Smart machines, digital business may upend IT pecking order

Most of Gartner's top 10 strategic assumptions for digital business translate into upheaval for business technology executives.

ORLANDO — Digital business transformation, smart machines, mobile and an evolving consumer experience will lead to a series of IT upheavals, said Gartner analyst Daryl Plummer.

Plummer, presenting Gartner's top 10 strategic predictions, highlighted how every business will ultimately become digital.

Here's a look at Gartner's top 10 strategic predictions, how they'll impact information technology, and my take.

By 2018, digital business requires 50 percent less business process workers and 500 percent more key digital business jobs, compared to traditional models. For IT execs, Plummer said they'll have to retool their hiring practices and recruit in new places. The traditional routes to IT leadership are going to change. Machines will enhance human decision making, make their own calls, and reinvent the customer experience.

My take: It's already happening. A revamp of the technology labor pool is a common refrain at the Gartner ITxpo. Whether it's the cloud, smart machines or some other development, humans are going to have to reinvent their careers repeatedly.

By 2017, a significant disruptive digital business will be launched that was conceived by a computer algorithm. Plummer noted that CIOs need to look for tech-driven transformation options.

My take: Algorithms are going to be critical to every business. It's unclear whether algorithms will take over the world, but execs will clearly need some math wonks on standby.

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By 2018, the total cost of ownership for business operations will be reduced by 30 percent through smart machines and industrialized services. CIOs will have to experiment with nearly smart machines, said Plummer, noting that they'll have to prepare for the future.

My take: I don't doubt that smart machines will change everything, but good luck justifying the investment in "almost smart" machines as a precursor to the real thing.

By 2020, developed world life expectancy will increase by 0.5 years due to widespread adoption of wireless health monitoring technology. Plummer said that business leaders have to look at the wearable/health development as a way to save on healthcare and insurance costs.

My take: With the scourge of obesity, diabetes and a host of other problems, it's a stretch to see a wearable influencing positive behavior that dramatically. Wearable health devices largely preach to the already-healthy choir. Also prepare for the privacy implications.

By year end, $2.5 billion in online shopping will be performed exclusively by mobile digital assistants. The upshot: Marketing execs need to target digital assistants too.

My take: If you think it's hard to find marketing talent now, just wait until you have to figure out how to pitch Siri and Cortana. Are we really going to trust digital assistants to shop for us?

By 2017, U.S. customers' mobile engagement behavior will drive U.S. mobile commerce revenue to 50 percent of U.S. digital commerce revenue. Plummer said business leaders need to examine how mobile wallets will change the engagement game.

My take: Mobile engagement will be huge for e-commerce, but aside having your systems ready to adopt Apple Pay and other options it's unclear how the velocity of commerce will change. Half of digital commerce revenue attributed to mobile sounds a bit too optimistic.

By 2016, 70 percent of successful digital business models will rely on deliberately unstable processes designed to shift as customer needs shift. Plummer said CIOs will have to be agile and responsive.

My take: Plummer has a point, but you could go back every Gartner Symposium/ITxpo for the last decade and find similar advice: Be agile.

By 2017, more than half of consumer product and service R&D investments will be redirected to customer experience innovations. Plummer said companies will have to invest in targeting customers and their personas.

My take: It's hard to argue with the customer experience and innovation assumptions. But I wonder how fleeting customer experience innovations will be before they are copied by rivals.

By 2017, nearly 20 percent of durable goods e-tailers will use 3D printing to create personalized product offerings. Plummer said business leaders will have to project the future processes that come with 3D printing.

My take: 3D printing will be a supply chain and manufacturing revolution. It's starting to happen now.

By 2018, retail businesses that utilize targeted messaging in combination with internal positioning systems will see a 20 percent increase in customer visits.

My take: How many retailers will go too far and annoy customers and lead to fewer visits?

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