The Gartner Symposium/ITxpo is a chance to take stock of technology changes in the last year and prepare for what is to come.
Across hundreds of sessions, a handful of colorful keynotes and endless coffee-fueled networking breaks, technology leaders, makers and analysts came together in Orlando last week to cut through the hype and boil business technology down to the realities, challenges and opportunities facing CIOs today.
The five-day event touched on every facet of the CIO experience, such as dealing with legacy architectures, adopting emerging technologies and changing culture to meet the demands of everyone's favorite buzzword: Digital transformation.
A handful of topics cropped up across conversations and sessions, highlighting the biggest focuses for CIOs.
Here are CIO Dive's biggest takeaways from the event:
The big theme out of Symposium this year was "ContinuousNEXT," presented on the mainstage during a keynote last week.
For Gartner, the urgency created out of ContinuousNEXT is inspired by the increasing impact of culture and privacy, augmented intelligence, digital product management and digital twins.
What underscores the message is companies can no longer afford to wait to modernize. There is a bottom line imperative to moving at a fast pace and bimodal operations will only work to slow down an organization.
Digital transformation is mission-critical, and competition will eclipse any company that continues to operate a dated technology stack unready for future change.
2. Did someone mention culture?
"Culture" was on the tip of almost every tongue at Gartner Symposium.
Culture and diversity are so crucial to the success and delivery of business initiatives that CIOs will soon be as responsible for culture as chief human resource officers, according to Kristin Moyer, distinguished VP analyst at Gartner. Culture is frequently pegged as a leading barrier to digital transformation.
Culture can change, but it won't be a one-off ordeal. It's something CIOs and their teams will need to work on everyday, steadily chipping away at the habits that need to be left behind.
But culture change isn't just a top-down effort. While the onus is on leadership to set the new rules, it will fall to the tribe to enforce them and cement the changes from the bottom-up.
3. Enterprise agility from agile operations
News of Sears' bankruptcy happened right when the Symposium kicked off. The general consensus of the retailer's announcement was that Sears "outgrew [its] ability to innovate," said Ilan Frank, director of enterprise product at Slack, while speaking at the Symposium.
This is where agile steps in. Agile is the single greatest indicator of long-term performance, said Frank. In order for companies to reinvent themselves and avoid failure, organizations need to "behave more like organisms" and be adaptable, according to Frank.
Most IT departments have "already drank the Kool-Aid," he said, but the rest of the business has yet to embrace it. There needs to be team identity, real time communication and vision and strategy for agile to work.
4. How to get business value out of IT and contribute to the bottom line
IT and technology are finally seen as major contributors to overall business value.
In order to know how IT can help contribute to a business's bottom line, it has to know where its technical expertise lies. To make a broader impact, technical experts need to connect with business partners outside of IT.
Companies are working to fix the relationship between IT and the business. Long at odds, syncing development and operations through DevOps can accelerate the pace of technology deployment in an organization.
The same alignment felt through DevOps implementation will spark a culture change, according to Andy Rowsell-Jones, VP and distinguished analysts at Gartner, speaking at the Symposium.
More product-centric delivery can have positive impacts end-to-end in a business. The only true problem area it creates is procurement, according to Rowsell-Jones. "Procurement hates this transition."
5. Encouraging risk taking
Leadership outside of IT and security are finally aware of the impact of cyber on a business's ability to meet goals and maintain its reputation. This is opening the conversation up around risk.
Nontechnical leadership and security professionals need to be on the same page to understand what level of risk their company is comfortable with. Security teams have to articulate what can go wrong, how they can fix it and how much the resolution will cost. Talking about legacy systems isn't going to work anymore.
Instead, security professionals should introduce new systems and explain how they're going to secure them to nontechnical leadership. But keep in mind, concerning leadership with risks that are not in the context of general business objectives is futile.
Increasingly, security teams and CISOs are met by security consultants hired by their board because their board wants to be able to understand their CISO's needs. This will help security teams perform internal recruitment processes to develop the security practitioners they need but may not be able to find.
6. Meet customers where they are
It's getting more difficult for technology providers to succeed by just taking a product out to market.
The integration of advanced technologies throughout the business, such as big data analytics, artificial intelligence, cloud-based services, etc., coupled with the persisting IT skills gap means more work needs to be done.
Businesses need to meet clients where they are today, according to Ruchir Puri, CTO and chief architect of IBM Watson, in an interview with CIO Dive. Customers once looked only for the destination, such as the cloud or artificial intelligence capabilities, and asked IT providers to take them there. Now, it's about the tools and technologies and "how" to get there.
The role of the CIO might seem to revolve around internal IT, but CIOs are increasingly external-facing and tasked with defining and helping their customers. They have to understand how to leverage technology for business results and translate this need to new customers.
7. Artificial intelligence is a reality, not a pending disruption
Artificial intelligence and its impacts on business were a prominent conversation at the Gartner Symposium in 2017.
Many businesses were just starting to call on their IT providers for AI, ML and analytics tools. While scores of business are still in the early phases, AI is graduating from point solutions to enterprise-level systems. But the gap between pioneers and newcomers is widening, so providers need to meet new AI customers where they are.
A lot of people still think of AI as magic, according to Ketan Karkhanis, SVP and GM of Analytics Cloud at Salesforce, in an interview with CIO Dive at the conference. Providers need to demystify it and show that it isn't some pot at the end of a rainbow, but nuggets of gold along the way.
Bringing in transparency, explainability and accountability is crucial, he said.
With every advance in AI, fears of job displacement dig a little deeper for many workers. A clear distinction of what jobs AI and robots can't do is emerging, according to Michio Kaku, renowned theoretical physicist, speaking at a keynote:
Pattern recognition and manual dexterity
The winners in the age of artificial intelligence will be those who make the transition to intellectual capital as the currency of the future over commodity capital, Kaku said.