OpenSense Labs: The 2021 Macro Trends in Technology: Where Does Drupal Stand?

The 2021 Macro Trends in Technology: Where Does Drupal Stand?
Gurpreet Kaur
Tue, 05/04/2021 – 19:49

The world we live in is pretty dynamic, it keeps evolving. Talking strictly in the technological sense, things that enjoy immense popularity today stand a chance of being considered obsolete tomorrow. Then there are the advancements in popular trends, which happen to be eminent today and tomorrow, but the eminence is enjoyed by its newer version.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you don’t consider the acclimation period, which can become tiring, but once that is out of the way, we are almost always thankful for the change. 

Take Drupal 8, for instance, upgrading from its previous version was a massive undertaking, and the fact that Drupal 8 was a whole other ball game than Drupal 7, made the acclimation process quite difficult to be honest. However, D8’s new features and capabilities made the difficulties worth it. Having worked on D8, I am speaking from personal experience. 

2021 saw the emergence of some of the most astounding technological advancements that deserve to be awed at. So, today we would be discussing some of these that come as popular trends in technology and change the way we do and see things. Being from the Drupal community, I would also be co-relating these advancements with Drupal and see how we can amalgamate the trend and the CMS and make it work for us, as Drupalists. Drupal, being an open source software, is extensive by nature and making it scope wider to align with the latest trends is a challenge that not many would be opposed to. So, let’s begin getting familiar with the trends and see if Drupal can be used to capitalise them. 

The Remote Environments’ Charm 

The first trend I will be talking about is one that has affected all of us. The phrase ‘remote working’ used to seem like a far-fetched idea in the pre-pandemic times, but now it has become a reality, a reality that would be here to stay for much longer than we anticipated.

Remote environments have become the trend in the tech industry and the fact that these are beneficial to everyone involved in working, the boss, the employee and the customer, is the reason for its longevity. Collaboration strategies massively change in remote environments and work pretty well for the organisation as it improves productivity.

Let’s start with the bosses of the tech industry, the first hard hitting fact of the pandemic for this sector was the realisation of the inadequacies of its digital infrastructure. The initial phase of remote working saw the employers rushing to provide even the most basic of infrastructural needs. The digital cracks that were hidden in the past became quite blatant in the pandemic. From dealing with heightened consumer traffic online through scaling and building resilience to adding features and getting them into production, every business aspect has been made possible through remote environments. 

Employees are happy that they are able to avoid the hour-long commute, as many as 70% will continue to work remotely on a permanent basis.

As for the clients, they are able to reap the benefits of the global technological network from their homes. The barriers for digitally gaining access to industry experts are no longer visible and the customers are capitalising on that. Getting an expert on a virtual call is so much more convenient for both parties than a physical meeting, the chances of which would have been slim, regardless of the pandemic.

Then there are the virtual tech conferences that are a win for everyone, the consumers, the employees and the bosses. Talking from personal experience, I was pretty upset when I couldn’t go to the DrupalCon Amsterdam 2019. So, when the first ever virtual DrupalCon was announced in July 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, I was beyond thrilled, because I was able to take part in it from my home. 

Of course, there are also the environmental and social benefits of remote working. Less carbon emissions, more renewable resources, less traffic and consequently less number of road accidents, all say that remote environments’ charm cannot be taken lightly.

In MIT Professor Tom Malone’s words, 

The current crisis has accelerated us forwards a decade in terms of acceptance of remote working, and there is no going back.

What’s Next in Cloud?

Cloud isn’t a new trend in the market. AWS, Azure, AliCloud and GCP have been the flag bearers in this domain, making the transition to cloud quite seamless. Servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics and intelligence, everything is provided for on the cloud. With a lion’s share of organisations using cloud based services, its eminence is staring at us glaringly. 

There are two trends in the cloud domain that deserve attention. 

Infrastructure-as-code 

To define infrastructure-as-code simply would come out as the automation of infrastructure and the consequent management of the said automation. In a broader sense, it would be defined as the practice of configuring and managing infrastructure such as networks or machine readable files. 

Through this concept, developers are able to supply IT environments with multiple lines of code and also gain the ability to deploy in minutes, rather than the ages it used to take manually. 

With recent improvements in IaC, it is more likely to deliver better outcomes as its ecosystem is growing. However, being a relatively new technique, it has certain disadvantages including inconsistencies in its tooling along with paradoxical approaches. New ideologies are still surfacing around it, infrastructure as software by Pulumi or infrastructure as data by Hightower are two of them. The way IaC will come out in the future is highly anticipated. 

Pipeline-as-code

Coming to pipeline-as-code, which essentially means defining the deployment pipeline through code, rather than the configuration of a running CI/CD tool. With organisations moving towards automation in all across their environments, especially the development infrastructure, pipeline-as-code would become a need. 

LambdaCD, Drone, GoCD and Concourse act as resources to make pipeline-as-code work for you. 

I’ll culminate this trend with Drupal. In DrupalCon Vienna 2017, a session took place that talked about using Drupal to capitalise on infrastructure as code as well as pipeline as code. In a session during the event, the implementation of Continuous Delivery pipelines in immutable infrastructure was discussed. DevOps and general tools like Docker, Packer, Terraform and Ansible amongst others can make that possible. And all of this can be achieved by extending Drupal. You will find a lot of interesting details in this video.

The Realisation of Data and Analytics

Data has become one of the most important commodities for businesses and the analytics to understand and generate lucrative insights from that data is even more important. 

When we consider data and analytics, predictive analytics is often an integral part of it. Building websites that are able to capitalise the notion and create dynamic content which operates on the user’s browsing history and site relative behaviour is garnering a lot of interest. The thing is building such a site requires a host of software to work together. R, Google Analytics along with Drupal can make that happen. For ‘the how,’ you would have to watch this video.

With a majority of the CIOs believing that data and analytics will start shaping their business in the future, it won’t be wrong to believe that many trends of today are also in line with this concept. Big Data and AI have become crucial for sectors like finance, wherein the assessment of potential loans and investment is done through the analytics. It is suffice to say that today, businesses, from private to government, are becoming more data-driven by the day. To make data safer, data residency, privacy and its usage are accounting for a regulatory environment that is both dynamic and complex in its mandates, making organisations steer in the right direction. 

Associated with data and analytics are concepts of surveillance capitalism and surveillance state, which use surveillance and manipulation to drive power and profits. With COVID-19, such surveillance technologies have been adopted by many countries including China and Israel. Once the pandemic is clear, there is a high chance that these emergency measures will remain. Learn more on how better data strategies can help capitalise on consumer behaviour.

The Modern and Updated Core 

At the heart of a consistent output of every business, you’d find its core processes. So, saying that they are important would be understating them. Having core processes that fairly rudimentary is not going to be enough in 2021. 

With a heightened level of digital transformation, more expectations from our users and an increased use of data-intensive algorithms being implemented in the core systems everywhere, be it the front, middle or backend, there is progression towards uplifting the core from being basic. 

Core modernisation is quite discernible as a trend in 2021, and the development and delivery of the advanced ERPs and legacy programs is its proof. To further substantiate it, think of the kind of interactions the consumers want, instantaneous and tailored would be the words used to describe them. That is why core modernisation has become a need, not only for consumer relationships, but also for digital finance and real-time supply chains. Refreshing and reengineering ERP and legacy systems are the first step towards achieving this. Doing this would allow you to get to new levels of agility, automation, scalability and security.  

The Rise of Digital Reality Technologies

Digital technologies are becoming more real with the passing time. AR/VR, voice interfaces, speech recognition, ambient computing, 360° video along with immersive technologies have enabled businesses to provide a more real user experience. 

Terms like natural, intuitive and imperceptible are used to describe these technologies and their consequent engagement with the users.

Being able to experience a situation without actually being in that situation has become possible through virtual reality. The Massachusetts State University’s VR tour is one example of virtual reality and Drupal combo. A react front-end, Drupal backend and JSON API made that possible. Look for yourself.

The same can be done for your employees and workers, wherein AR and Drupal can provide the workers a 3D view of the procedure, leading to an elevated level of productivity. Imagine a shopping application that becomes your assistant inside the store, from telling the route to reaching the products you want to scanning them and telling you the price, that’s augmented reality in its prime. With Drupal 8, building that application becomes a possibility.

The reality of digital experience in 2021 is deepening with emotional connections with consumers and employees alike. This brings to the next  trend, which is the human-factor of these experiences achieved through AI.

The Humanness of Artificial Intelligence

The term artificial intelligence is not something that many of us haven’t heard or even experienced ourselves. It has been a concept that has been around for a while and we have seen its marvels and have been impressed by them. 

In the context of Drupal, the digital sphere has numerous plausibilities with regards to Artificial Intelligence.

And there is more; 

But what’s more? These aspects, although impressive, don’t excite us or our consumers anymore. To bring back the excitement, the concept of driving human emotions, feelings and moods into AI has become a trend. 

This AI approach emphasises on designing for humans, meaning the focus would be one human and emotion-led experiences, which would then be curated through AI technologies; a total 180 from the traditional designs. Human emotions like empathy, trust and feeling complex emotions would be the star of human experiences. 

For this, 

  • Neuroscientific research would be conducted, including EEG, eye tracking, facial coding and implicit association testing amongst others.
  • Human centred design would be implemented, which would focus on the human, his beliefs, values, feelings and ambitions along with ethnographic research and neuroscience to understand the human’s needs and wants on a deeper level.
  • Cognitive and affective technologies would come to play, to stress ethical considerations of the design and align it with the organisation’s values.

Vision systems, voice recognition, natural language generation, natural language processing, voice stress analysis and sentiment analysis are some of the AI technologies being used to deliver human experiences. With these at work, a phone call to the automated-caller would only placate the consumer/employee and not agitate him/her further. 

The Next Gen of User Experience

When a user interacts with us, there are certain actions that make it possible. Clicking, pointing, swiping and scrolling are some of them. As you may have experienced yourself, these mediums of interactions are evolving. A user can experience what you want him to without these actions, speaking and gesturing are what I am referring to. And with advancements, thinking would become a part of it too. This technology is referred to as ambient user experience. 

It is when technology is used in accordance with consumer data to provide a seamless interaction for the user, which may not be dependent on human touch. 

With new and improved devices being launched every second, the user has become somewhat dependent on them. This dependence would only grow with time and devices would have to provide more. 

  • The future would look something like this; 
  • More prominence would be given to technology, all the while making devices smaller, yet more powerful. 
  • Proactiveness would signify all consumer interactions. 
  • Neurofeedback technology would become ubiquitous, making direct brain and neural interactions an everyday occurrence.
  • Devices in general would be more connected and context-aware at home, office and everywhere else we go.

The Transactional Blockchain 

In 2021, blockchains and their use is going to gain traction. The reason being the numerous benefits these digital ledgers come with.

Improved transparency; 
Better security; 
Accurate traceability; 
Reduced costs;
And enhanced speed being just a few of them.

Blockchain initiatives are advancing in every sector of the business world. It is not just limited to financial services and fintech companies anymore, rather from government to life sciences and healthcare, from technology to media and telecommunications, every major sector is trying to lead in blockchain development. 

Blockchain are usually fully decentralised p2p architectures, however, there is another architecture that is being explored. A semi-decentralised architecture, with the same benefits of trusted transactions can be built. Here Drupal can provide assistance, its User Accounts can be used for that.

Talking further about Drupal, its Ethereum Blockchain Module that integrates with Ethereum, an open source blockchain platform programmable through smart contracts, has made the CMS leverage this technology. Watch this video to get more insights on both the Drupal aspects in Blockchain technology.

The Method of Agile and DevOps

The way businesses operate is also changing and 2021 is bringing with it the convergence of technology and business strategies. This has brought on the trend of development methodologies like Agile and DevOps. 

Today, providing operational excellence has become equivalent to driving value creation. Businesses are doing one to achieve the other. There is a tangible shift in priorities from delivering projects to the results that project would bring. Hence, the adoption of methods like Agile and DevOps has become pivotal.

Version control, automation and testing tools, backup and disaster recovery along with sound security practises are just a few of them. All of these make the management of servers and other infrastructure pretty convenient as part of an organisations daily operations.

The best part about these DevOps techniques is that they can be used with other web applications and Drupal is one of them. If you are looking to widen your knowledge span of DevOps and its use alongside Drupal, this video would be the one to watch.

The Physics of Quantum

Quantum is not just a physics concept anymore, it is being used everywhere or more like quantum computing is being leveraged in every corner of the business world. 

Be it producing breakthroughs in science; 
Be it implementing machine learning to get to illnesses sooner; 
Be it creating devices and structure that are far more efficient than in the past; 
Be it promoting financial strategies that will be helpful until a person retires; 
Or be it generating algorithms that would enable the resources to at our disposal quickly; 

Quantum computing is becoming omnipresent and its ability to process information and execute computations that are not only unhackable, but also have the ability to concentrate tech is probably the reason for it being in vogue.

With quantum computing, there won’t be any technical constraints that often hold back both data and material scientists. Unlike the traditional computing’s use of 0s and 1s, quantum computing relies on its own quantum bits to propel change through manipulation of single particles, which would have the potential of solving highly complex problems. 

The Accessible Version of Programming 

Let’s look at numbers, there would be billions of people using the web and all of its offerings and by offerings I mean the numerous websites and applications we, as users, use. Now, what do you think would be the number of expert developers and programmers making these experiences for the user? That number would be much-much lower than users. 

The talent pool required to build programs is scarce to be honest. If we were to be dependent on it to create everything we have on the web, we might not actually have it. So, how come we do? The answer lies in accessible programming. 

If you have heard of spreadsheets and low-code platforms, you will have a fair idea of what I am going to say. These are means for novice programmers or even non-programmers to create, store and manipulate data without the need for a long development process involving the scarce talent pool I just mentioned. The pre-built components and configurations help in future accelerating the development process without the need of coding. 

You might think that this is a great new trend, empowering non-programmers to tap into the programming world and create something on their own, and it truly is; however, I wouldn’t say that it is a new trend. 

  • Back in the 60s, when COBOL was created as a programming language, it was made to resemble the english so that the non-programmers could work with it. 
  • Then there is Drupal with its D7AX, which is a community of sorts, wherein developers pledge to create modules that adhere to accessibility standards and by simply installing them, you can create a truly accessible web experience. Learn more on Drupal’s web accessibility provisions here.

Although these two examples are fairly different in regards to accessibility, they do promote it in their own way, making the work of programmers and developers easy. 

With increasing awareness about this, this trend of making development accessible is sure going to pick up pace in 2021. 

The Reign of Programming Languages

Programming languages are the sole connection between the computers and the programmers, making both understand each other. To make that understanding as seamless as possible, there are tons of programming languages available, some more advanced than others and some more convenient than others. There are the ones that we, as developers and programmers, use everyday and then there are the ones we wish to use. We’ll talk about both. 

A raph shows the list of languages that are the most loved by programmers; Rust tops the list, making it one of the popular macro trends.
Source: Stack Overflow

At the top of the most loved languages since the past half decade is Rust and with good reason. It is a language that delivers an impressive performance and is memory safe along with that its robust expressiveness also works in its favour. The fact that it is being used for big data and machine learning further adds to its lovable attributes. 

Talking about the language that the programmers covet would be Python, followed by JavaScript and Go. While Rust lands at number 4 in this category, it does show that the loved language is garnering more and more interest each year. 

A graph shows a list of languages based on their desirability for the programmers.
Source: Stack Overflow

The Pivot Towards Visualisation Tools

It’s safe to say that a good picture can speak with more clarity than words ever could. Perhaps that is why visualisation tools, that equip the developers with the ability to create good images, are becoming prominent. These images are concentrated in every realm of web building from architecture to code complexity and up to system performance, visualising data and making your work easy. 

Frameworks like Tableau, IBM Cognos Analytics and Microsoft Power BI are the front-runners in this domain, becoming feature packed data studios in themselves. However, this year there has been an emergence of up-and-coming visualisation tools that have proven to be as good as the rest. Dash, Streamlit, Sisense, Kiali and Infogram are some of them.

From providing custom reports and dashboards for machine learning apps to observation tools and capturing distributed traces and metrics, these visualisation tools will remain in vogue because they take data and make it seem simple enough to explore your own health and structure as well as provide flexibility, customisation, version control on top of automated deployment.

The Browsers Going On to Full-Blown Applications?

A browser can do a number of things. If we compare an app to its browser site, you’d find a lot of similarities. Chrome and the Google app have that. At my work, I have Google Docs, Gmail, Slack and Zoho all working throughout the day on Google Chrome with Zoom calls popping in a couple of times, so, yes the browser can achieve some semblance of the functionality an app can achieve. But was it meant to be? Was a browser supposed to become an equivalent of an app? 

There isn’t an accurate answer to this question. Maybe it was the addition of HTML 2.0 and instigated the browser war between Microsoft and Netscape or maybe it was just coincidence. Nonetheless, nobody can deny that the browser has become a more complex and versatile platform with an ecosystem of its own. With polyfills and a JavaScript ecosystem make it both easy and complex for the developers to navigate through the browsers. 

Yes, browsers have transcended the expectations their users once had of them, but they still have a certain way to become a full-blown application. Take automated testing for instance, the tools browsers have for that are as good as ancient in comparison to the applications, which have the same as a first-grade objective. 

Despite this fact browsers are and will continue to evolve, this is true because browsers as code platforms are gaining traction and the tech community is making strides towards improving the overall browser experience. And to think all of this started with the addition of the ‘submit forms’ features, kind of surreal, isn’t it?

Conclusion 

And there you have it, all the popular technology trends that 2021 has to offer us. Many of them are not new of us in the tech industry, but the advancements being made in them called for their mention. Be it cloud technologies or the visualisation tools or even the ambient experience, every macro trend in 2021 is unique in itself and its outcome and that is what I think will make this year unique too.

As for Drupal, it is an old CMS, yet at 20, it’s still going strong. The most discernible reason for that is its versatility. Drupal has many out-of-the-box features that make it great, however, it hardly had any that I mentioned above. Despite that fact, it is able to provide its users the benefits of using these macro trends because it is extensible. Drupal can be used and integrated with the technologies that you want it to work with and that makes the CMS advance right along with the changing macro trends each year. 

In the end, I hope this article is as enlightening for you as it was for me. Good luck following trends and making new ones! 

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