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Top CIO articles of the year focus on cutting-edge AI, IT disruption

What were CIOs focused on in 2018? Cutting-edge AI was top of mind. IT disruption and industry bombshells loomed large. Here are the top 10 CIO articles of the year.

At SearchCIO, we make three assumptions about our CIO readers. The first is that the CIO role is changing dramatically,...

with the near-universal adoption of digital technologies. The second is that, as the enterprise's top technology expert, CIOs now have an unprecedented opportunity to drive business strategy and generate digital revenue. The third is that CIOs need forward-looking IT reporting to build an IT strategy that lives up to the first two assumptions.

Our top 10 CIO articles of the year bear out those assumptions. Readers ate up stories on cutting-edge AI: Five of the top 10 CIO articles this year covered AI in its many forms. Reports on robotic process automation (RPA), AI's dimmer (but getting smarter) cousin, also pulled in readers. And so did stories about IT disruption -- e.g., a future without data centers.

As full-fledged members of the C-suite -- yes, CIOs have claimed that seat at the table -- our CIO readers also gravitated toward business stories of import to their role and missions, namely GE's sale of its digital assets and the case against the ex-CIO of Equifax.

From 10th place to first, here is our roundup of this year's most popular CIO articles.

10. Three RPA deployments in the enterprise

Gartner predicts worldwide spending on RPA will reach $680 million in 2018 -- a 57% increase over the previous year. How is it being used? In "RPA tools lead to better customer service: Three case studies," contributing writer Albert McKeon chronicled how three very different organizations are implementing RPA at their organizations: The Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, Equifax, and Unum -- a Fortune 500 insurance company.

The software, which automates rules-based repetitive software tasks done by workers, is sometimes pegged as a job killer. But McKeon's reporting found little evidence of that. One best practice: Rather than leaving the automation decisions to IT, empower workers to analyze which areas of work are best suited for automating.

9. Six barriers to digital transformation

The term digital transformation may be fuzzy, but the lack of it unambiguously spells trouble for enterprises. With the global adoption of digital technologies, companies need to have a business model that, in addition to whatever else it does, generates digital revenue. Amazon, Netflix, Uber and Airbnb have made that abundantly clear to the industries they've co-opted. In order not to be disrupted, companies are leaning on CIOs to help identify their digital mojo.

"Six barriers to digital transformation; CIO strategies to conquer them," laid out the hurdles companies commonly encounter along their digital transformation journeys and how to overcome them. Read about the challenges associated with infrastructure, skills, change management, pace of change, IT and business alignment, and security.

8. Cutting-edge AI: Automate, augment, disrupt

CIOs were under tremendous pressure to find ways to use AI for business benefit in 2018. The rapid evolution of AI's many technologies -- fueled by massive investment by the likes of Google and Facebook -- makes it difficult to know where to start. In "CIOs dissect what makes their artificial intelligence projects tick," SearchCIO's Nicole Laskowski profiled three IT leaders determined to use AI as a competitive business tool.

Find out how Ben Clark, the chief architect at online home goods purveyor Wayfair, is enabling a cutting-edge AI program whose mission is to disrupt e-commerce; how Equinox CIO Milind Waglé is using AI to bring unprecedented efficiencies to the data center; and why Brent Leland, co-founder of Cimphoni Consulting, believes augmented intelligence is the enterprise's secret sauce for boosting productivity, performance and ultimately remaking business models.

7. RPA bots destined for smarter things?

Since RPA's introduction in 2015, the technology has focused on automating rote tasks. In "Is the future of robotic process automation intelligent?" SearchITChannel's John Moore pondered whether RPA will eventually be supplanted by intelligent process automation, or IPA. The automation RPA enables typically involves structured data. But with the addition of cutting-edge AI technologies, like optical character recognition (OCR), natural language processing and machine learning, RPA's purview is growing to include semi-structured and unstructured data.

IPA aims to use AI to continuously adjust and improve process flow, creating intelligent processes. Not everyone agrees that infusing RPA with AI technology will be a game changer for this popular technology. "Cognitive RPA is still RPA, which means it's unintelligent at its core," Ron Schmelzer, principal analyst at Cognilytica, told Moore.

6. Architectures for deep learning projects

"Deep learning projects: Cloud-based AI or dedicated hardware?" tackled the complex topic of what kind of architecture works best for deep learning projects. It's complex because the innovation in processors purpose-built for cutting-edge AI is happening at mind-boggling speed. Contributing writer George Lawton's in-depth reporting broke down the issues.

CIOs should start by weighing the costs and benefits of building faster, private AI infrastructure versus the operational efficiencies of the cloud. Even there, however, the arguments are murky. For companies doing multiple, highly customized AI projects, private AI is usually the cost-effective way to go. But if the data they're using in these projects comes from applications running in the cloud, the cost of moving it to an on-premises AI system could erase the benefits.

Read Lawton's companion piece, "Optimizing an artificial intelligence architecture: The race is on" for more insights.

5. Goodbye data centers; hello, 'execution venues'

No. 5 on our list of top CIO articles of the year -- "Gartner Catalyst 2018: A future without data centers?" -- gave an update on that oft-asked question: Is the data center really most sincerely dead? Not quite. CIOs are moving workloads to the cloud at varying speeds. According to Gartner, businesses looking to move 50% to 60% of their apps to the cloud typically give themselves three years to meet that goal. More aggressive companies -- those with an 80% cloud target -- have a five-year horizon. Will the come a day when most enterprises follow the Netflix model -- i.e., running a business without a data center?

That was the substance of a presentation by Douglas Toombs, a Gartner research vice president, to IT leaders at the 2018 Gartner Catalyst event. "Your future IT is actually going to be spread across a number of different execution venues, and at each one of these venues you're trading off control and choice, but you get the benefits of not having to deal with the lower layers," Toombs said.

4. Ex-Equifax CIO indicted

The fallout from the Equifax breach continues to make headlines, with the recent release of a report from the U.S.  House Committee on Oversight and Government reform detailing the extent of the company's grossly inadequate security program. For the CIO community, one of the more shocking elements of the event was the March indictment of former CIO Jun Ying for insider trading.

The charges accuse Ying of selling shares worth more than $950,000 shortly before the breach was announced. His case is pending. "Ex-Equifax CIO's insider trading indictment a red flag for IT execs" explored how the indictment can be seen as a symptom of a lax company culture.

3. Formalize your AI vision with one or more artificial intelligence CoEs

One tried-and-true practice IT leaders are latching on to as they hammer out their AI strategies is a center of excellence, or CoE. As SearchCIO's Nicole Laskowski reported in "Artificial intelligence center of excellence emerges as best practice," the aim of CoEs is to provide governance and establish priorities for new technologies or disciplines that don't fit neatly into the enterprise.

With cutting-edge AI, figuring out the technology requires tremendous effort. But, to be successful, companies must understand the business reason for wading into these unfamiliar waters. Gartner analyst Bern Elliot said he believes it might make sense to establish multiple AI CoEs: one for business innovation, one for governance and one for AI skills.

2. Whither GE's digital transformation?

Responding to rumors in the business press that GE was putting its digital business up for sale, SearchCIO's Nicole Laskowski worked the story from an angle of urgent interest to our CIO readers: If the poster child for digital transformation was struggling to develop a viable business model for a digital economy, what does that say to CIOs?

In "GE rumors highlight digital culture hardship for CIOs," Laskowski laid out the challenges for GE, as well as for CIOs, as companies embrace this paradigm shift to digital business.

1. All AI bots are not the same

No. 1 on our list of the top 10 CIO articles of the year delved into another aspect of cutting-edge AI: the subtle, but distinct differences between three terms associated with conversational computing. In "Who's talking? Conversational agent vs. chatbot vs. virtual assistant," SearchCIO's Brian Holak tracked down IBM Watson CTO Rob High to explain the differences between terms that most of us use interchangeably. Hint: The extent to which these technologies engage the user is key to understanding their differences.

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