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Best of 2021: Developments in Digital

(Editor’s note: With 2o21 drawing to a close, it’s time to look back on the innovations that the year brought us. Read about the great leaps forward in the transportation sector here, and the improvements in healthcare here!)

When it comes to the past year, there’s not been any shortage of digital innovations and developments. In fact, nearly every sector has experienced their own versions of digital trends in 2021. This certainly true for the finance and computing industries, but it’s likewise evident in other areas as well. In this regard, it seems like we’re still in the midst of a digital revolution without any end in sight. And as we come to rely more on AI and machine learning, continued adoption of digital technologies can be expected. In this regard, the year 2021 might be viewed as an inevitable continuation of what began years prior.

Many of the digital trends in 2021 actually began the year previously. The pandemic changed the way we had to interact and conduct our lives. In-person encounters gave way to virtual ones, and online shopping became the norm. The pandemic also identified major gaps in our digital infrastructure that needed to be addressed. This was notably true in education and healthcare that had to suddenly shift to online services. Understanding this, the digital innovations this year are building on the existing foundations started by the pandemic. While most have continued in the same directions, others have not. With this in mind, the following highlights the most notable digital trends in 2021.

  • Evolving Solutions in Cybersecurity and Data Protections

The sum total of stored data in 2021 reached an amazing figure of 43 zettabytes. For clarification purposes, this is equal to a 43 trillion gigabytes, which is an enormous amount of data. But with this growth in data comes serious concerns, especially in relation to cybersecurity. On average, a single breach in data protection costs companies $4.2 million in fines, public relations, ransoms, and patches. Thus, it’s not surprising that one of the digital trends in 2021 involved enhanced cybersecurity solutions. Companies like TripleBlind are introducing digital innovations that better protect data systems. Specifically, they are looking to combine the best features of encryption, blockchain, and tokenization while avoiding their disadvantages. While this trend isn’t necessarily unique to 2021, it’s definitely worth noting given the demand for such solutions moving forward.

  • A Boost for Digital Infrastructure

If there’s one thing the pandemic highlighted, it was the insufficiencies in broadband Internet services throughout the nation. The need for digital innovations in broadband connectivity were found in rural areas and even in low-income urban neighborhoods. But with the recent passage of the Build Back Better infrastructure bill, this will soon change. The bill allows for $65 billion to be allocated to the construction of an extensive broadband network. Companies like Charter, AT&T and Frontier Communications are likewise taking the lead and have started the work already. By year’s end, new broadband service will be available to millions of households. Projections by 2025 suggest this figure will be in the tens of millions. And if SpaceX’s Starlink satellite project is successful, this figure will be even higher. These digital trends in 2021 related to broadband will set the tone for innovation for years to come. (Dig into Bold’s exploration of how the Infrastructure Bill will close the Great Digital Divide in this story!)

  • Riding the 2021 Cryptocurrency Rollercoaster

One of the most notable digital trends in 2021 involves the erratic behavior of cryptocurrency values. The year began seeing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin increase substantially in value only to suddenly decline in the Spring. Then, after a significant recovery, it has recently tumbled again. While many believe cryptocurrencies are digital innovations that are here to stay, they remain nonetheless volatile. This hasn’t stopped companies like PayPal from extending its cryptocurrency exchange to countries like the U.K. Between Chinese restrictions and Elon Musk’s tweets, it’s hard to predict how the cryptocurrency market will behave. And with concerns about the environmental effects of blockchain and potential regulatory oversight in the U.S., volatility will likely continue. But given the continued interest in digital coin, the long-range bet still looks to be in cryptocurrency’s favor.

  • Introducing the Digital ID

One of the most interesting digital innovations of the year involves Apple’s new iOS 15 platform. With this platform, Apple users have the opportunity to create their own Digital IDs on their smartphones. Just as they might do with their credit or debit card, they simple create a Digital ID in their digital wallet. Though it requires signing some disclaimers and recording some face and head movements, the process is about the same. Then, they simply access their Digital ID through touch verification. While these digital trends in 2021 aren’t likely to be the end of a physical wallet, this potential does exist. In years to come, these could become acceptable as actual forms of ID. And this could have implications related to identification security and the frequency with which IDs are checked. Though the Digital ID is early in development, it’s certainly worth staying abreast of any new developments.  (Read more about the rise of digital ID’s in this Bold story.)

  • Shifting Digital Advertising Strategies

In 2020, digital advertising saw a huge increase as consumers began shopping online and streaming from home. Notably, these same digital trends in 2021 continued with global digital advertising revenues increasing from $333 to $389 billion. But as always, the devil’s in the details. One of the more notable changes this year involved a gradual move away from the big players toward smaller media advertising companies. In 2020, Facebook, Google, and Amazon owned about 97 percent of all digital advertising. But in 2021, smaller advertisers offering digital innovations grew by nearly 30 percent. At the same time, some major companies chose to back away from their digital advertising budgets. Some did so because of costs while others chose to because of a lack of ROI. Needless to say, it seems digital advertising strategies are in flux in 2021. It will take a bit more time before it’s clear what these current trends mean.

Some people working on digital stuff
There were a number of digital innovations in 2021, and most of them fit into the palm of your hand.

A Highly Dynamic Digital World

Based on the above, it’s evident a variety of digital innovations have transpired over the year. Catalyzed by the pandemic, it seems the process of digitization has accelerated in a number of industries. The digital trends of 2021 mentioned also fail to address changes related to digital assets, non-fungible tokens, and virtual healthcare innovations. Understanding this, it’s clear that the digital landscape is a highly dynamic one that can be expected to change rapidly. But its momentum is strong and its impact on the future is essentially guaranteed.


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Coloring Your Own Clothes In-Store? – Dyeing Innovations Could Make This a Reality

Technology has awarded us many conveniences these days. Nearly everywhere we go, we can connect to Wi-Fi and the Internet. If we have a question, Siri, Alexa, or Google are happy to provide us with the answer. Concerned about traffic or the weather? No problem! A quick check of an app, and we can plan accordingly. And soon, robotics and automation will take all of this to a new level. In essence, every industry has been influenced by these conveniences, and the retail sector is no exception. In fact, thanks to new dyeing technology, we might even be having our wardrobe colored on-the-fly. (Read more about how 2021 was the year of convenience-driven innovation in robotics in this Bold story.)

Sustainable dyeing innovations have emerged in the last few years thanks to a few committed companies. Among them are Ralph Lauren and Dow Chemicals who have partnered to introduce new dyeing technology into the retail arena. Certainly, underlying motivations for pursuing this approach is to entice consumers back into physical stores. Given the impact e-commerce has had on retail trends, this is understandable. But this is not the only driver for embracing new dyeing technology and in-store offerings. In fact, there are several reasons sustainable dyeing innovations are appealing to clothing retailers today.

“E-commerce has gained points of penetration and mindshare and will not give it back. But strong stores that made it through the pandemic are even stronger and are not likely to go away…The store will become more experiential each and every day.” – Simeon Siegel, Retail Analyst, BMO Capital Markets

Trends in Sustainable Dyeing Innovations

Before the pandemic struck, many major retailers had bog projects in the works to attract consumers in-store. The buzzword at the time was “experiential retail,” which attempted to create a memorable experience for customers. This meant tapping not only into their desire but their feelings as well. The stronger the positive emotion, the more likely they were to purchase and return. But COVID caused retailers to place these ideas on shelf…until know. For larger clothing retailers that survived, they are beginning to re-explore not only experiential retail but personalized offerings as well. And this is where new dyeing technology comes into play.


Recently, Ralph Lauren announced a collaboration with Dow Chemicals to pursue sustainable dyeing innovations. Dow has developed its ECOFAST Pure new dyeing technology that uses 90% fewer chemicals and 50% less water. But it also approaches the fabric dyeing process differently, using less heat and pressure. This not only means it’s a more sustainable dyeing innovation but also one that might be done on-demand. This fits nicely into Ralph Lauren’s Color on Demand Project where consumers can choose the color polo shirt they want. Being able to do this efficiently in-house could persuade customers to choose in-store shopping experiences over e-commerce.

“Ralph Lauren will be able to do something like put Color on Demand in one of their flagship stores in New York next year so that you can go in and get your Ralph Lauren polo dyed in the store. That would have never been possible without this technology.” – Jim Fitterling, CEO, Dow Chemicals

New Technologies, New Retail Possibilities

While the pandemic and changes in consumer preferences have require new strategies, technology has enabled them. The retail industry has actually seen a number of new innovations as of late that are expanding opportunities. For example, 3-D printing and 3-D body scanners as well as advanced camera technology are introducing new clothing options. Each of these invite more personalized clothing sizes and styles, moving away from standard ones. Digital printing may also have a notable impact on clothing color choices in addition to new dyeing technology. With a more sustainable dyeing innovation in the works, this is quite likely down the road.

Someone dyeing something red
Once upon a time, dyeing was a messy process… but new dyeing technology might change that.

Several companies besides Ralph Lauren are making similar moves toward a more personalized consumer approach. Nike and Amazon have already made significant acquisitions of body-scanning technologies. Levi Strauss and Company is doing the same. And companies like North Face are already allowing customers to choose individual components of some jackets before they’re manufactured. Combined with accelerated manufacturing techniques, this all signals major changes in the retail world. With new dyeing technology and other developments, there will soon be a blending of e-commerce and in-store experiences for customers.

“You can eliminate all the big pigments in the machines but at the end of all of that you are still left with a garment or fabric. That question still has to be addressed. I like seeing improvements in the coloration process, but we still need to address sustainability from an end-to-end view.” – Ken Butts, Global Key Account Manager, Datacolor

A Need for Sustainable Dyeing Innovations

As noted, Dow Chemicals has invested heavily in the pursuit of sustainable dyeing innovations. The reason for this because current dyeing processes consume a tremendous amount of resources. Not only does the process require large amounts of energy, but it also uses trillions of water worldwide. Estimates suggest dyeing fabrics account for 20 percent of the world’s waste water overall. This is why companies like Ralph Lauren are hopeful that new dyeing technology could improve our ability in water resilience. Not only could smaller-scale, in-store clothing coloring attract customers, but it would also improve a clearly unsustainable system.

In this regard, Ralph Lauren wants to develop a scalable, zero-wastewater cotton dyeing system. With the help of Dow Chemicals, they could reduce chemical usage by 85% in the near future. And ultimately, they hope to utilize their Color on Demand Project for 80% of their products by 2025. Whether or not this will be achievable remains to be seen. But it’s clear that retailers appreciate the need for sustainable dyeing innovations and new dyeing technology. This alone will not address all areas of waste in retail and in overall consumption. However, it is a step in the right direction.


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Best of 2021: Improvements in Healthcare

(Editor’s note: With 2o21 drawing to a close, it’s time to look back on the innovations that the year brought us. Read about the great leaps forward in the transportation sector here!)

When it comes to achievements in healthcare for 2021, it’s not surprising several have transpired. Faced with a global pandemic, the healthcare sector was forced to adapt and evolve. Many of these changes occurred early as COVID spread rapidly resulting in lockdowns, quarantines and social distancing. Telehealth services rapidly expanded, and major pharmaceutical companies developed vaccines and drugs to fight COVID in record time. And a number of companies provided healthcare innovations related to symptom tracking, predictive analytics, and diagnostics. Each of these advances have resulted in a significant quality improvement in healthcare services.

While these healthcare innovations are notable, many other improvements in healthcare have taken place in 2021. Quality improvement in healthcare has expanded well beyond managing a pandemic and is tackling much larger issues. Some of these new developments are exploring the use of digital tools in healthcare management. Others are leveraging technologies to advance research and personalized medicine. And additional ones are reexploring the potential value of psychedelics in mental health disorders. For 2021, these are the more impressive healthcare innovations worth noting. With this in mind, the following explains these advances in greater detail and their potential impact on the future of medicine.

  • Scaling Up Big Data for the Healthcare Sector

One of the major issues affecting healthcare has been an inability to optimize all the data available. Interoperability issues plague the entire system with various electronic health record (EHR) platforms poorly communicating among one another. But companies are now aggressively pursuing strategies to better utilize Big Data in an effort to realize quality improvement in healthcare. Truveta, a rapidly expanding startup, is a perfect example of such a company that has made headlines this year. By collecting massive amounts of healthcare data and anonymizing it, Truveta hopes to provide healthcare data for widespread use. This not only involves EHR and insurance data but also data from wearables, biometric sensors, and digital therapeutics. These healthcare innovations will have a major impact in terms of population and personalized healthcare quality in the future.

  • Quality Improvement in Healthcare Through Gamification

In 2020, we saw healthcare innovations that involved digital fitness equipment as well as electronic wearables. In 2021, however, the industry took another step forward to explore gamification in healthcare. Gamification is the process of creating a game-like environment in sectors where gaming is not the norm. In healthcare, gamification is now being used to increase patient engagement and promote adherence to medical care. Several companies are now involved in these applications to achieve greater quality improvement in healthcare. For example, Paceline and Sweatcoin provide monetary rewards through gamification platforms. Betterfly lets patients earn charitable donations while Wellth allows them to receive discounts on prescriptions.  Thus far, gamification looks to be having a positive effect, especially in regard to patient engagement. Therefore, it’s probable these healthcare strategies will continue to evolve in the years to come. (Dive deeper into Bold’s exploration of gamification in healthcare here!)

  • Mental Healthcare and Magic Mushrooms

This past year, there has also been a major shift in how the healthcare community is viewing psychedelic therapies. Specifically, research is now demonstrating the potential for quality improvement in healthcare for psilocybin, the drug found in magic mushrooms. Studies performed at Johns Hopkins have shown that more than half of depression patients receiving psilocybin went into remission. Likewise, magic mushrooms also appear to be highly effective in treating addiction and may benefit PTSD and anxiety disorders. All of this has led the NIH to begin providing grants for psychedelic research. And many new companies are exploring related healthcare innovations linked to these compounds. Companies like Mind Medicine and 20/20 Global are combining digital therapeutics with psychedelics. Others like Compass Pathways are exploring synthetic formulations. Without question, the past 12 months has seen a significant increase in the level of interest in psychedelics’ use in healthcare. (Check out Bold’s series on psilocybin–start with this story?)

  • Mental Healthcare and AI Technologies

With advances in artificial intelligence, it’s not surprising that 2021 has also seen healthcare innovations here as well. One of the most intriguing developments has been the use of AI in mental healthcare. AI therapeutics are now being utilized and studied as an adjunct to traditional therapy. In these settings, an AI Therapist is being used to screen for mental health conditions and provide education. Some chatbots are being tested to see if they might be able to offer limited counseling advice. Some companies, like, are also using AI to evaluate the quality of psychotherapists. While AI is being used to boost quality improvement in healthcare here, it’s unlikely it will replace actual therapists. Instead, these technologies will more likely facilitate screening, education, and accessibility for those in need of mental health services. (Yes, artificial intelligence-driven therapy is a thing. Yes, Bold has written about it.)

  • Direct Contracting and Value-Based Care

While many new healthcare innovations have involved technology, one major new development in healthcare for 2021 did not. For several years, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has tried to get away from a fee-for-service model. This model is a major reason why healthcare costs have grown excessive and quality has suffered. This year, however, CMS introduced the direct contracting model for Medicare recipients. Instead of rewarding providers for services, this model rewards them for saving on costs and better patient outcomes. In other words, direct contracting incentivized value and quality improvement in healthcare. This is a major shift in how providers are reimbursed, and it may well be a model for all of U.S. healthcare in the future.

A doctor using VR goggles for some reason
2021 was a banner year for healthcare innovation–it had to be!

Major Steps But a Long Way to Go

The pandemic certainly served as a catalyst for healthcare innovations in 2020. Likewise, the momentum for change it created continued into 2021. The digitization of healthcare continues to evolve in an effort to realize quality improvement in healthcare services. To a great extent, the new developments in this sector this past year have been extensive. But at the same time, healthcare as an industry still has a great deal to improve. The technological innovations, new therapeutic approaches, and new reimbursement models all have tremendous potential. But in order to realize true value-based healthcare, these must be used as stepping stones to continued progress. From this perspective, the improvements in healthcare for 2021 hold great promise for things to come.


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