2018 Outlook for IT: AI, Security, and the Care and Use of Data

While the economy continues to hum, employment remains at historic highs, and AI and intelligent automation are expected to create more jobs than they eliminate, the quickly rising tide will not lift all boats. In fact, some may struggle to stay afloat—and some of today’s digital giants will need to self-disrupt to stay relevant.

Forrester Predictions 2018: A Year of Reckoning” posits that market dynamics will favor “those taking aggressive action and create existential risk for those still holding on to what has worked before.”

Security will remain top of mind, and AI, with all its promise, has the potential to make cyberthreats even more powerful and targeted by helping create a counterfeit reality that will trick even sophisticated users into sharing personal information. But, AI could also become an important tool for sifting through vast amounts of information and recognizing threats. Or, in the case of intelligent business software, recognizing opportunities.

“AI will move deeper into the enterprise to impact how work is done. Industries will be disrupted, core functions will be drastically changed, and new job roles created.”
—Joe Korngiebel, chief technology officer at Workday

We asked customers, partners, and Workday executives for their take on the biggest issues and trends impacting CIOs and IT leaders this year. Here’s what we heard:

Security Remains Job One

Without a robust and proactive security program, other CIO focus areas such as AI and Internet of Things (IoT) are somewhat academic. Protecting the integrity of a company’s technical infrastructure is a non-negotiable, “brilliant at the basics” task of the CIO. As Michael Nadeau, senior editor at CSO, writes in his 2018 predictions piece, “Breaches will be bigger, hackers will be smarter, and security teams and budgets won’t seem to keep pace.”

According Gartner’s September 2017 report, “The 2018 Gartner CIO Agenda: Mastering the New Job of the CIO,” cybersecurity threats will infect the global landscape in 2018” and “95 percent of CIOs expect cybersecurity threats to increase, and impact their organization.”

According to Gartner analyst Andy Rowsell-Jones et al., the survey found that “digital security ranks high on their agendas, with 35 percent of respondents saying they have already invested in and deployed some aspect of digital security; 36 percent are in the process of planning to implement some form of digital security.”

We’d add that with people being the weakest link in any security threat, IT leaders who focus on technology-only solutions do so at their peril. That’s why creating an overall culture of security is a vital strategy against what promises to be ever-more sophisticated spear phishing and other user-directed attacks. As a wise person once said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The Augmented Worker of the Future

Now for some better news that promises to cause its share of disruption—but with a happy ending (eventually): the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and other forms of intelligent automation.

As Joe Korngiebel, Workday’s chief technology officer explains, “AI will move deeper into the enterprise to impact how work is done. Industries will be disrupted, core functions will be drastically changed, and new job roles created.”

Asked what companies can do to best take advantage of AI and automation, Korngiebel advises investing in “AI-infused business applications and platform building blocks that are designed from the ground up to be AI-focused.”

The important thing is to start with where this technology is today, and not let science fiction-inspired possibilities outshine the real but less flashy competitive advantage that AI and machine learning currently offer. For instance, Forrester predicts that in 2018, AI-powered “intelligent agents” will guide 10 percent of consumer purchase decisions and that this will “start the real economic impact of empowered machines.”

Receiving automated guidance for 10 percent of purchases can add up to big financial gains for companies who wisely use empowered machines. But, as the Forrester report continues, “In 2018, 75 percent of AI projects will underwhelm because they fail to model operational considerations, causing business leaders to reset the scope of AI investments—and place their firms on a path to realizing the expected benefits.”

“A collaborative CIO who understands the business will be able to speak to the senior management team about where automation can be a source of competitive advantage.”
—Diana McKenzie, chief information officer at Workday

For all the worries about machines replacing humans and causing mass unemployment, in the Gartner, November 2017, “Predicts 2018: AI and Future of Work”, report, Svetlana Sicular, research vice president and John-David Lovelock, vice president distinguished analyst at Gartner, note that, “the main contributor to the net job growth is AI augmentation—a combination of human and artificial intelligence, where both complement each other.”

Gartner predicts that AI will create 2.3 million jobs in 2020, while eliminating 1.8 million. “The number of jobs affected by AI will vary by industry; through 2019, healthcare, the public sector and education will see continuously growing job demand while manufacturing will be hit the hardest. Starting in 2020, AI-related job creation will cross into positive territory, reaching two million net-new jobs in 2025.”*

Workday CIO Diana McKenzie, in “Three CIO Resolutions for 2018,” writes: “A collaborative CIO who understands the business will be able to speak to the senior management team about where automation can be a source of competitive advantage. A deep understanding of the future direction of the company can also help CIOs advise on what skills the workforce of the future will need, and can provide input on how to upskill or reskill workers impacted by automation.”

The Care and Use of Data

A few factors are coming together to force CIOs to keep concentrating on how to best collect, safeguard, and share data in their organizations. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is set to take effect on May 25 of this year and has many companies scrambling to comply with the new rules meant to harmonize and strengthen data privacy across Europe. GDPR is near, and reflects a bigger trend: Governments, after largely taking a hands off approach for years, are looking at regulating technology more extensively as concerns about its impact on society grow.

AI and natural language processing will also play a role in both the care and use of data. AI, coupled with location-aware IoT devices, have the potential to transform security practices by adding a much-needed layer of context to things like employee logins.

And, although data promises to drive more decisions for both finance and HR leaders, those functions will be looking to the CIO for recommendations—and not necessarily for standalone analytics programs, says Pete Schlampp, vice president of Workday analytics, but for everyday business tools that can deliver data-driven insights.

“Self-service analytics is taking a front seat as more organizations realize the power of putting data in the hands of business users to make better and smarter decisions,” says Schlampp. “In 2018, we’ll see more business users become data-driven as more self-service technologies are directly integrated into their business applications.”

Schlampp also predicts that in 2018, we’ll see more organizations leaning on technology platforms that provide a comprehensive view of their data for richer insights and greater business agility.

“Whether companies are seeking a single repository encompassing their people and financial information, or a system that can combine data from various sources with in-house data for advanced analytics, they will increasingly eliminate disparate technologies that contribute to siloed data,” says Schlampp.

May You Live In Interesting Times

It’s always dangerous to predict the future, but we’ll go out on a limb: If you think 2017 was interesting, you ain’t seen nothing yet. According to Richard McColl, IBM’s global Workday practice leader, “In 2018, it will be important to reimagine how people work with AI, cognitive, robotics, and IoT, and to take advantage of those technologies to build capability and a culture that can respond quickly to changes in the marketplace.”

IBM thought leaders recommend that IT leaders give managers and employees insights and dashboards so they can make swift decisions based on real-time data.

“Make rapid iteration your default speed setting for all your business transformation programs,” suggests McColl. “Build fast. Set the expectation that all your processes and technology are in a permanent ‘beta’ state.”

*Gartner Press Release, “Gartner Says by 2020, Artificial Intelligence Will Create More Jobs Than It Eliminates,” December 13, 2017.