IT in 2020: Internet of things, digital business enthusiasm abounds

Will the digitization of business change everything? Here's Gartner's pitch for 2020, which includes $1.9 trillion of economic value add from the Internet of things, a crisis of IT leadership (again) and colliding industries.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

ORLANDO — The digitization of business and life will revamp the enterprise vendor pecking order — more like destroy it — create $1.9 trillion in economic value add via the Internet of things and lead to a digital workforce and smart machines that will replace 1 in 3 knowledge workers.

Welcome to Gartner's view of technology in 2020. The key theme is that every company will be a technology company. And Gartner research chief Peter Sondergaard went as far to say "every person is becoming a technology company" as the digital industrial economy kicks off.

Technology will be embedded into everything and be invisible. Naturally, this reality will grow data exponentially.

Sondergaard noted that there's a "crisis in IT leadership" as companies navigate digitization. He told CIOs that they need to create their company's digital story before the CEO creates roles for chief digital officers and digital strategists.

According to Sondergaard, virtual and physical will merge into one business reality. He said there will be "competing digital titles" as digitization takes hold, but people like chief digital officers will be extinct in 2020. These roles will implement change and then disappear.

The punch line with Sondergaard is that you'll need Gartner's research and services to lead your company to 2020 and digitization nirvana. Nevertheless, it's hard to argue with Gartner's take. The Internet of everything will mean companies will compete with a whole new set of players. Knowledge workers will be replaced by smart systems they trained. And tech vendors will face extinction on many fronts because they can't react and innovate fast enough.

Now you can quibble with Gartner's timeline — 2020 may be too soon —but CIOs should at least be able to see the digitization train coming down the tracks.

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internet of things gartner

Let's look at some of Gartner's 2020 projections and do a reality check.

  • 20 percent of computers will learn not just process in 2017. This one doesn't seem like much of a stretch. Watson will be manning call centers in the not too distant future.
  • By 2020, one in three knowledge workers will be replaced by enterprise owned smart machines they trained. Again, this prediction makes sense. IT is being automated and people will too.
  • The Internet of things will create economic value for all organizations and sectors and create an additional $1.9 trillion for the economy by 2020. I'm a bit skeptical about the timing more than the actual dollar amount. There are multiple technical issues — standards, interoperability — to work through. As for the dollar amount, these predictions really just require a number before a "trillion" to ramp excitement.
  • Digital time will go faster than your current IT vendors. Sondergaard said best of breed vendors have emerged because megavendors can't deliver value. This call is a no brainer. Your enterprise vendor today probably won't be in 7 years.
  • Two thirds of CIOs expect to change primary suppliers by 2017. I don't question the feeling that CIOs want to toss their vendors. My bet is lock-in will push out that supplier tossing timeline.
  • By 2017, 65 percent of data center capacity will be private, down from 80 percent today. Sondergaard's stat highlights the reality — enterprises aren't going cloud happy en masse. The run to the cloud may be slower — due to depreciation and other non-IT issues. It is safe to say that if you bought a server today it's going to be really hard to justify a purchase three years from now.
  • Companies will compete across industry borders. Sondergaard said "it's the death of the SIC codes." Think about how IBM and GE compete more and more everyday. UPS is a technology company just like Amazon is. The concept that companies will compete with rivals outside their industries isn't shocking, but in 2020 it's questionable whether every company will be information driven. Are we really going to see furniture companies do furniture as a service models?
  • In two years, the combined IT and telecom market will hit almost $4 trillion, or 5 percent of global GDP. A believable statistic — someone has to network the Internet of things.
  • By 2020, 30 billion things will be connected as every product more than $100 will be smart. I can see the reasoning as sensors are embedded everywhere. The things projection is largely a guess based on a growth rate. IDC also has its guess.
  • 3D printing will revolutionize the supply chain. This one is totally believable and on-demand parts will be critical for both new and mature products.
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