2021 is the year for optimism and change

Posted on 9 Feb 2021 by The Manufacturer

The events of 2020 induced changes in strategy, management, operations, and budgetary priorities that seem here to stay. Willem Meijer uses the latest research from The Manufacturer and IBM to help define the boardroom priorities for 2021.

As the world emerged into 2021 on January 1, the prevailing message from around the globe was one of optimism. Optimism that the trials and tribulations of 2020 would be behind us, that economies would recover and, most importantly, that we could carry out our daily activities safely and in good health.

The green shoots of optimism for 2021 can be seen in the outcome of the Digital Transformation Assessment, researched and produced by The Manufacturer and commissioned by IBM.

Senior executives and managers from industrial organisations across a broad range of sectors shared their hopes and expectations for 2021 and beyond. Many see emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to act, with 67% of respondents accelerating their investment in digital projects.

The manufacturers surveyed have prioritised three interconnected factors for Digital Transformation:

  • The human impact
  • Data gathering to support decision making
  • Acting swiftly yet shrewdly

These factors show a mature approach to digital projects, putting people at the heart of changes and focusing on enabling them to make better decisions.

While automation of processes on both the shop floor and in the office will continue, key decisions will be made by people and timely and accurate data will improve decision making.

With 92% of respondents ranking ‘improving operational efficiency’ as their greatest priority, Digital Transformation projects which reduce waste and automate processes are likely to dominate the agenda in 2021.


The respondents also plan to use these digital projects as part of their drive to continuously improve their operations by ‘Doing things better’, ‘Doing better things’ and ‘Doing new things’. These are three mindsets that have served UK manufacturers well in the past and will continue to do so.

A cause for optimism in 2021 is that digital technologies, when designed to serve the people using them, have the power to make exponential changes.

Almost four in five respondents (79%) have made strong headway with Advanced Data Analytics projects, suggesting that the majority of manufacturers are preparing to draw on their data resources and use these to improve their decision making.

This is no surprise – the volume of data available to manufacturers is increasing exponentially year-on-year, and for smart organisations it offers a competitive edge.

Well curated data offers timely insights and provides the building blocks to drive down costs through Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and drive up performance through using Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The biggest change we have seen in 2020, and one that bodes well for 2021, is the rise of worker wellbeing up the list of corporate priorities. Individuals have had to adapt to flexible and remote working, furloughs and, in some cases, delivering home schooling.


Organisations have had to adapt to the needs of their workforce in real-time, and those which are digitally enabled have handled this best. Respondents to our survey placed wellbeing and the worker environment second only to operational resilience as a ‘pandemic priority’.

The manufacturing landscape for 2021 presents an exciting opportunity for organisations which manage complexity and drive competitiveness by tying digital transformation to business priorities and to the wellbeing of their employees.

Acting swiftly is essential to gain headway in competitive environments and build on digital foundations faster than competitors. Smart organisations are pushing onwards with their digital transformation and investing to weather current and future storms. 2021 is the year for optimism and change.

What did your manufacturing peers say when asked about the changes they’ve made and their business priorities for the coming year?

Click here to download the 2021 Digital Transformation Assessment to learn:

  • How the pandemic has accelerated the need for digital transformation
  • What are seen as investment priorities for 2021
  • How smart technology can help futureproof your business 

Willem Meijer - Vice President Industrial Sector UKI - IBM

Willem Meijer is Vice President & UKI Industrial Sector Lead at IBM

You can connect with him on LinkedIn here