A hybrid work model entails collaborating with colleagues both online and in-person.
Cloud continues to dominate as companies process large amounts of data central to artificial intelligence and machine learning advancements.
Enterprise technology businesses are transforming niche offerings and exploring acquisitions to go up against well-established giants in the field.
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Remote work supported business continuity when crisis dominated the workplace last year. Now, a blend of in-person and at-home work – what's increasingly called hybrid work – will dominate the workplace. And the technology industry is stepping up to support them.
The emerging technology trendsetters featured on Insider's annual list of 100 People Transforming Business have stepped up to supply the tools that make the coming hybrid world work.
"The shift to remote-hybrid work and disappearance of business travel brought to light the value of collaboration technology," said Tope Awotona, CEO of Calendly and one of Insider's list of people transforming emerging technology in 2021.
But there's much more to the coming hybrid world than just collaboration. The emerging technology transformers on Insider's 2021 list represent industries from cloud computing to automation to artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, showing how hybrid work will require a rethinking of the tech landscape from top to bottom.
It's a real challenge, these leaders say, but the reward will be the more resilient workforces with more flexible employees.
"The more tasks you have automated, the easier it is for any business to face any big crisis," said Daniel Dines, CEO of automation company UiPath.
Data and AI are powering the transformation
One of the most visible of those challenges has come in cybersecurity, as an ongoing ransomware crisis and the SolarWinds supply chain hack spotlighted the vulnerability of many IT systems.
That could also be an opportunity for cybersecurity firms like CrowdStrike, which CEO George Kurtz tells Insider has ambitions of becoming the "Salesforce of security" by helping companies large and small protect themselves – even when their employees are working at home, well away from the defenses of the corporate firewall.
Along similar lines, this year's list shows how cloud giant Amazon Web Services and red-hot data warehousing startup Databricks are using artificial intelligence to do deeper analysis on data that the companies believe will open the door to a new era of software.
In a more direct sense, firms like UiPath are using data to power automations that are helping knowledge workers everywhere simplify their working lives.
Transformers hustle hard against the competition
This year's list of emerging tech transformers also shows that competition is alive and well in this new world.
Confluent, the open-source data streaming company behind one of the year's hottest tech IPOs, found success amid its ongoing public feud with Amazon Web Services over software licensing.
Meanwhile, Twilio is taking the rising demand for its cloud communications products during the pandemic as an opportunity to invest in its infrastructure to make sure it can stay competitive as it grows.
"What we did a long time ago is nice," said Michelle Grover, Twilio CIO and a 2021 Transformer. "Now as we get more load on the system and get a lot bigger customers, we need to be able to scale."
Marketing software Hubspot is also at a tipping point. The company is looking to go beyond marketing and into more facets of customer relationship management as CEO Yamini Rangan signals her willingness to take on Salesforce head-to-head.
Each company's competitive edge relies on finding room for itself among the crowd. It places the burden on even household names like Apple to continually innovate. This year's list features Johny Srouji, SVP of hardware technologies, charged with the development of Apple's lauded M1 chip – reducing the company's reliance on suppliers like Intel and allowing it to forge its own path in hardware.
Spotlighting diversity among tech leadership
The changing world will also require a new generation of business leaders. A diversity of perspectives, and support for workers from all backgrounds, will be required to keep innovation alive.
Backstage Capital and its founder, Arlan Hamilton, invest in startups founded by leaders from underrepresented backgrounds to further diversify the leadership ranks in the famously homogenous tech industry. Hamilton says that she's guided by the thesis that the next big things in emerging tech will come from entrepreneurs, executives, and companies that may have previously been written off or sidelined.
"We're not just here as a novelty and as someone you should pat on the head," Hamilton said. "We're good at this."
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