5 That Mattered In 2021

Image credit: iStockphoto/AlexeyGorka

2021 turned out to be exactly like 2020 — it was unpredictable. Yes, it did begin with a hopeful shot(s) about vaccine deliverance but quickly descended into predictable lockdown gloom with new variants. Many in the world let out a collective sigh: “Here we go again.”

With a global standard approach to COVID-19 remaining a faraway dream, the international business community continued to weather supply chain chaos, a tech labor drought, and a slippery geopolitical landscape. It seems that the main winners were stock market traders (and meme traders) and ransomware attackers. Both kept scoring hit after hit despite the market groans and pains.

But the year was no Squid Game, neither a prelude to a dystopian future. Instead, the conversations around security, data, resiliency and emerging technologies became more mature. For example, how often were vendors called out for not defining what they meant by AI?

Companies began to investigate hidden challenges between “A” and “I”. Data teams started to acknowledge the need for an ops team, and good data engineers began to have their moment. Data governance and data privacy began to be seen as a collective and companywide concern, no longer relegated to an app development or deployment epilogue. And chief digital officers started to ponder questions that chief technology officers asked, but from a very different viewpoint.

These were the major themes that defined our five most-read stories last year. As we take a step forward into a new year, it may be a great time to rewind and understand what we learned from these five stories (listed below in no particular order).

Data scientists and Macbooks

One of the biggest stories of 2021 at CDOTrends was a light-hearted look at a nagging question that most data scientists asked: can the metallic-cool, supposedly budget-friendly ARM-based MacBook cut it as a data science tool?

The article, Yes, the New ARM-Based MacBook Is Great for Data Scientists, published in late 2020, replied in the positive. It dived under the hood to show why the Apple Silicon should be ready for data science abuse. It was not just sheer power that counted; the new Unified Memory Architecture promised to give silicon power to data dreams. Of course, Apple had since introduced new silicon, but the MacBook launch showed that the company was serious about becoming a player in a data-driven future.

ML gets its Ops

2021 will be known for the year where many acronyms or IT terms found an appropriate partner in “Ops.” Before the pandemic, we were all trying to decipher DevOps. Then we had DataOps, MarketOps, SecOps, etc. The newest was MLOps (not to be confused with AIOps, a world apart in meaning and purpose even though they broach a similar subject).

The article MLOps Set To Take Off talked about why MLOps was becoming a significant concern and differed from DevOps. You can also find Gartner’s and Deloitte’s thoughts about the still-trending topic.

Data Governance missteps

In the article Are We Doing Data Governance Backwards? we pondered whether we were taking the wrong approach to data governance. Based on a roundtable discussion, it highlighted four areas where we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

One of the major debates was data lineage's importance when companies are still getting into grips with the expanding data landscape. What was not a debate was the role of culture; there was a tight correlation between data governance success and having people who are sold into its value. Outliers are not allowed.

Double-edged sword

In 2020, we looked at how GDPR offered much-needed guardrails for companies working with data. In the 2021 article, GDPR Can Make Data Sharing, AI a Minefield, we saw how it could become a party pooper for data and AI initiatives.

It briefly looked at the different ways companies run afoul with regulators with GDPR, especially with the prevalence of COVID-19 tracing apps. While the pandemic is often seen as a unique situation, the article questioned whether data aggregators and collectors understood what kinds of data (and data risks) they were gathering without proper data catalogs. It ended with a look at machine learning algorithms that can generate data deemed PI-related (and hence governed by GDPR and other privacy regulations). As the lawyer interviewed noted, this was becoming a major concern.

CDOs starts asking cloud infrastructure questions

For much of 2020, the cloud infrastructure was seen as a topic for chief technology officers and chief information officers. However, chief digital officers (CDOs) realized that they need to get involved in cloud development as their digitalization fortunes depend on it.

In the 3 Cloud Questions CDOs Must Ask First article, we looked at what these questions were and why building a solid cloud culture was essential. We ended with a look at the feasibility of multicloud and the importance of creating low-level abstraction libraries.

2022 will be different (sort of)

We can’t predict how 2022 will pan out. We know that like 2021, it will have lots of unpredictabilities (and meme stock bull runs) and heart-stopping moments. Geopolitical challenges and supply chain shocks will continue to create sleepless nights for many companies (and their CEOs whose remunerations are tied to solving them). Tech labor will remain constrained as new job roles are being created faster than universities can deliver talents for.

But looking at the top articles of 2021, companies are starting to ask different questions. Digital is now an existential issue for many companies and not another shiny toy; either they are on the bandwagon or fold. The pandemic, geopolitical shifts, and supply chain shocks broke many old models. But the rapid maturity led by CDOs asking these complex and fundamental digital questions will help build a digital future that’s more inclusive and potentially pervasive.

And it’s about time.

Happy new year!

Winston Thomas is the editor-in-chief of CDOTrends and DigitalWorkforceTrends. He’s a singularity believer, a blockchain enthusiast, and believes we already live in a metaverse. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/AlexeyGorka