Gartner Symposium/ITxpo is a (usually) sunny affair, bringing some of the biggest minds in technology together to explore what the future of business IT looks like.
While no predictions are resolute, the research firm has made one thing clear to IT decisions makers: Modernize technology or face irrelevance.
During the first week in October, experts gathered to hear what IT has in store and some of the potentially overhyped technologies that won't become mainstream for years.
After speaking to IT decisions makers and hearing from analysts, here are CIO Dive's four biggest takeaways from Symposium 2017:
1. Expectation, meet reality
A big component of Gartner's work is forecasting for coming years, highlighting technologies that are sure to change the way IT departments operate. While IT leaders can't ignore the potential of AI and its likely impact on the workforce or the tempting benefits of blockchain-based systems, most companies have a long way to go before the incorporation of future tech becomes a reality.
Whether budget or regulatory constraints, many IT departments are struggling to modernize systems and still heavily rely on older technology. And much of that technology will likely remain place for at least the next five years. By 2023, Gartner expects 90% of current applications will still be in use.
Investment priorities can also change if companies are looking to avoid risk, particularly in the changing cyberthreat landscape. In its survey of more than 3,000 CIOs, Gartner found 95% of respondents expect cybersecurity threats to increase and directly impact their organizations in 2018.
For many IT decisions makers, innovation and modernization efforts come on a much smaller scale than large-scale migrations or AI rollouts often found in the news. Some organizations are just gaining Wi-Fi access, according to conversations with Gartner conference attendees. Others are still struggling to cater to end users, balancing secure processes and employees' desire for consumer-like technology in the workplace.
The reality is, the true measure of IT success changes depending on the organizations. Some businesses are going to call it a "win" when they successfully migrate to Windows 10 while others will cheer an infrastructure upgrade with no downtime.
Either way, CIOs and other IT decision makers can grade modernization efforts on how far their individual organization has come with technology as opposed to benchmarking success based on industry giants and digital natives.
2. The CIO's role is (still) changing
"If your enterprise was hiring for your job right now, would they hire you?" asked Andy Roswell-Jones, VP and distinguished analyst at Gartner. In response, audible murmurs and awkward seat movements rippled through the audience.
But the impact held. For years, analysts have argued the changing nature of IT, forecasting a time when every company would become a tech company and departments across lines of business would rely on technology for daily operations.
The projected future has become a reality, but the CIOs of today are still the CIOs of yesterday. Tech leaders have also found their roles changing and have had to react to ensure businesses don't become obsolete because of dated technology and dominance by competitors.
That means the very nature of the CIO role has changed, requiring new skills than in years past. Digitization has caused 95% of CIOs to expect remixed jobs or changes to their roles, according to Gartner's CIO survey. Now, CIOs are responsible for driving change through innovation and talent management across the business, not just delivering tech to keep the business running.
Whether a tech leader is considered the VP of IT, the chief information (or innovation) officer or the internal technical wizard, the ultimate goal for executives isn't just to digitize and create change for change's sake; instead, the transformed use of IT is meant to create and drive business
3. AI, AI, AI, AI
Artificial intelligence will eventually become as widely-referenced and commonplace as "the cloud." But not yet.
No matter the size of the company, organizations are starting to explore the use of AI, calling on IT providers to supply machine learning and advanced analytic tools. Peter Sondergaard, EVP and global head of research for Gartner, expects AI to be critical in solving digital security and IoT challenges plaguing CIOs.
Whenever the topic of AI comes up, conversations often turn to workplace disruptions. While it has the ability to eliminate rote work, many experts are concerned for the jobs AI could potentially displace. Gartner's take is clear: AI is set to become a "positive net job motivator," eliminating 1.8 million jobs by 2020 but creating 2.3 million jobs, a net positive of 500,000 jobs.
But losing 1.8 million jobs leaves a big impact and could disrupt the livelihoods of many. Even with jobs created it is not guaranteed that those displaced out of work will be qualified for the jobs created by AI.
For better or worse, AI will change how technology works in businesses, augmenting manual work and improving the types of questions experts can ask of systems and data. To keep up with demand, companies will have to work to cultivate AI talent and allow cross-departmental collaboration, from data scientists and developers to business process owners, according to Gartner.
4. Apps are important ... for now
Whether you thank Salesforce or Apple for creating the app economy, the reality is software now comes in small packages. Expected to reach $6.3 trillion in value by 2021, businesses and individual users tap into the application marketplace to make operations a little easier.
There are also entire API hubs to help developers create the perfect application geared toward mobile, or even desktop, functionalities.
But (of course there's a but), app development is changing. By 2021, Gartner projects more than half of businesses will spend more on creating bots and chatbots than traditional mobile apps.
Similar to last year, for Gartner, the future of technology is the future of "intelligent things," augmenting human activity and interaction to streamline work. The current "face of AI," chatbots add an interactive element to technology, potentially enhancing how employees and customers engage with a company.
When chatbots or virtual assistants are integrated, the demand-response interactions with bots can evolve into question-and-answer encounters.