In just a few short years, leaders in virtually every industry have embraced the possibilities of digital transformation, leaving the world on the cusp of previously unimaginable advancements in human progress.
That was the argument that Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies, made Monday before a packed crowd of customers, partners, journalists and others attending Dell Technologies World 2018, the company’s annual conference in Las Vegas. Attracting more than 14,000 attendees from 129 countries, the event runs through May 2.
“At first, the power of digital transformation was kind of a secret that only those of us in the computer world saw coming,” Dell said. “Fast forward a few years, and the secret of digital transformation has burst onto the public consciousness.”
Dell said that every customer he meets with is working hard to transform his or her business by deploying emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, all of it driven by ever-increasing volumes of data. “Technology is now at the top of the agenda for business leaders everywhere because technology strategy is business strategy.”
Data and Technology Transform Every Industry, Even Farming
As one example of his vision of “technology as the driver of human progress,” Dell cited AeroFarms, a Newark, N.J.-based company that is blazing a path in urban agriculture by growing crops indoors. In a video that accompanied Dell’s remarks, AeroFarms CEO David Rosenberg said information was the key to his business.
“We’re creating all these data points of what we’re giving to the plants,” he said. “We’re using data analytics to become better farmers.”
If an agricultural business seems an unlikely choice as a locus of digital transformation, then that’s the point. Dell said that whatever the industry, “to be competitive in the future you’ve got to use data and software and IoT, and you’ve got to do it at record speed and scale. It all starts with data, which allows you to make products and services better, which attracts more customers, which produces more data.”
Dell said that by 2020, the world will be producing 200 petabytes of data per day, most of it coming from billions of internet-connected devices, not people.
Companies Express Uncertainty About Digital Transformation
Many business leaders, though, are uncertain about the future and their place in it. Allison Dew, Dell Technologies’ chief marketing officer, said that only about half of respondents to a recent survey of businesses expressed confidence that machines would save them time in the future, and 42 percent don’t know whether their own companies will be competitive in the years ahead.
Indeed, she told attendees that no clear consensus has formed yet among business leaders on how digital transformation will play out. To help shed light on the subject, the company has created the Dell Technologies Institute, a think tank that will work with “luminaries” inside and outside of Dell Technologies, she said, “to understand how emerging technology will be a force for good, and to address those fears and skeptics — that 50 percent who think tech won’t make them more efficient.”
Some worry that technology is, in some ways, advancing too fast for society’s own good. Concerns abound about whether humans will benefit over time from AI, for example, or whether we may someday be made obsolete by — or even subordinate to — supersmart robots.
In remarks to journalists after his keynote, Michael Dell largely dismissed such concerns as overblown while acknowledging that “it’s possible” that “some bad things could happen,” a risk he said has accompanied every human advancement.
“Hey, when fire came out, people said, ‘Wow, this is amazing, think of what you can do with fire. You can have heat and light at night and cook your food.’ Then somebody thought of a way to do something bad with it,” he said. It’s up to technologists and society at large to ensure that AI is a force for human progress, he argued.
For more, check out all of BizTech's coverage of Dell Technologies World 2018 here.