2021 Reflections and Predictions for the Year Ahead

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Posted by Matt Lovell

Long gone are the days when being positive was seen as a good thing and panic buying was when the bartender yelled "last call". Albeit still laced with uncertainty, 2021 has been a far improvement on the previous year for most of us, with 2022 looking even more promising. Let's take a look back at it...

Wrapping up 2021

In early December, after much rescheduling, a group of us long-standing friends had the opportunity to convene over morning coffee and brews to catch up as a community of business leaders. 

Representing a healthy mix of industries including The NHS, Legal, Logistics, IT, Public Services, Retail, and Manufacturing, we reflected on 2021 and the year ahead of us. It was long overdue with many welcoming the chance to talk face-to-face after a year that rolled between lockdowns and recovery, with leaders trying to keep all the balls in the air and understanding team sentiment of what was not said over a Teams meeting! There have definitely been different challenges over the past year, but understanding priorities, improving collaboration, and enhancing employee welfare were firmly at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

These were our key takeaways from the past year to the next 12 months:

  1. Data analytics has advanced in both positive and negative ways, but 2022 will represent considerably more focus on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning from data.
  2. The truth is getting harder to find and people are overwhelmed with misinformation and incorrect headlines.
  3. Employee welfare considerations have never been so important, but we have yet to truly understand the impact the pandemic will have.
  4. Company culture, employee appreciation, and being there for your colleagues need alternative approaches as they will never be the same in remote or hybrid working dynamics.
  5. We have to accelerate carbon-reducing policies & technologies - waiting for politicians and all countries to agree will be too late!
  6. COVID-19 and variants of the virus will persist for years to come and we must prepare and embrace this dynamic in talent retention, attraction, development, selling, and leadership.
  7. Post-COVID will bring in an era of accelerated medical discoveries and improvements in key areas and a greater population willingness to support and be involved in improvements.

The industry impact

There is no doubt that the pressure on the NHS peaked at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak and hasn't moved far from this point since. Today, these pressures during the traditional winter peak are heading upwards again, pincered by COVID-related absenteeism and a growing backlog. The problem of adjusting capacity has never or will ever be an agile process be that hospitals, staff, or patient needs. There is physical fatigue, overdue projects, resourcing, funding, and capacity challenges in every area. There is an overwhelming focus on short-term needs at the critical expense of long-term planning but an unmoveable commitment of people to work through these challenges with the highest quality of care. An example for all of us.

With no template or rehearsal for how to navigate through a worldwide pandemic, Public Services have been in record-high demand. Having to respond quickly to everyone’s needs, every original plan was shelved to enable councils, organisations, and departments to simply do what the country needed to be done to protect lives, livelihoods, and society at every level.

Legal and IT represent sectors who were previously office-centric, moving overnight to remote working without looking back. Their challenge has been supporting workers in hybrid working dynamics, focussing on collaborative HR solutions which support virtual team and resource onboarding and development. The phenomenon of video conference fatigue and accelerating creativity remains the principal challenge at many levels with less productive meetings and feelings of being disconnected from other people. Plus, with new talent often preferring to work remotely, the role of the office, collaboration with peers, and employee wellbeing benefits will be tested more than ever as companies seek to recover and grow.

The Hospitality industry was one of the industries that were hit the hardest during the pandemic, dealing with a huge amount of uncertainty with rules often changing at the drop of a hat. When their doors did re-open, they often struggled with staff resources, fighting to find people to recruit, whilst also trying to re-engage with the public.

Manufacturing echoed sentiment somewhere in between, with many organisations witnessing limited changes in demand but real challenges in meeting it. Whether it was production-related, staffing issues, social distancing, logistics, supply change, cash flow, raw material costs, or shortages. There was never just one major problem to solve and the past 12 months often included working flat out just to remain stationary.

Retail is a story at both ends of the spectrum. Overnight, the pandemic changed the vision of the ‘store of the future’ and the way people buy and sell. The overall customer experience shifted dramatically with some retailers transforming overnight into digital models, others working to modified shopper experiences, and some with no choice but to close – temporarily or permanently - with no ability for customer engagement.

Keep calm and carry on

When you write it down, a lot of it sounds pretty bleak, but there have been many lessons learnt along the way which help these industries push forward into 2022 with a clearer understanding of what’s needed to thrive in this new normal.

It remains clear that we must focus on how we enable, collaborate, and work with our colleagues, partners, suppliers, and customers using new ways of engagement, showing more appreciation as we rebuild momentum and belief. A lot of companies transformed to remote working with limited technical issues, but now the wider challenge is looking at evolving the next phase of business transformation with new engagement techniques, business processes, and tools to deliver enhanced customer experiences. The data is more than sufficient, the challenge is understanding what is the most relevant and truthful, as opinion and fact are becoming harder to separate.

Envisioning your transformation despite all of the challenges at play for the future with confidence remains as critical as continually inspiring your team to achieve this. The year ahead may not deliver many major new technological advances but digital transformation will continue at pace. That said, following major disruptive historic events, innovation has always accelerated faster than any time before. 

If you'd like to discuss digitally transforming your SAP estate, we're only a click away.


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