It’s I.T. crystal ball time again!  Every year I take a look at various articles and sources to see what trends are being predicted in information technology for the coming year.  Standing out for me this year is the “Top Strategic Technology Trends for 2021” report of the Gartner Group:  Gartner Top Strategic Technology Trends for 2021.   But before we dive into this set of predictions, let’s take a quick look back at what was predicted for 2020 — before the pandemic hit.

I wrote two blog posts about the 2020 technology predictions: 2020 Technology Trends, Part One: “People Centric” – Court Leader and 2020 Technology Trends, Part Two: “Smart Spaces” – Court Leader. The “People-Centric” trends focused on hyperautomation, multiexperience, democratization, human augmentation, and transparency & traceablility. As we shall see in the 2021 predictions, the move to digitize/automate everything and integrating the experiences of a wide variety of users will continue. The other trends seem to not have been carried forward. The “Smart Spaces” trends focused on an empowered edge, distributed cloud, autonomous things, practical blockchain, and artificial intelligence (AI) security. The 2021 predictions carry forward the distributed cloud and AI security, with the other trends not appearing again. For details, you are encouraged to go back and re-read the 2020 blog posts.

It is obvious to me that the ongoing pandemic has disrupted the implementation of the 2020 predictions. So, what are the 2021 predictions, now that we have a year’s experience with the pandemic’s effects? Here is a summary of Gartner’s three themes and nine trends, and how I think they relate to the courts.

Theme #1:  People Centricity

  1. Internet of Behaviors (IoB) is the use of data to change behaviors through feedback loops.  In the criminal justice system, a good example would be in using location tracking for persons under pretrial supervision, or in civil cases using litigant data in online dispute resolution (ODR) systems.  As Gartner states, though, “IoB does have ethical and societal implications depending on the goals and outcomes of individual uses.”  Courts must be very careful to preserve the privacy and confidentiality of data, for example.
  2. Total Experience “combines multiexperience, customer experience, employee experience and user experience to transform the business outcome. The goal is to improve the overall experience where all of these pieces intersect, from technology to employees to customers and users.”  It is easy to see how this is very important to courts in light of the radical changes that have been instituted during 2020 due to the pandemic.  As the report notes, “this trend enables organizations to capitalize on COVID-19 disruptors including remote work, mobile, virtual and distributed customers.”  Integrating employee and court user experiences into a seamless whole via advanced I.T. systems should be a goal of every court.  Again, ODR systems are a good example, especially when they are tightly integrated into robust case management applications.
  3. Privacy-enhancing Computation includes a trusted environment, decentralized analytics, and the encryption of data & analytics at the outset of their creation, use, and storage.  The big message for courts is the need to integrate privacy (for users and court staff), encryption, and other security capabilities into all their I.T. applications and systems.

Theme 2:  Location Independence

  1. Distributed Cloud involves designing cloud-based services that are decentralized, but with central operation and governance. “Enabling organizations to have these services physically closer helps with low-latency scenarios, reduces data costs and helps accommodate laws that dictate data must remain in a specific geographical area.”  As the report states, distributed cloud is the future of cloud services and systems.  In the court environment, this is particularly important for larger systems used in state-wide, regional, or national applications.  A good example is how the U.S. federal courts have such a hybrid national/local balance built into many of their applications (like e-case management, financial, and jury management).
  2. Anywhere Operations posits that “at its core, this operating model allows for business to be accessed, delivered and enabled anywhere — where customers, employers and business partners operate in physically remote environments.”  The mantra is “digital first, remote first.”  It is easy to see how the transformation of court work over the last year due to the pandemic is exactly what anywhere operations is all about.  We will not be going back to the way we used to do things, and remote, digital operations are now expected and necessary.  Physical space in courthouses will still be needed and used, yet they should be digitally enhanced.  This trend links back to the “Total Experience” trend described above, too.
  3. Cybersecurity Mesh responds to the fact that many I.T. assets and users exist outside of the traditional security perimeter of the physical court space.  “Cybersecurity mesh essentially allows for the security perimeter to be defined around the identity of a person or thing. It enables a more modular, responsive security approach by centralizing policy orchestration and distributing policy enforcement.”  This trend is directly linked to (and needed!) to the “Anywhere Operations, Total Experience, and Privacy-Enhanced Computation” trends above.

Theme 3:  Resilient Delivery

  1. Intelligent Composable Business means “…one that can be agile, adapt, and fundamentally rearrange itself based on a current situation…making quick decisions informed by currently available data.” Courts do this by augmenting strategic planning with better insights based on the information gathered in their comprehensive digital systems (see above trends).  The lessons learned from the pandemic are excellent examples to inform the immediate updating of court strategic plans.
  2. Robust Artificial Intelligence Engineering strategies “…will facilitate the performance, stability, interpretability and reliability of AI…making AI a part of the mainstream DevOps process, rather than a set of specialized and isolated projects.”  Up to now, the application of AI in the courts has primarily been in siloed applications like ODR, calendaring, and jury.  AI Intelligence Engineering is a key way to implement the “Total Experience” theme above.  The Report makes a wise observation about the need to have AI governance by stating that “responsible AI is emerging to deal with trust, transparency, ethics, fairness, interpretability and compliance issues. It is the operationalization of AI accountability.”
  3. Hyperautomation “…is the idea that anything that can be automated in an organization should be automated…many organizations are supported by a “patchwork” of technologies that are not lean, optimized, connected, clean or explicit. At the same time, the acceleration of digital business requires efficiency, speed and democratization. Organizations that don’t focus on efficiency, efficacy and business agility will be left behind.”  If we have learned one thing from the past year, it is that the need to streamline and increase agility is paramount in order to achieve excellent public service with prompt, efficient, effective, and just operations.

It is easy to see from these trends that IT continues to expand and perform critical functions worldwide.  Every court administrator should stay abreast of the rapid changes and future capabilities of IT to proactively improve court operations.  Researching and writing this post has certainly helped me stay abreast of IT trends, and I hope it does the same for you, too.

4 thoughts on “Technology Trends for 2021

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