Emmeline Kuhn, a Consultant at Leathwaite's Global Operations and Technology Practice, spoke at the Annual Wall Street Journal CIO Conference, held March 5th & 6th in San Francisco. Below we recap some of the highlights from top industry leaders:

At last week’s WSJ CIO Conference, the topic was “THE CIO’S EXPANDING ROLE: What’s the best way to balance tech expertise with business acumen so that the CIO remains at the core of the company’s digital strategy and evolution?”

The discussions covered themes such as navigating a corporate environment where there are no longer ‘walls’ between functions, building trust within the management team, creating a collaborative culture, how to operate effectively to expand responsibilities and best practice business leadership. The break-out seminars kept the senior level audience engaged throughout the two days and below is a breakdown of some of the points we found interesting.

Vijay Garbaxani, Professor of Computer Science at University of California (Irvine) and Ben Fried, CIO of Google:

  • The room of CIOs in attendance was polled and only 50% were ‘most concerned’ with AI and Machine Learning. The other 50% were ‘most concerned’ with business change management and strategy.
  • Ben Fried of Google gave an example of where Machine Learning is being used to classify patents. At Google, they have created a system that is as accurate as a paralegal.

Rosanna Durruthy, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at LinkedIn and Joelle Emerson, CEO of Paradigm:

  • When it comes to diversity, we should really be highlighting diversity of thought. Attracting diversity means you should look at the messages and signals you are sending to your candidates. For example, when speaking about a role, the words “learning, challenging and development” are attractive to females, whereas “Rockstar, brilliant, best athlete” are more attractive to males.
  • Creating an environment that is truly about its ‘people’ rather than the workplace is crucial. This leads to inclusion, which is equally important. For example, parents are often one subset of an employee base that does not necessarily feel as if they belong, therefore if the socials events your company holds tend to be in evenings, consider experimenting with other times to see if this is more inclusive to parents (and other groups).
  • You can’t ‘own’ your talent. It is best to leave people feeling ‘developed’ so that [ideally] their next career step can be within your company, but if it is somewhere else, they always remember that your company was the place where they learned and grew their skill set. That exemplifies generosity and develops trust between you and the employee.

Kevin Scott, CTO of Microsoft and Maja Mataric, Professor of Computer Science and Vice Dean for Research, University of Southern California:

  • Quantum computing leapfrogs AI but it will be at least fifteen years before it becomes mainstream as it is currently extremely expensive to buy and maintain, e.g. it must be cryogenically chilled to a temperature colder than deep space. The good news is that companies will soon be able to test out the capability through the cloud as MSFT, Google, IBM and Dwave are all working in this space.
  • When thinking about what it can help solve, it is most effectively utilized in areas where there is an abundance of data, for example transcoding spoken language into text.
  • MSFT is not planning to build AI in order to run business directly, preferring to build AI tools for developers who in turn can solve the needs of individual businesses.

Antonio Neri, Hewlett Packard Enterprises CEO:

  • Main concern is that within the next two years, our data with double in size. How do we manage it? There is an evolution of ‘memory driven compute’. It is different to quantum because it is a prototype that’s already working. 2020 is when we will see the first commercialization of the memory server.
  • Neri sees the opportunity with Edge Computing, which is outside the data center and can be used in smart cities, healthcare, manufacturing and automation. Companies need an Edge strategy, a view on how to architect it and what value it brings to the business going forward.
  • HP is focusing on hybrid IT, intelligent, agile services – a ‘composable’ infrastructure that is flexible. Neri believes CIOs will have to become more engaged to make these products work for their own businesses, thus it will create an ecosystem of partnerships.

Aaron Levie, Box CEO and Stacey Brown-Philpot, CEO of TaskRabbit:

  • TaskRabbit is building machines that will talk to Taskers so that tasks will automatically happen. For example, a refrigerator will tell TaskRabbit if a filter needs replacing and be able to take action on it.
  • Typically, AI will not be used to replace humans, it will just be used to replace a task and better utilize the individual’s time.
  • In time, AI will be able to drive your car, advise you on investment decisions and what drugs you need to take. The challenge is how we (and the government) make sure this is monitored and delivered correctly.

Michael Casey, MIT Advisor and Author “The Truth Machine” and Caitlin Long, Former CEO of Symbiont on Blockchain:

  • Retail token markets have adopted blockchain effectively but enterprise blockchain is still at very early stages. Logistics will be a key area of focus. Finance and social media (ruling out the bots) both have real potential with blockchain. Caitlin Long gave an example of a large asset management company that had used blockchain to share index data and then automate the process of reconciling the data.
  • In the recent P&G proxy fight, the number of votes exceeded the number of voters. Blockchain could have been applied to avoid such issues.
  • Blockchains are expensive but if your company has a complex infrastructure, the cost will be offset by the benefits.

Alexis Ohanian, Founder of Reddit:

  • Ohanian is proud of implementing and executing a content policy that stands for negative speech issues. The question is whether we, as a society, should we be putting legal limits on software and policy discussions? He doesn’t think so, but as we continue to gather more personal views around people in a scalable way, as a species, can we handle it?
  • Ohanian is concerned with cyber and the weaponization of social media. However his opinion is that whether it is been for political or marketing reasons, we [as a society] have been doing this for a very long time. It will be difficult to stop and will indeed become more forthright as the spread of disinformation presents a very real risk.
  • In terms of his approach to social media with his own daughter, he will expose her to tech, but equally wants her to become good at ‘being bored’, which by his definition is ‘time without tech’.

Boyden Rohner, Director Operations for National Cybersecurity Center for U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and M. General Prof Isacc Ben-Israel, Head of Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center, Tel Aviv University and Mikko Hypponen, Chief Research Officer at F-Secure:

  • We must appreciate (and accept) that the rapid growth and rate of change within global cyber threats makes them unmanageable. For example, three years ago ransomware would not have been considered as a substantial threat, yet now hackers are far more aggressive within this aspect of cybercrime.
  • Technology is driving the pace of cyber. For example, in Finland they are not giving military recruits a gun, they are instead giving them a keyboard. This is similar in Israel.
  • Information sharing between nation states, federal agencies and companies is absolutely critical to countering cyber attacks and staying one step ahead.

Chris Liddell, Assistant to the President and Director of the American Technology Council:

  • Building out technology for the federal government, requires a sense of mission. The government is working with the private sector by having them send their most experienced talent for six month increments, in the form of a secondment.
  • Big technology companies have given around $200mn toward computer science education at all levels.
  • In terms of policy, the government is working on AI, communication, and the digitization of services.

Dan Goldin, Founder & CEO, KnuEdge (Former NASA administrator) and Winston Ma Wenyan, MD, China Investment Corporation and Author of “China’s Mobile Economy”:

  • A lower bar for data privacy has given China an advantage in the AI market. There are now approximately 750mn mobile users in China, which is bigger than Europe. This is especially prevalent in rural areas where the mobile device is the only source of internet – hence the analytics mobile companies gather are extremely valuable.
  • Goldin pushed for cooperation between nation-states for a level playing field, but also for cyber ‘interconnectedness’ to contain cybersecurity.
  • China’s sophisticated manufacturing systems are definitely giving them a competitive advantage on smart hardware.

Vinod Khosla, Founder of Khosla Ventures and former Founding CEO of Sun Microsystems:

  • There is clearly a transitional period in the CIO functional job. Data, machine learning and AI are now the focus. There is no one better qualified than the CIO to grow a company effectively – they need to be prepared to help all business lines and take risks.
  • Ten years from now the supply chain, as we know it, will not exist. There is a concept that instead of outsourcing to [for example] China, robots will manage this. Robots will potentially cost only 3$ an hour and complete a task in three days.
  • In the next twenty years technology will be integrated with and in everything. For example, 3D printing created Khosla a pair of shoes in under one day that was an exact match to his foot. This process has a much lower environmental impact, which has the potential to become a strong brand / selling point as it appeals to consumer concerns regarding environmental impact.
  • Google and Facebook might appear monopolistic, however consider what MSFT was just seven years ago and IBM seven years before that. In the next 20 or 30 years, we will completely reinvent the infrastructure of society. No GE, no IBM, no Cisco. “Tesla, five years ago, seemed so implausible. Now every automotive player is following”.
  • Current regulation surrounding data retention is an issue, but there are so many other ways to gather data – video games and exercise machines are two such examples. Start-ups have an advantage because they are often able to ‘skirt around’ regulation where the big companies cannot.

Key photo highlights from the summit:

Connect with Emmeline Kuhn:

Emmeline Kuhn is a Consultant in Leathwaite’s Global Operations and Technology Practice. The practice partners with global financial services, technology, fintech, telecommunications, energy, healthcare and retail businesses to assist them with benchmarking, executive search and market intelligence. With a 19 year heritage of working successfully with organisations across the globe, the practice is dedicated to unearthing exceptional IT and Operations officers, from established and emerging cultures and markets, making appointments into nations spanning Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle-East.

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