Tech Futurist Vivek Wadhwa: Let There Be Disruption

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Gwenn Bezard is co-founder and research director at Aite Group, where he leads the insurance pract

Digital transformation will lead to disruption in every market: It's up to executives to decide whether they'll be lifted or swamped by the changes. That's the message Vivek Wadhwa delivered at the InformationWeek Elite 100 Conference.

There will be disruption.

That's the core of the message that Vivek Wadhwa, a Fellow at the Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University delivered to a room full of CIOs and IT executives at the InformationWeek Elite 100 Conference in Las Vegas. Faces around the room followed Wadhwa as he delivered a speech that contained the seeds of a transformation that's well under way and getting nothing but faster.

Wadhwa began his talk by pointing to the technology triumph that let us land on the moon -- and reminding everyone that the computing power that guided Apollo capsules to the moon today lets us listen to the Hamster Dance when we open greeting cards. That kind of improvement is the result of exponential growth -- growth on a path so steep that it's really impossible to accurately predict where the technology will be in two decades, or even one.

While admitting the difficulty in accurately predicting the precise destination for technology, Wadhwa did look at several significant digital technology trends and talk about where he sees them heading in the next decade. One of the common threads in all of the trends is that every business in the segment will be disrupted: Companies that have built their success on scarcity and resource hoarding will be disrupted to the point of destruction.

[Read why Capital One topped the Elite 100 List in 2016.]

Wadhwa's speech was an absolute flood of information. Among the main points that he made were:

Manufacturing is Coming Back: Robotics and factory automation will drive manufacturing costs down and, as Wadwha said, "American robots can work as cheaply as Chinese robots." As transportation costs become a larger part of good costs it will make less sense to move things across the ocean. Instead, North American factories will be rebuilt and manufacturing will return, though there will be limits to how many manufacturing jobs will join.

Medicine is Becoming Smaller and More Digital: Medical devices that use smartphones as hubs will bring sophisticated diagnostics to the field. Healthcare analytics will aid professionals in diagnostics and allow consumers to better keep track of their own health. The combination, hosted on $600 tablets, will revolutionize healthcare in the developing world.

Companies Aren't Ready for Exponential Disruption: Companies are especially unprepared for disruption that will come from competitors currently outside their market niche. Exponential change means that competitors can be born and become a threat in a matter of weeks or months rather than years.

Management Must Change With the Market: Managers need to re-think how they manage: Hierarchies were set up for consistent performance of physical laborers, not knowledge workers. As part of the re-thinking, they must realize that command no longer works, management happens through communication. This is at least partially because Employees are always communicating, to each other and the world

Trillion dollar opportunities, he said, happen at the intersection of exponential technologies. Companies -- all companies and not just those already at a crossroad -- must disrupt themselves before someone disrupts them. The disruption must lead to leadership because, when it comes to working through the disruption, "You must lead or become toast," Wadhwa reported.

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