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How emerging technology fits in your digital transformation

The business response to COVID-19 has accelerated technology adoption, making emerging technologies a more accessible and important part of digital transformation strategies.

The term "emerging technology" can be a bit subjective and dependent upon your frame of reference. One person's blockchain -- expected to grow 67% annually through 2023, according to IDC --  might be another person's cloud computing, which is now well established in most circles.

What's a little clearer is how critical emerging technologies are for business growth, maybe now more than ever as businesses accelerate their digital transformation efforts because of COVID-19 and other factors.

A recent report from CompTIA addressed the topic and offered advice for IT executives facing the current landscape. First, it's critical to know the viewpoint of today's CIOs and other IT leaders, and determine how today's emerging technologies are different compared to previous generations. Then they can consider how businesses are cutting through the hype to build competitive advantages in evaluation, decision-making, workflow and skills.

Emerging technology evolves

Each year, CompTIA's Emerging Tech Community creates a list of top 10 emerging technologies; this year's list includes such advances as 5G, robotics and biometrics, and was discussed during a recent ChannelCon session. Many of the technologies identified exist as parts of broad systems as opposed to point products, noted Jay McBain, principal analyst of channels, partnerships and ecosystems at Forrester Research.

"Today, the average solution might have seven different pieces to it and a few of those might be AI, IoT or blockchain -- all very much interwoven into a larger solution," McBain said.

As a result, it's become incumbent for CIOs and other IT leaders to understand how emerging technologies fit into today's business environments, said Betsy Ziegler, CEO of 1871, a private business incubator based in Chicago.

CIOs must know how to educate their organization and know what problem the emerging tech can solve, Ziegler said. The CIO is uniquely positioned to understand the pain points of the organization and map them to technologies and capabilities that can address them.

COVID-19 speeds transformation

Although emerging technologies took a bit of a back seat to more established technologies during the initial COVID-19 outbreak, they're still priorities CIOs need to pursue once the pandemic subsides. Still, corporate IT roadmaps raced toward more digital transformation in 2020, thanks in large part to cloud, cybersecurity and other technologies supporting remote workforces.

Ziegler noted that digital progress has advanced more in the past few months than it would normally have in years. Coming out of the pandemic, businesses and customers will have different, more technology-savvy expectations.

The Role of Emerging Technology in Digital Transformation

Read the CompTIA report to understand how emerging technologies factor into today's digital transformation strategies.

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Also, if businesses weren't leveraging emerging technologies before COVID-19, chances are they were not well positioned to manage in a pandemic environment, said Seth Robinson, senior director of technology analysis at CompTIA. Companies with a forward-thinking mindset for IT were more likely to have made an easier transition, he said.

"We have seen acceleration of not just technology adoption but also of mindset, and the way that people are approaching problems and thinking about technology that's on hand today and technology that's coming in the future," Robinson said.

McBain agreed and added that COVID-19 has lessened the maturation cycles for technologies from up to five years to less than two years. "The number one opportunity is around automation, putting in AI, workflows, processes. It's not only a survival technique; they're thriving and coming out stronger," he said.

CIOs focus on modernization

A decade ago, most CIOs were focused on centralizing technology within a company and eliminating any shadow IT that resided within individual departments or groups. Today, that's reversed. About 65% of all cloud decisions happen outside IT, McBain said, adding that these new ecosystems and subscription-based IT models are accelerating digital transformations.

"Today, the CIO role is more about security, compliance, governance and letting the business leaders drive technologies themselves," he said. "Every company in every industry is a tech company now."

Evidence of that last point comes from a recent Accenture survey that noted 76% of CEOs and board members expect their current business model to be unrecognizable in five years.

Finally, the proliferation of emerging technologies has led to new thinking about traditional IT roles and positions. New technology may require new skills, training and finding the right resources -- all challenges for any company, said Robinson.

Ultimately, there is a place for emerging technology in IT operations. Just as companies have struggled to recognize that digital transformation goes beyond the traditional purchasing and implementation of technology, IT leaders of the future must learn to embrace the new techniques and responsibilities that will drive the greatest value.

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