Survival of the swiftest: A prediction for data leaders in 2021

There’s nothing like the fresh start of January. Like a blank canvas, a new year offers endless possibilities to paint “what’s next,” and allows you to imagine what we can achieve in the new year. It’s also a time when I and many of my colleagues in the data and analytics industry, share our predictions and where companies should place their big bets for the year ahead. 

But if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that predicting the future is hard. No one has a crystal ball. That uncertainty and fear of “getting it wrong” can be paralyzing for many leaders looking to steer their businesses in the right direction. While that fear is real— and often warranted— 2020 also taught us that we can’t let fear hold us back from breaking old processes and stepping into our new digital reality. In fact, it’s never been more important for leaders to focus, prioritize, and take action— not just in response to major changes but before changes occur.

With that in mind, one of the most important trends, or rather skills, I see business leaders developing this year is the ability to combine fear with imagination as accelerants for true digital transformation.

Survival of the swiftest

In pre-pandemic times, it was not uncommon for businesses to spend months or even years identifying priorities and building plans to digitally transform. And those plans would take at least as long if not longer to execute. But in 2020, businesses digitized overnight. They had to. Everything from office work to education to medicine went digital. Others adapted their business models. GM became a ventilator manufacturer, while Emirates swapped passenger seats to transform planes to carry cargo. And what many planned to do in months, they did in weeks in order to survive.

In 2021, businesses that embrace uncertainty as an invitation for rapid testing and learning will win. They’ll be able to do more, faster, and outpace the competition simply by leaning into the discomfort of change rather than shying away. 

Turning crisis into opportunity

As Darren Pedroza, Vice President, Enterprise Data & Analytics, First Command Financial Services said to me, “never let a crisis go to waste.” He used the pandemic as a way to challenge the status quo to break old information processes, modernize his business analytics architecture, reduce dashboards, and leverage self-service BI. And he’s not alone.

According to a new survey by 451 Research, 80% of organizations say the pandemic enabled them to make organizational and operational changes that will provide lasting benefits. For me, there are two big things that stand out about that figure:

  1. The sheer proportion of businesses who are seeing an upside to faster, more agile decision making.

  2. The fact that they describe the benefits as lasting. 

That should be a signal to all of us that the accelerated pace of change we saw in 2020 won’t recede. It may have emanated as a response to the pandemic but it won’t end with it. On the contrary, as businesses continue reaping the rewards of agile innovation, cycles of transformative growth and organizational change will only get faster. “Right now, the pace of change will be the slowest pace that you see for the rest of your career,” commented Western Union CDO Tom Mazzaferro in a recent talk about modernizing data-driven organizations. 

This begs the question: What can you do to meet this moment? 

Take action: Download the ebook

This is far from the only prediction I have for data-driven businesses in 2021. For more insights on emerging data trends— and what your business can do about them — download ThoughtSpot’s latest ebook today. Then leave a comment below and let me know what trends and predictions you’re following closely this year.