Inside Gartner IT Symposium in Barcelona

In November 2017, the Gartner IT Symposium, one of the most important conferences for CIOs and Senior IT leaders in the world, welcomed over 5.000 attendees from all over Europe in Barcelona. Bringing together Gartner analysts, top industry experts and leading vendors, this event is an opportunity to immerse in the new trends and understand their strategic impact, access exclusive Gartner research first-hand, get real business insights, discover new ways of addressing key challenges and connect with peers.

Based on three pillars – technology & information, business strategy and leadership – and structured over six different tracks according to business priorities and goals, the agenda covered a broad range of the most critical themes to a successful digital transformation: artificial intelligence, cloud computing, cost optimization, customer experience, disruption, innovation, internet of things, leadership, people and culture, platform economy, security and risk.

On top of all the keynote speeches, plenary and breakout sessions there were also several roundtables aimed at a closer interaction and sharing of experiences. The roundtable about Digital Transformation was chaired by Paul Danneels, Chief Transformation Officer at Fednot and President of CIONET Belgium’s Advisory Board who gave us an inside look on this event.

During his roundtable with nearly twenty CIOs from large organisations across several sectors (telecom, government, banking, travel, etc.) the focus was on scoping Digital Transformation in large organisations and through the time it takes to achieve it, on how to bring in new technology, on building in-house capabilities and on taking small steps in order to be able to fail fast and learn faster.

While expectations are always low on details or more technical information in this kind of events and the amount and variety of content is so vast nobody can really absorb everything, these represent an opportunity to have a feeling of where we stand, have some reflection and discussion time away from day-to-day work and, most importantly, to network. The priorities, according to Paul Danneels, are to get the big picture, make connections and explore later.

On the big picture, Paul Danneels highlights the 3 major takeaways:

1.   Blockchain is still risky business

One of the hottest topics in everybody’s mind is blockchain. The hype in the media, events and conversations is undeniable. By 2020, Gartner predicts that blockchain-based cryptocurrencies will generate 1 billion dollars of business value in the banking industry. However, the technology is still in its early days regarding critical issues like security, scalability and the much needed cultural shifts. In fact, according to Gartner, only about 3% of blockchain projects actually go into production and by 2023 only 10% of businesses will achieve any radical transformation with this technology.

Also, while combining blockchain and IoT may open up a world of business opportunities, blockchain technology is still too immature and risky (more so in this association) and has a long way to go before all variant’s requirements are on par with IoT’s and able to positively impact the business.

As so, in the 2-5 years it will take before blockchain starts making sense for real business, Gartner recommends pacing its deployment by focusing on education and experimentation through the next couple of years, then starting low-scale and low-risk pilots before scaling up once blockchain starts becoming mainstream, but always with a business and technology exit strategy.

2.   Artificial Intelligence in business will require a stepped approach

Another hot topic that is starting to permeate multiple business areas is artificial intelligence. Although there have been continuous advances in this technology, its application with actual business impact is still limited. Both scepticism and concerns about unleashing something that humans will not fully control and that will have a major impact on societies hinder AI development and penetration. According to Gartner, 2018 will deliver some transformative bots that will start to highlight their potential. The investment in chatbots focusing on improving customer experience is a way to clearly link AI to an immediate business value. Additionally, since any effective chatbot will need to involve humans, it will showcase how AI and humans are not incompatible, easing major concerns and opening new lines of research, development and application. By 2021, Gartner predicts that more than 50% of businesses will spend more annually on bots and chatbot creation than on traditional mobile app development.

3.   Managing talent and building competencies is one of the major challenges ahead

As the speed at which the world is changing keeps increasing, new challenges arise and these will require new skills and capabilities within organisations. By 2018, Gartner analysts forecast a major job churn in global IT services that will drop 80.000 people from more traditional IT functions (exclusively technology-related), but add 100.000 people that will need to be versatile, have a different background and skill set (multiple roles and more business-related). Additionally, fears about artificial intelligence eliminating jobs are justified, but, Gartner research predicts that the net result will end up being positive: by 2020, about 1,8M jobs will be eliminated, while 2,3M will be created.

The critical issue with all the major changes that will affect both the IT and business sides is how to ensure the business is able to manage talent adequately and have the right competencies within the organisation. Unfortunately, there is not one single best formula to solve this issue and one can expect external integrators to be facing the same problems. However, since this is the fast changing reality, businesses will need to control the fear of the path ahead, take small steps and keep learning and adjusting throughout.

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