How to Lead in a Future World with Smart Machines

As smart-machine technologies proliferate, business leaders must prepare now to stay afloat.

Smart machines are no longer science-fiction; they are here, being used by businesses right now and only growing in capabilities. The disruption they will cause over the next decade will leave no industry untouched.

“Far from being overwhelmed, however, business leaders should inspire their organizations to ride the wave,” said Jackie Fenn, research vice president and Gartner fellow. “They can do so by personally adopting the many capabilities of smart machines.”

To envision a day in the life of a CIO years from now, Gartner has created the following “day in the life” of a CIO when all these technologies have become not just available, but engrained in daily routine.

It’s March 8, 2020…

Sara is the CIO of a reputation, ethics and privacy services company. Today, she didn’t need the alert from her Mindwatch to know she was stressed. Every day seemed crazier than the last since the takeover. She paused while her virtual personal assistant (VPA) reminded her of a meeting, and the need to buy a birthday present for her nephew, before returning a missed call from a client.

Jim’s face cut in, showing his anguish as he bemoaned “the worst PR we’ve had in a century.” The agricultural equipment maker’s team of harvester operators was threatening to strike over their new, learn-on-the-job line of bots and drones. “There’s no awe anymore – they say they feel like a mother hen leading a brood of chickens.”

Sara asked to see the designs and promised to come up with ideas. She downloaded the 3D spec that Jim sent immediately after the call and, receiving a fitness alert, deliberately sent it to a far-away internal printer. While striding to the 3D-printing lab, she dictated a message about Jim’s problem to her VPA and told it to issue a crowdsourced challenge to a select group of employees and contractors.

The 3D printer has just finished when she arrived. Picking up the one-eighth-size plastic replica, smaller than a deck of cards, Sara at once appreciated the harvester operators’ issue. While heading to the boardroom for the meeting, she used her real-time translation software to greet an internal team from Shanghai which was visiting the head office for the day via Beam robots.

Her VPA then relayed an idea that had already come in from the crowdsourced challenge: Rebrand the operator roles as ‘coaches’, and use the bots and drones as teams that compete to be the most productive. Sara knew this was a winner without having to run it through a predictive algorithm. She was about to toss the drone replica away when she suddenly had an idea, and gave it another look. Plastic, spider-like, unique: the perfect gift for a picky five-year-old.

Sara checked off the two VPA reminders from earlier, took a few deep breaths, and entered the boardroom.

Stay Afloat or Ride the Wave

All the technologies described in this scenario are already available — several are even being used by innovative organizations.

“CIOs must appreciate the urgent need to act on critical technological advances, and know how to communicate this need to others,” Ms. Fenn said. “They need to adopt a vision and language to explore the implications of these advances on organizational and business design. Lastly, they need a plan to not only stay afloat when the wave hits, but to help them ride the wave as a technology leader in a world that will increasingly be using smart machines.”

Gartner clients can get additional insight in the report, The CIO Survival Guide: Your Role in a World of Increasingly Smart Machines. The report helps CIOs understand the need to act on these technology advances, and develop an action plan for surviving and ultimately thriving as a technology leader in a world of increasingly smart machines.

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