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Looking at 2021

Cambridge Judge faculty talk about what to expect in 2021 in areas ranging from manufacturing to the workplace to the arts.

Woman with a slight smile on her face gazing out of a window.

Predictions can be a risky business, as evidenced by how few people would have predicted a year ago that 2020 would be a year forever remembered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Nevertheless, we asked some of our faculty members to share their thoughts on trends and other developments they are keeping their eyes on in 2021 – ranging from manufacturing, to the environment, to the hoped-for return of live audiences to theatres.

Here is the insight of some Cambridge Judge Business School faculty on the year just beginning:

Jaideep Prabhu, Professor of Marketing, on manufacturing and on education…

In the area of manufacturing, 2021 will be the year we will see distributed manufacturing and nearshoring take off in a big way. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were many signs of a withdrawal from the late- 20th Century model of offshoring all manufacturing (typically to China) and then shipping products from there to markets around the world. With the rise of digital manufacturing tools such as 3D printing, the increase in labour costs in China, and concerns about the environmental and other costs of shipping, firms and economies were already pulling back manufacturing to locate it closer to customers. But with the pandemic and the geopolitical climate shifting against rampant globalisation, we are likely to see a dramatic rise in nearshoring and local, networked (distributed) manufacturing in a number of sectors including automotive, home appliances, clothing, and computing, especially in the “spare parts” element of the supply chain and with smart, Internet of things components.

In education, and business education in particular, 2021 will be the year in which online and blended learning programmes really take off. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was clear that the future of business education was in continuing education delivered online: short, flexible courses on specialist topics for people too busy to take a year or more off to study full time or who already had a full time degree and were looking to upgrade their skills in specific new areas. The reluctance of some older universities and business schools to get into these areas has now been shaken off and we will see a full flourishing of competition and co-operation between new start-ups in this space and the traditional providers. The spoils might well go to the established brands that fully embrace the potential of this new medium.

Michael Barrett, Professor of Information Systems & Innovation Studies, on digital transformation…

The pandemic has accelerated the uptake of digital in virtually every sector, and this has brought to light the level of readiness and maturity of different organisations to adapt to the future. In 2021, we can expect to see more clear winners and losers as we have started to see in the retail industry. Those organisations with little investment or capability in evolving to becoming a digital enterprise will likely be banished as dinosaurs of the pre-COVID-19 era. Those already well positioned with digital maturity will sprint faster, making make even bigger competitive strides. While customer power can be expected to energise this digital trend, it is less clear how flexible organisations will be with their employees in the emerging era. On the one hand, the pandemic has provided a long-enough runway for new work routines to become legitimate out of necessity – but what recalibration might we expect in sectors where digital does not easily allow for measurement and control of worker productivity?

Michael Pollitt, Professor of Business Economics, on green jobs…

Hopefully we’ll get more detail in 2021 on the UK government’s “Green Industrial Revolution” announced late last year by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. My view is that initiatives to boost wind power and shift from natural gas to hydrogen are primarily environmental in nature, which is great, but I’m sceptical that they will create lots of new jobs as the government hopes. The UN Climate Change Conference is scheduled for November in Glasgow, so hopefully we’ll see some more granular detail from the UK government before then.

Allègre Hadida, University Senior Lecturer on Strategy, on the cultural sector and on government support for the arts…

The cultural sector is anxiously hoping for a safe and successful reopening of cinemas and performing arts venues in 2021 after the industry was decimated by the pandemic. While some venues have reopened with limited capacity, questions remain about many issues – as amplified by Warner Brothers’ decision to stream its entire 2021 film slate, including blockbusters, at the same time they open in cinemas. The biggest question of all is whether audiences, which have become increasingly used to consuming content online during the pandemic, will return to these venues – although the movie industry has survived many challenges before including the advent of television and home video, and the performing arts sector has lived through other pandemics. Will collective, in-person entertainment experiences return?

Government support has always been important to the arts, and never more so than in 2021 – so all eyes will be on how responsive governments can be given so many other spending demands caused by the pandemic. Museums and performing arts organisations find it difficult to break even at 50 per cent capacity, so continuing social distancing measures will hurt. Another question for the creative industries: what will be the cost effect of extra sanitary measures and insurance premiums on the production of new content, as customers to online video-on-demand subscription services such as Netflix have grown accustomed to a steady weekly diet of brand new content?

Thomas Roulet, University Senior Lecturer on Organisation Theory, on the workplace…

Many believe that in 2021 we will return to pre-COVID-19 work patterns. While the rise of remote work was slow until then, the COVID-19 crisis forced us all to operate in new ways. As firms are, as a consequence, getting rid of their office space, we will most likely never return to office life as it was. Co-workers, managers and their employees will only meet face to face occasionally, but both organisations and their members will quickly realise the central importance of those physical interactions for their employees’ co-ordination, bonding and mental health. This “hybrid” workplace will capitalise on an increasing range of digital tools.

Chris Coleridge, Senior Faculty in Management Practice, on environmental entrepreneurship and investment..

In 2020, more than 500 significant companies around the globe set Science-Based Targets for reducing their emissions, bringing the total to 1,100. But it’s widely understood that the concrete plans to meet these ambitious targets are a work in progress. So the current rush by the venture capital world to invest in climate tech needs to be seen not only in the light of rolling out renewables and cleaning up the grid. Fundamentally, corporates will need to shift their business models and value propositions to low-carbon-intensity activities, and it’s entrepreneurs who will lead the way in helping them do that. Corporates aren’t typically great at innovation that contradicts their existing dominant logic – so entrepreneurs have major opportunities to help them towards the kind of radical innovations that will be needed.

Sunita Sah, KPMG Professor of Management Studies, on the criminal justice system and forensic science

The change of leadership in Washington is likely to restart initiatives on tackling bias in the US criminal justice system. The Trump administration in 2017 ended the National Commission of Forensic Science, on which I served as a Commissioner, due to the administration’s aversion to science and to valid criticism of traditional law enforcement practices. The Commission – which was jointly administered by the Justice Department and the National Institute of Standards and Technology – had been established following a report by the National Research Council, which had shockingly concluded that many techniques (such as bite-mark evidence) commonly used in US courts had no scientific basis.

Jennifer Howard-Grenville, Diageo Professor in Organisation Studies, on climate-change promises…

The UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November – known as COP26 – which will focus on actions to meet goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Governments and business are now making pledges to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by a certain date, but we all need to adopt a ‘buyer beware’ attitude to what such promises actually translate into. A willingness to set a net-zero ambition is not the same as having the capacity to achieve it, so we should all focus on environmental actions and not just words in 2021.

Eden Yin, University Senior Lecturer in Marketing, on digital innovation in marketing…

The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a great catalyst for digital transformation and especially on the marketing front. Customers are more accustomed to online shopping, and this habit will become further entrenched in 2021. To execute marketing strategies more effectively, firms will need to provide a superior online customer experience – including not only provision of goods and service, but also the content and dialogue a customer would expect from an online platform. While brick-and-mortar outlets remain relevant, they need to become a customer experience or entertainment destination instead of just a channel for distribution. Such a fundamental transformation in consumer habit and preference will pose tremendous challenges to traditional firms in 2021, but those that develop deep relationships with their customers in the virtual world can still thrive.

Kamal Munir, Reader in Strategy & Policy, on philanthropy…

At the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy at Cambridge Judge, where I am Academic Director, we see 2021 as a key year for change in global philanthropy. Philanthropy has come under a lot of criticism in the past couple of years, and sometimes for good reason. At the Centre we are concerned with the relationship of dependency that exists between the developing nations of the Global South and the developed economies of the Global North. So we seek to change this imbalance to a more equitable relationship where countries of the Global South can fill the many institutional voids that exist in their societies, leading to more South-South collaboration and the sharing of data and resources. This will engender new capabilities that will, hopefully, over time contribute to a declining need for philanthropic capital from outside.

Robert Wardrop, Faculty (Professor level) in Management Practice, on digital currencies..

The big issue we will be watching at the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance is whether 2021 is the year that digital currencies go mainstream. Among the key questions: will central banks launch digital versions of their sovereign currencies? And will Diem, the recently rebadged Libra “stablecoin” sponsored by Facebook, finally get regulatory approval to launch as a blockchain-based payment system. These are huge issues, because once the digital currency genie is out of the bottle it will be really hard to put it back in.

Kamiar Mohaddes, University Senior Lecturer in Economics & Policy, on the global economy…

The disconnect between financial markets and the real economy has been truly amazing in the past year, and remains so partly due to massive economic stimulus packages around the world. Our research points to large and persistent negative effects of the pandemic on the world economy, with no country escaping unscathed. So to limit the economic scarring we need to maintain policy interventions that can restore the normal functioning of financial markets, as well as other measures that can support firms and households. In advanced economies, public debt is approaching the levels seen after the Second World War, but restoring economic growth in 2021 is more urgent than cutting those debt levels.