It can be difficult to predict how the business world will change in a year.
I mean, look at 2020.
No one could have guessed that nearly all businesses would be forced to work fully remote, at a moment's notice, with little to no infrastructure. And there’s no real timetable on when (or if) the workforce will ever go back to “normal”.
For technology companies, the way we do business is changing by the minute. So if we want to keep up in 2021 (or for some of us, recover!), we have to recognize last year’s trends, then look to the future.
I sat down with Flatfile founders David Boskovic and Eric Crane to talk about what we learned from 2020, what to expect in 2021 as it relates to technology and data management, and what it means for you and your customers.
Here are the 5 predictions for 2021 for data management and data onboarding (with a bonus prediction at the end you should watch out for).
Today, individuals and companies are able to create some of the most innovative technologies at a pace we’ve never seen before. Successful startups can be built in no time, with tools and resources readily available to help bring ideas to life fast...and there’s no sign of slowing down.
But the challenge remains, how quickly are companies actually able to implement and use those innovations?
“Every year we see new products coming in and disrupting spaces that are solving real problems really well,” says Boskovic. “The problem is that that innovation is way ahead of our ability to adopt it. So if it takes you two years to adopt any of that technology, you're two years behind at any given time.”
David predicts a surge in solutions and platforms like Flatfile that can close that adoption gap by helping companies ramp up to new software solutions more quickly and seamlessly.
“Flatfile gets to play a part in this trend by actually decreasing the economic load of adopting new software.”
This trend also comes with a downstream effect on software innovation. As software adoption continues to increase exponentially, so will innovation. And as tools become easier to adopt, the more verticalized software we’ll see popping up.
“I believe we’re going to see a much bigger increase of verticalized SaaS companies solving one problem really well, and enterprise-level companies adopting those products where they otherwise wouldn’t.”
To sum up: look out for more tools that help you adopt innovative software quicker and easier, as well as more industry/vertical-specific tools to hit the scene.
Long gone are the days of putting in a request to your BI team every time you need to see data or a report. Data is becoming more and more accessible to everyone in your organization. And into 2021, Eric believes that trend will only continue.
“You have these solutions which allow folks to actually go in and build applications, analyses, and understand their business without having to be an expert in data or software.”
Eric mentions Instabase as an example. “They let you set up your own business applications, and they’re reliant on clear, understandable, usable data from someone’s perspective where they’re not actually a technical individual.”
This can be a game-changing solution for your organization. Not having to ask a different department that’s already busy with mission-critical assignments for reports and data frees up time for everyone involved.
There is a caveat, though.
“The challenge is that it's reliant on an assumption that the data is good and understandable. And if the data is not good and understandable, all of that is for naught.”
So, while it’s great to have your company’s data easily accessible to those who aren’t data experts, your data must be clean, usable, and identifiable so that anyone can understand it and use it effectively.
“We’re just in the early innings of data being a significant part of all business transactions,” says Boskovic.
Yet, the way we exchange data is still very primitive. It’s time consuming, insecure, and even when you receive that data, you have to do a lot of work before it’s of any value to you.
David compares the state of data transaction to how people used to exchange goods, before our modern currency system and economy.
“If you think back long enough, people used to exchange chickens and goats. Then it turned into ‘I’ll bring over a jewel for your goats’ which turned into a system of currency and economics, and so on. Right now, when it comes to how we transfer data, we’re still in the chickens and goats phase.”
But David doesn’t think that will last long.
“In the next few years, we will see a new world where exchanging data is as easy as sending a wire or exchanging money.”
As a society, we’re comfortable transferring our money quickly, safely and securely with tools like Venmo and CashApp. It won’t be long until companies feel just as comfortable managing and sharing their data.
With a vast majority of companies and industries still relying on legacy software solutions, there’s always been an advantage for the top 5% of companies that have the budget and resources to adapt their workflows to cloud-based SaaS technologies.
“There is an accelerating gap between the vast majority of the global GDP and the leaders.”
Banks, airlines, government agencies - almost every major industry struggles with outdated hardware and legacy code. Of course they would love to switch to a cloud-based solution, but not everyone has the time, money, and/or resources to get it done without shilling out millions of dollars and months (or even years) of ramp-up time. And the longer these legacy companies aren’t able to make the digital transformation, the harder it will be to keep up.
That’s where solutions like Flatfile come in.
“Flatfile helps close this gap by making it possible for companies using older legacy technology to quickly adopt newer technology and level the playing field a bit.”
This potentially has 2 major impacts:
Help smaller companies catch up to larger companies by spending less time and money on storing, sharing, and analyzing customer data.
Give larger companies a leg up against their competitors by allowing them to allocate time and resources on expanding into new markets, verticals, and industries.
Most of today’s Business Intelligence tools are great at helping companies organize, visualize, and measure their data, goals, and outcomes. But there’s still a level of manual work to be done on your end to model your own results.
“If you think about the first generation of cloud-based BI tools, those are mostly just empty canvases, right?” says Crane. “Like ‘Here’s the brush, the paint, and the canvas, now you have to go in and make your own painting out of this.”
But now, companies like Backbone.ai are coming onto the scene, which are less like a blank canvas, and more like a BI coloring book.
“We’re seeing a generation of business intelligence tools that are giving you the tools to measure your business, as well as share an opinion on how to reach that measurement.”
Eric predicts that more and more Business Intelligence tools of 2021 will not only help you visualize and measure your data, but come with machine learning and AI baked into their software to provide specific, actionable insights on your data.
This will impact businesses in many ways, but most importantly allowing companies to iterate on software development faster, more quickly track and stop potential cybersecurity breaches, and develop stronger partner and customer relationships through data that truly captures the needs of each one.
As data becomes easier and easier to access, there’s another perspective we need to be aware of: Malicious use of that data.
“There’s this negative correlation to the advantages that are provided by this increase in efficiency and access,” said Boskovic.
Bad Actors are much less likely to abuse something that’s very difficult to use and access. But the easier it is for them to get a hold of, the easier it is for them to cause damage with it. This is especially true in terms of public data or governments.
In 2021, companies should not only be aware of the security risks and challenges that come with managing and sharing data, but have an ethical responsibility to evaluate their data practices for the good of their customers, and society as a whole.