define tech over the next six months:

1. Brick and mortar unraveling:

COVID will accelerate the demise of physical retail, malls, offices, and locations dependent on foot traffic. I'd say that physical retail and malls may have already seen the bell ringing, but offices probably haven't. As (and if) remote behavior persists, many physical spaces will need radical reimagination or face growing vacancy.

This trend will have interesting negative or positive implications for city centers and office infrastructure services like shops, restaurants, bistros, etc., who all depend on office foot traffic. This will be interesting. Β 

2. Talent dispersion:

The work-from-anywhere (or remote-first) paradigm will continue liberating talent from geographic shackles. Teams can recruit globally and access new pools of skilled labor. Distributed workforces will become the norm for tech companies and hopefully for others as well.

There's a point to be made that it may not be the best way to work for everyone, every team, in every type of business. I'd see fast-moving technology and business teams still sitting together. But who knows, it might even become illegal πŸ€”

3. Platform powerhouses growing stronger:

For those who saw any previous economic downturn, this is not surprising but while startups will continue facing existential threats in the (almost) post-COVID landscape, platform giants will only solidify their dominance. With balance sheets to weather downturns and services ever more essential, they'll continue to gain power in 2021. No matter the regulators or general feeling.

Hopefully, some new challengers will be coming from the dark Covid times, like Zoom or Peloton seem to be.

Let's say these are more than obvious ones. Everyone at Silicon Valley and on Wall Street talks about these themes. But hey, one has to start somewhere, so why not start with the obvious and see if it will truly become a reality?

The obvious does not mean correct when looking ahead!