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This article was contributed by Will Grannis, CTO, Google Cloud

The year ahead will mark the greatest reset for corporate brands, work, and innovation in living memory.

Why? Digital technology has been and continues to be the driving force behind some of the most dramatic ways companies are responding to the COVID pandemic: everything from shopping and supply chains to child care and work changed to increase safety and fight disease transmission. These new ways of working and delivering products and services will undoubtedly have profound lasting effects.

For example, Target was able to quickly introduce new tech-enabled safety features and scale to support explosive growth in same-day services like drive up and pick up because of the digital architecture it has created. Target’s cloud infrastructure enables engineers to rapidly write and deploy code, and helps store team members easily access and manage information to deliver exceptional omnichannel guest experiences. In addition, governments and health professionals around the world transformed the work of hospitals, courts and schools into virtual digital experiences, empowering citizens to care for themselves and loved ones.

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All of this is possible because the cloud is fundamentally a platform on which digital information can be gathered, modeled, acted on, and made useful to people everywhere through software applications. As COVID has shown, this is happening at historic rates with sweeping positive effects.

This has changed what people expect, too. At lightning speed, consumers have grown used to a daily barrage of large amounts of digital information, from sources as diverse as online shopping sites, smart doorbell cameras, personal fitness monitors or contact tracing apps. People expect the freedom and choice of remote work, thanks to cloud-based video, collaboration and data analysis tools. They work and socialize with networks of people distributed across large areas, sometimes in different countries.

We don’t know what this year will look like in terms of the pandemic, but the platform-based impact of new modeling, understanding and acting is now part of our future. As the CTO of Google Cloud, I speak with top executives from a broad range of industries and, almost daily, they’ve reinforced the need of running their business on a secure, well-engineered digital platform to enable future innovation.

These conversations have also shaped my view on what we can anticipate in 2022 and beyond:

Consumers want visibility everywhere

Consumers today operate in richer information environments than ever before, and will expect information and transparency such as a company’s sustainability practices, or how their privacy is protected. The expectation of two-way communication and the demand that the customer be heard was building before COVID. It will strengthen with time. Unilever already sees this, and besides aiming to have 1 billion personalized relationships in 190 countries, is working to end deforestation in its supply chain.

Bring your values to work

How people feel doesn’t change between being a consumer to being at work. They want options around hybrid work, equity and wellness. Much of the language today around the “Great Resignation,” or people leaving their jobs, is less about money and time at the office, and more about finding work with meaning that ultimately contributes to a better world. Beyond wanting to be heard at the workplace, people are curious to know how their work makes a positive contribution. For example, companies want more visibility into the carbon footprint of their technology platforms and options to reduce it, offering positive contributions that are appreciated by both staff and customers. This is in part in response to people bringing their values to work and companies responding to those values. We’ll see this increase moving forward. According to Deloitte, Gen Z is the first generation to make choices about the work they do based on personal ethics. And McKinsey says two-thirds of millennials take an employer’s social and environmental commitments into account when deciding where to work.

The Golden Age of measurement

Measurement may be the most powerful aspect of the cloud. Companies are becoming more and more engineering-based and data-driven. More data from new sources, better AI and analytics models, stronger computation, delivered on a fast and secure global network – it all combines to enable new models and insights to understand the world, serve customers, build a richer and more effective workforce, or improve operations. What I hear most from companies of every size is the opportunity created by seeing and measuring more parts of their world – better understanding of everything from quality control in real time, to the actual states of their supply chains, to the collective sentiment of employees around corporate policies, like remote work. Real time data now powers decision making and it will only continue to influence corporate decisions.

Cloud-based platforms are forever changing basic research, product design, customer service and the structure of work. This year, we’ll see even richer examples of this. It is still early days when it comes to cloud adoption, with only 10-15% of enterprise IT spending and 20-30% of workflows moved to the cloud. I am convinced it is the strongest and most powerful technology trend of my lifetime. Based on both the rise of platform-based innovation and what I experience daily with customers, the advances in industries from retail to manufacturing to healthcare will astonish us all.

Will Grannis is the founder and leader of Google’s CTO Office

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