Trends for 2021

It has without a doubt been a turbulent year across the Globe. In many ways anything predicted at the tail end of last year went out the window the minute COVID-19 lockdowns took hold, along with the knock on impact that had. Some industries lie in tatters, some have been scraping through and surviving, whilst others have not only progressed but thrived and grown.


I heard a great phrase this year in response to the comment that “we’re all in the same boat”. The response goes “we aren’t all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm but everyone has a different boat.”


Those able to best pivot and adapt their organisation have been able to make the best of the situation. Continue fighting. Continue serving their customers. Continue delivering value to society. Those that had been able to progress their digital and data agenda ahead of the pandemic and have a culture of innovation and adaptability (i.e. in a better boat) have been able to navigate the choppy waters. 


Like GDPR did to the governance and privacy of customer data ahead of the changes to legislation that arrived in May 2018, the pandemic in 2020 forced many to recognise the importance of better visibility of their performance, an understanding of what drives that performance; and how they can influence performance going forwards. Uncertainty in the market has increased the need for better control of the boat, so that you can navigate through the storm and into the calmer waters.


That visibility comes from having a solid Data Strategy, and strong team in place to execute it.


These 8 trends for 2021 will shape data strategy next year, and beyond


Data guided culture

With the backdrop of uncertainty and change, we’re seeing a big shift in the number and breadth of organisations putting in place plans to build a culture where decision making is guided by its data. COVID has created the ‘ah-ha’ moment associated with why data is required in order to make considered and rapid decisions. In 2021, those with a culture that guides its decision making with data will be in better shape to succeed.



Many have talked about being innovative for a number of years. Much of this has been focussed around digital innovation, and creating digital platforms for customers to interact with. To drive the kind of potential in the data space, organisations will need to level up the end to end innovation of processes, ways of working, technology, roles and ways of deploying data to ensure you can meet the demands of what is required to get ahead and adapt. Innovation, without being weighed down by the past, will be critical to the success of data strategy in 2021.


Data as a product 

Treating the data as a product in its own right is fast becoming a hugely valuable approach to successful data strategies. Think of a dashboard or algorithm as a finished good (as you would a toaster, a table or bottle of water) that has features, benefits, value to the user and metrics to track its success. The focus is on the success of the product itself; not the creation of the product, and its continued improvement, iteration and development to drive up its success rates. This creates the need for new skills, such as Product Management, into your data capabilities.



Your ability to reuse, recycle and automate your end to end data ecosystem helps you to speed up everything you do, minimise waste and reduce human error. This powerful combination is critical to adding flexibility, adaptability and agility into the way you operate. Think about creating things once and using them many times – data pipelines, dashboard components, algorithms, processes – rather than point, and new solutions every time. 


Data legislation

Of course legislation that already exists will continue to play a part in 2021. Ensuring continued compliance with GDPR, Solvency II and many other regulations will not only help to avoid fines, but also avoid brand damage – which is at a premium right now. New data laws will also be introduced, such as the new EU rules being introduced to tackle challenges with the tech giants. These and other laws will of course filter down and out to all businesses, so will certainly shape the thinking and strategy needed as you move through 2021.



We saw Snowflake complete a hugely successful IPO early in 2020; by December its value had increased beyond that of IBM, inside 3 months of going public. Cloud and cloud data platforms are here to stay, here to shift to plan A, even in a mixed/hybrid environment. Your approach to cloud will be pivotal to your data strategy in 2021 and it should form part of your plans for sure. Think about starting small with a Proof of Concept, and scale from there once it proves successful and valuable.


Data leadership

In 2021 (if you haven’t got ahead of this already) the role of the Data Leader will form a central and pivotal role in data strategies in all organisations. Through 2020 we’ve seen a huge rise in the Chief Data Officer and other data leadership roles focused on maximising data assets. This role – regardless of what you call it, where it reports to, and who fills it – is critical for the setting and execution of your data strategy. 


Community and education

Given the size of the opportunity and a big increase in the new and innovative ways organisations need to consider and deploy, the role of the data leadership and wider business community has never been more important to getting data strategy right. The need to level up your individual, team and organisations data game comes from learning and sharing together, globally. In 2021, the trend to towards education and personal development across your organisation should underpin progress.


These trends for 2021 are already underway. My guidance is get ahead of the game by understanding how they can play a part and influence success. To help, take our Data Strategy Scorecard to get a temperature check on where your data strategy stands now and a personalised steer on where to focus your attention in 2021. 


Take the test


Wishing you all the success in 2021




P.S. At the end of each year for the last few years, I’ve been publishing my thoughts on what I predict will happen – or the trends that will impact the following year – in the data and analytics space. I usually get a healthy dose of things right (fingers crossed for trends in 2021!). And wrong. Have a look for yourself and see how you think I’ve done…


Written by Jason Foster


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