Gartner Application Strategies Summit, Day One: Companies Must Embrace Digital Ecosystems

LAS VEGAS — On day one of the Gartner Research Application Strategies and Solutions Summit, speakers urged attendees to affirm their commitment to their organizations' technological, collaborative, and leadership efforts. "Those three things will make you the trusted advisers who enable your business to succeed...and make the leap from business to digital business," said Gene Phifer, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, to open the event.

In his keynote, Daryl C. Plummer, a vice president and fellow at Gartner, agreed, adding that to drive improvements in the key areas highlighted by Phifer, people should keep in mind one simple mantra: "Make it digital; make it programmable; and make it smart." The most advanced firms, Plummer stressed, are taking these steps to grow out robust platforms.

Digital platforms, analysts explained, include assets that can be expanded upon; accommodate partnerships and the sharing of information across lines of business and markets; and allow employees to be more predictive with the actions they take. "The digital platform is the foundation of your capabilities, collaboration, and leadership," Plummer said.

And platforms must be able to leverage digitally connected devices and the Internet of Things (IoT); must be programmable with APIs and algorithms; and must be smart, as they incorporate machine learning and artificial intelligence to inform user decisions. "That's not only going to transform organizations, but industries and society, and along the way your entire enterprise structure will be renovated," Plummer said.

Carol Rozwell, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, and Gene Alvarez, Gartner’s managing vice president, followed Plummer onstage for a joint presentation in which they elaborated on Plummer's points. The speakers first shined a spotlight on Trenitalia, an Italian train operator that has saved hundreds of millions of dollars on maintenance thanks to its digital platform. Trenitalia uses predictive and smart technologies to better understand when part of a train needs to be serviced, and at the same time offers a sharper customer experience by enabling dependable performance and availability.  

Trenitalia provides a great example, Alvarez said, of a digital platform's two domains at work: things and intelligence. "It's also a great example of experienced hands and a beginner's mind," he added, pointing out that the company has combined known best practices with more daring approaches. "Trenitalia knows it needs to be really good at maintenance to keep costs down and availability high. It is the beginner's mind that thinks, 'Why do we have to schedule our maintenance; why can't we just have the train tell us?' Listen to the train instead of listening to the schedule."

"Like Trenitalia, we need to follow the mantra: 'Make it digital, make it programmable, make smart,'" Rozwell said.
Another case highlighted was that of Deakin University in Australia. The school, led by chief digital officer WIlliam Confalonieri, has taken an innovative approach to hearing out students and answering their questions on different devices and channels. Using chatbots and AI from IBM Watson to develop its Genie prototype, Deakin University hopes to reduce the need for live agents and proactively help students navigate day-to-day life at school.
Rozwell pointed out that Deakin's progress would not have been possible without third-party natural language processing tools and context services, and urged companies to embrace assistance from software providers outside of their organizations. “We need to be comfortable getting stuff from people we don't know," Rozwell said. This is how they will build the digital ecosystem, which consists of assets, channels, and partners. And sharing is not foreign to most companies, she stressed. "Who hasn't borrowed code from GitHub to get a jump-start on their next project? Who hasn't heard of the gig economy, where we use temporary, independent contractors to supplement our own workforces?"
Already, companies in the automobile industry have realized that they will need to borrow user interface components from the likes of Apple or Google to optimize their digital dashboards, for instance. Similarly, interior designers are borrowing product models created by furniture seller Wayfair to power 3-D customer tours in their applications. And, looking ahead, it is inevitable that "every company will compete as, or in, a digital ecosystem," Alvarez said.

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