If you follow the IT industry at all, you know that this is the time of the annual Gartner Symposium conference in Florida. Its predictions and catch phrases — right or not, original or not — end up framing the discussion in the IT industry for months and years to come. (Remember “Hype Cycle”? “TCO”?) They’re just so darn catchy.

This year is no exception.

Surely Gartner’s notion of a “Chief Digital Officer” and its constant repetition of “digital” and “digitization” isn’t new, though its focus is primarily on developing and exploiting sensors and big data. Gartner also released its list of top 10 strategic technology trends for 2014:

  1. Mobile device management/BYOD
  2. HTML5
  3. Software-defined everything
  4. Smart machines
  5. The Internet of things/everything
  6. Hybrid cloud
  7. Cloud/client architecture
  8. Personal cloud (BYOC?)
  9. Web-scale enterprise data centers
  10. 3D printing

Some familiar topics on that list, to be sure. But Gartner also tends to have a longer and broader view of its trends, examining the socioeconomic impact of them, as well as what they mean to IT (which was apparent from its consolidated list of factoids that it posted throughout the conference). In other words, Gartner analysts don’t  just talk about smart machines — they talk about how smart machines are going to take your job.

Similarly, while a lot of people have talked about the Internet of Things (including us), Gartner analysts such as senior vice president Peter Sondergaard and speakers such as Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt went beyond that to talk about how every company would need software developers on staff to be able to exploit these capabilities. “Every budget is an IT budget,” Sondergaard said, calling it the Digital Industrial Economy. “Every company is an IT company.” Echoing Forrester’s James McQuivey, Sondergaard said that easy access to social media, mobile apps, and data means that anyone can come up with a tool to disrupt your business. (It remains to be seen which firm will win the Battle of the Buzzwords — “digital industrial economy” or “digital disruption.”)

Gartner also made some pretty bold predictions about the Internet of Things. Whereas in 2009, there were roughly 2.5 billion connected devices in the world, made up of 1.6 billion devices and 900 million sensors, Gartner is predicting that by 2020 there will be 37.3 billion connected device with 7.3 billion devices and 30 billion sensors. And by 2018, 20 percent of them should be accessible via smartphone.

In fact, Gartner is suggesting that IT organizations set up separate groups to look for ways to leverage technologies such as the Internet of Things and 3D printing, to both provide the agility those technologies need and keep the machines humming at the organization in the meantime. In particular, the company urges organizations to make sure they have a “digital extremist,” or a disruptor in this area, along the lines of Salman Khan from Khan Academy, PSY (the “Gangnam Style” guy), Edward Snowden, or Julian Assange (one might add Aaron Swarz to the list).

And, proving that almost anything can be described in a 2×2 chart, the company also defined the four potential roles of the CIO, on one axis labeled Internally to Externally Focused and another ranging from Operational to Transformational:  Integrator & Optimizer, Broker & Engineer, Enabler & Conductor, or Explorer & Pioneer — the desired outcome.

Finally, you’ve got to love the concept of the “Machiavellian CIO,” espoused by Gartner analyst Tina Nunno in her new e-book The Wolf in CIO’s Clothing: A Machiavellian Strategy for Successful IT Leadership. Like “The Book of Five Rings” a couple of decades ago, the “Machiavellian CIO” takes concepts hundreds of years old and applies them to today’s CIO. Where other analysts are telling CIOs to adapt, to change, to make themselves more accommodating, The Wolf in CIO’s Clothing tells them to master the arts of power, manipulation, and warfare. After months of being told their job is in danger, it’s got to be a relief for CIOs to be told to just grow a pair and crush the opposition.  Gosh, it’s great to have the 1980s back again.

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