When Business Leaders Have Questions About Technology, They Call Gartner

by Scott Alexander

Throughout history, innovations in technology have driven much of the world’s change. The last 20 years have shown that change brings not only opportunity but also risk. And with technology evolving faster than ever, both have become omnipresent.

Gartner and What's Next for Business and Technology

Innovation has greatly increased the complexity of the business landscape, so how do the world's biggest companies keep pace? They talk to Gartner Inc. (NYSE: IT). With more than 1,000 analysts spread across 30 countries, it's Gartner's business to know the answers before their clients have even thought of the questions. We sat down recently with Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president of Global Research at Gartner, to find out what today’s CEOs need to know about tomorrow’s big issues. Here are six key takeaways.

1. Change has changed.
“The pace of change is accelerating,” says Sondergaard. "People say it’s been happening throughout human history, but that’s actually not true. When we draw a logarithmic scale of change over the last 10,000 years, it shows that the pace of change in the last 15 years is faster than in the first 9,000. Chief executives need to understand that today’s world is very different from even five years ago."

2. Every CEO needs these four people.
The first question Sondergaard asks every CEO he meets is “Tell me who these four people are within your company: Who owns security and risk? Who owns information strategy? Who owns user experience across the analog and the digital world? Who owns technology integration?” If the CEO cannot answer that, he says, they are going to be hampered in their opportunities for the future.

Gartner and What's Next for Business and Technology

3. The virtual revolution is over. The physical revolution is just beginning.
"Technology was originally used to connect a business’s internal processes," Sondergaard explains. "After the birth of the Internet, companies began using technology to connect people with their business. That created a large number of significant companies like Google and Amazon. Now technology can connect people, business and things."

Gartner and What's Next for Business and Technology

"Linking the virtual world with the physical world is allowing companies to completely reimagine their processes and business models. It’s giving players who missed the e-business era a second chance. And it’s putting pressure on companies that enjoyed growth during the e-business era. That’s why you see Google buying Nest and focusing on things like autonomous cars."

4. Data is the oil of the 21st century.
Sondergaard does not mince words on this topic: "Any chief executive that is not focused on their enterprise information strategy is likely suboptimizing the company’s future opportunities. Your customer generates data, your employees generate data, objects generate data, and the business generates data. Understanding it is incredibly important. We’re seeing an explosion in toolsets that let you manage data more easily, whether it's in the service of marketing, helping your supply chain do a better job of predicting its needs, or forecasting potential new opportunities. Data creates opportunity. It's the oil of the 21st century. Whoever has the right data will ultimately win."

5. Regulation needs to pick up the pace.
"Regulation is there to address safety, to represent the consumer, and to foster a positive competitive environment," says Sondergaard. "There have been no regulatory issues with robot lawnmowers and vacuum cleaners. But if we extrapolate one or two years, we see robots in more active environments in large cities. This will cause all kinds of regulatory clashes and challenges as to what robots can and cannot do on streets. The same goes for drones and autonomous driving vehicles."

Gartner and What's Next for Business and Technology

"Regulatory bodies slow down progress," he continues. "That's not good or bad, they just do. But the regulatory environment needs to understand that the pace of technology is different than it was 20 years ago. There needs to be a corresponding shift in the speed at which the regulatory environment responds. Because things will happen anyway. Technology evolves irrespective of regulation, and that can create negative outcomes. Which is exactly why the regulatory environment is there in the first place."

What's the answer? More technology, of course. "I think it is possible to create a regulatory environment that keeps pace," Sondergaard says. "But in our new, more complex world, they will need technology to do so."

6. Don't forget about the humans.
Sondergaard says we need to strike a balance between what he calls the "digital machinist" and the "digital humanist" mindset. "Successful businesses will be the ones that balance both," he says. "We believe that the organizations that will be successful are the ones that design around what human beings want, and don't solely focus on automating everything around us."

One isn't better than the other, however. "The digital machinist point of view says that we should use technology to optimize everything we do in society," Sondergaard says. "Over the last 50 years, technology has helped optimize business and society, and that's had huge benefits. The humanist view focuses on the ways people create through collaboration, using technology as a tool to achieve value. You can see that in the success of business models like Facebook or Twitter."

"As we move forward the next 10 or 20 years with technology, it's important that we balance the two. Technology works best when it is ubiquitous but hidden behind what’s valuable to the human being. When we design digital business models, the human being should always be at the center. Human beings are at our best when we are allowed to create and have the technological tools to do so."

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