Most industry events follow a formula: lots of product announcements, rock bands which feed on audience nostalgia, partner pavilions, often annoying MCs.
Cognizant Community is a complete outlier. Client executives convene for 3 days in a relaxed setting over TED Talk format sessions about technology and societal trends and have plenty of time for mingling and fun activities. I have been fortunate to be invited to a few, with the caveat that I respect the low-key, no-broadcast format. I did not tweet or blog from the recent one and just posted my reactions in the spirit of the Community – in the Cognizant Events mobile app.
I did convince Malcolm Frank, EVP Strategy and Marketing (who was one of the very few in a suit) to share his comments on the mood at the event and the theme of his excellent keynote.
We’re just coming off a very successful Cognizant Community, held last week in Arizona. We had record attendance, and three days in the desert with senior executives from our best clients. Community always serves as an accurate barometer for what’s going on in the market.
In terms of general client feedback, it’s that the digital world is coming much more in focus. Whereas just three or four years ago you would find a lot of arm wavers out there, people who would give platitudinous perspectives of what may be going on. Now, people are diving deep into very specific areas to apply digital in their businesses and it's fascinating, what they are developing, what they're discovering. It just makes for a far richer conversation, for at Community clients would share what is working, and not working, as they apply things such as IoT, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Robotic Process Automation in their own organizations.
In terms of an overall mood with our clients, I would describe it as one of “relaxed confidence.” Instead of fearing a digital future, most feel optimistic about the digital opportunities in their industry. They now have a sense that they know what they need to do. With that, there wasn't the confusion of even fear and apprehension that we've seen in prior years, this sense of “Oh Dear, we’re about to get Amazoned.”
About the themes in his presentation
As I was saying earlier, it was about “applied digital.” Not what might happen, but what’s actually happening.
That said, I started the presentation by just giving a little bit of perspective on just what a special economic time this is. One of the problems with “digital” is that we’re all too close to it, and we don’t fully appreciate the scale and rapidity of this transition we’re all living through. As context, I shared that the top five most valuable companies on earth are now digital players: Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and then you could add Tencent, which is now the sixth most valuable company on earth, and Alibaba which is number eight. Seven of the ten are digital natives, and – in real terms - they have generated more value in a compressed time than we've ever seen historically. It’s not even close. If we look back, for example, at the Belle Epoque or the Gilded Age, what’s occurring now is happening faster and at greater scale than anything that we've ever seen historically. In the moment it’s too easy to lose sight of that when, for example, you feel you need to upgrade your iPhone.
The second theme is that this shift to digital is accelerating rapidly. The molecules, if you will, in the digital world are bouncing off of each other very quickly, and as a consequence we're seeing a compounding effect with innovation. And this is not being applied in a general sense, but very specifically in our clients’ industries, rapidly changing how they compete. That was really what I was trying to convey. Not for them to walk away and say, "Hey, that was interesting" but, for them recognize that they've got some things that they need to do on Monday.
The final piece was just talking about the role of artificial intelligence and how it's manifesting itself in very tangible ways all around us. AI now gets applied through one of three prisms: the physical, the biological and the digital.
In the physical world, and we're seeing that with VR and AR, virtually reality and augmented reality, that we think are going to take off quite profoundly in the next five years. It's also happening with smart machines and smart infrastructure. We may look at sophisticated, industrial machines but then they are going to get instrumented and turn smart. The same is true with our overall infrastructure all around us, whether that's roads or bridges, stadiums, whatever that may be. We think that's a big deal, of how AI applies to the physical world, and we'll really start to transform it. Our clients, who are currently competing on products and services, will soon have to compete on compelling customer experiences.
When AI hits the biological, it will have a profound impact on the healthcare system. If you look today, regardless of where you sit politically, the healthcare system is in crisis. It's a disaster in terms of what we're spending. Almost twenty percent of GDP is now going into this broken system and the results are getting worse, in terms of life expectancy and the wellness of the average American. No other industry would tolerate this. Politically we cannot find a workable solution. However, I’m optimistic that technology could start to make a big dent..AI can have a tremendous role in terms of helping people recognize risks very early on, what their genetic predisposition is for certain things, what their lifestyle is doing and if they extrapolate on that lifestyle for an x number of years, what is that going to do to their health? We think that it's going to have a significant impact.
And then all of this may get turbocharged when AI meets biotech. If you look at what decoding the genome, it's moving at a remarkably fast pace. Costs have completely collapsed in that area, now fully decoupled-coupled from Moore's law. That's a complete game changer and there are predictions now that the decoding of DNA will actually suck up more ten times more online memory than we have on YouTube today, in just a few years time. It's another area that's really taking off. I think we'll have a revolutionary impact on lived and wellness and healthcare. That was a second area that I wanted to spend time on.
The third is how AI applies to the digital world; what we're going to see with blockchain, what we're going to see with robotic process automation and, of course, the potential impact of quantum computing over the horizon. IT is not standing still. We will continue to have significant developments in the hardware world and in the software world, and how will those start to hit the enterprise.
I think the bottom line for that whole presentation is that things in digital implementation are real. This is no longer the domain of social computing, where we're gossiping on Instagram and Facebook and we're shopping for things on Amazon. Now the priority is on “digital that matters,” in positively transforming the pillars of a good society. That is the healthcare system, our educational system, the financial system and the infrastructure all around us. We were encouraging our clients to take action and to start to implement against that.
That was the overall message. I think that it fit pretty well for where the mood was in the room. People are ready to make a serious impact.
In the next post he will also comment on several of the other presentations he had hand picked for the event.