Gartner warns of vendor upheaval in technology shift

'Internet of everything' will change everything and help drive IT spending to $4 trillion next year

ORLANDO - At its big IT conference here this week, Gartner analysts put into a milkshake what everyone knows, gave it a good shake, and then used its conclusions to scare its audience of IT professionals and vendors.

Gartner analysts warned that a data explosion threatens to overwhelm, sensors will be everywhere, 3-D printing will change everything, and smart machines will replace people.

CIOs that don't adapt will become simple custodians of back-end systems. Companies that fail to change will join Kodak, Blackberry and Wang, each of which was slow to recognize new forces in technology.

The new technologies will help drive IT spending to $3.8 trillion in 2014, a 3.6% percent increase from this year, Gartner said at its Symposium ITxpo Monday.

The projected increase in IT spending isn't necessarily good news for established IT vendors. Approximately two-thirds of the respondents to Gartner's CIO survey said they expect to change primary suppliers by 2017.

"We know that most suppliers don't dominate from one generation of IT to the next," said Peter Sondergaard, Gartner's research director. "Many of the vendors who are on the top today, like Cisco, Oracle, or Microsoft, may not be the leaders in the digital industrial economy."

Gartner analysts at the conference sketched out a near future driven by cheap sensor technology and robotic technologies.

In health care, remote monitoring may replace a doctor visits. In agriculture, remote sensors will improve crop yields and reduce the cost of farming. Transportation systems, mining and construction, will shift to driverless vehicles and remove labor as a major cost.

There might not be drivers on trains, thanks to automation. Parking garages may communicate with self-driving cars, which will autonomously relocate to garages that lower parking rates. And sensors may automatically alert a vendor of a broken part, triggering a 3-D printer to produce a replacement.

New technologies also means competitors may emerge quickly, said Gartner. To adapt, businesses will create new positions, such as chief digital officer, a transitional post intended to guide the entire business to a digital strategy.

Users at the Symposium ITxpo conference said the trends and technologies that Gartner outlined aren't new to them, but the problems are nonetheless real.

"How do we filter down as organizations all this massive amount of stimulus around, to make it meaningful to the business?" said Deborah Cassidy, CIO of business systems at Genworth Financial. Most organizations aren't structured in a way "to be even able to capture and do anything with it," she added.

The idea that the major vendor landscape may soon shift dramatically is hard to imagine but possible, said Todd Nicholls, the interim head of IT at Eileen Fisher, a clothing company. "I see what they're saying, but it's hard to know until we get there," he said.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His email address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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