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What’s on the minds of Fortune 500 CEOs?

Lessons on the evolution of technology from “Best of Breed” conference.

Artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain are on the minds of CEOs, but more pressing is the desire to move toward everything-as-a-service.

At the invite-only Channel Company’s Best of Breed (BoB) conference in Atlanta earlier this month, Fortune 500 C-level executives heard insights from industry insiders on digital disruption — and how to strategize for the evolution of technology. But there was one topic that was conspicuously absent: cloud.

“For many years, the main theme has been around cloud, how cloud is going to disrupt the IT industry,” said Ryan Klassen, Vice-President of Bell MTS Business Solutions and General Manager of Epic, a Bell MTS company, who attended this year’s BoB conference. “We’re now seeing beyond cloud — it’s become part of a core delivery of IT services.”

While the cloud is ever-present, this year’s conference focused instead on the edge of the network and how new capabilities are reshaping the IT ecosystem.

“There was a lot of dialogue about how you deal with all of those devices at the edge of your networks and ecosystem, about how intelligent those devices should be and about how you should secure those devices when your network extends into everyone’s home and car,” said Klassen.

How ‘smart’ are new devices?

Hot topics for CEOs

Some devices at the edge of the network are ‘dumb,’ but others require intelligence — a lot of it. Consider the connected car; for an autonomous vehicle to drive down the street and recognize jay-walkers or swerving vehicles, a basic sensor isn’t going to cut it. Cloud will work for some applications, but not others, particularly when real-time intelligence is critical.

“There’s no way of having the intelligence for that in the cloud — there’s too much latency and bandwidth required,” said Klassen. “You need real-time intelligence in the car itself. This leads to the question of how sensors are going to shape the way IT pros architect their networks going forward.”

What is everything-as-a-service?

C-level execs also had another big topic on the mind — managed services — or, perhaps more accurately, everything-as-a-service. The concept of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on big capital expenditures has started to transform into a desire to pay for services as they’re consumed.

Both HP and Dell executives at BoB spoke to this trend. “They view their model as changing dramatically — it’s less about selling the hardware, and more about providing the hardware and charging the customer on usage,” said Klassen. “That’s a very big shift for organizations like HP and Dell.”

Are machines really learning?

Also on the agenda were emerging technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. A lot of money is being poured into R&D, though it’s still early days and there are few success stories to draw from.

One, however, is in the Canadian oil patch. Audio waves are sent at high speed down oil pipes to detect leaks or structural deficiencies. With AI, this can be done with greater accuracy — and at less cost — than having employees listen to recordings all day.

When can we trust blockchain?

blockchain bitcoin

Another hot topic was the evolution of blockchain — how companies will interact with their supply chain, using a system of trust as they move assets in a quick, efficient manner.

“You get the sense those are going to be the dominant themes in two or three years as IT evolves,” said Klassen. “I still think it’s a little too early — there’s a lot of R&D that needs to be done. You’re going to see a lot of startups developing machine learning solutions that will come to market over the next couple of years. The same with blockchain — leveraging that as a foundation for ecommerce and supply chain management.”

Building a stronger network for future developments

Up until this point, networks have been designed in a closed environment, connecting employees and in some cases, connecting with customers. But with connected devices, networks need to be broader — they need to be different.

“They’re expanding out and into your customers’ homes or businesses,” said Klassen, “and it really changes the way a CIO thinks about a network architecture.”

It’s an area Epic is already focused on, along with evolving its pay-for-usage consumption model. “The architecture of the network and the edge devices, and how that all needs to work together, is an area Epic is already focused on,” said Klassen. “It showed me we’re on the right path with today’s trends. And we can start thinking about machine learning and blockchain, so in two to three years, we continue to be relevant.”

Up Next: What’s most important to CIOs right now?

What’s on your CIO’s priority list?

Vawn Himmelsbach

Vawn Himmelsbach is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. She has covered technology and travel for 15 years, for media outlets such as, The Globe & Mail, Metro News, ITBusiness, PCworld Canada and Computerworld Canada. She also spent three years living abroad and working as an Asian correspondent.

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