Executives weigh risks, benefits of emerging technologies

When it comes to emerging technologies — like the metaverse or NFTs — hype should never overshadow value. 

Kimberly-Clark, maker of Huggies, Kleenex and Scott tissues, experimented with bleeding-edge technology to attract consumers and find new ways to connect one-on-one. While AI and ML platforms were part of the answer, metaverse presence and NFTs helped customers engage, said Manoj Kumbhat, chief digital officer and global CIO at Kimberly-Clark.

“Our consumers are helping define the brands for us,” said Kumbhat, at the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. Metaverse strategies and NFTs are part of a confluence of technologies companies are using to connect with brands.

CIOs must determine what role the technologies can play in a broader IT stack, define purpose and impact. 

Executives must also keep an eye on whether employees’ skills match the technologies, how to integrate and train.

“The speed train of automation, robotics [and] metaverse is going really fast, but the human skills train is not moving fast enough,” said Suneet Dua, partner at PwC US. 

These changes reflect a shift away from the keep-the-lights on CIO archetype, toward an executive who can influence user and customer experience through technology.

Shaping tech strategy

IT executives began the year with full pockets: IT spending was forecasted to increase 4% over last year, totaling $4.4 trillion, according to Gartner projections. But IT and communication services were predicted to account for more than 60%.

When it comes to the metaverse, the urgency isn’t there yet. More than six in 10 CEOs said the technology was not applicable or very unlikely to be key to operations, another Gartner study found

In emerging tech, businesses are paying closer attention to AI to boost revenue. More than three-quarters of executives said AI/ML was very important for driving revenue, according to data from SambaNova.

Some emerging technologies, such as low-code/no-code platforms, can quickly lead to value, for example, by helping employees fix the things that make their work go faster, according to Dua.

“Don’t shy away from citizen-led development,” said Dua. “Your users know what the issues are. They deal with it day to day. They may not know how to fix it, but they know how to address some of the short term fixes, and then scaling that is the next step.”

Inevitably, organizations must adapt to new technologies, and experiment early on, or risk falling by the wayside.

“It’s coming to us,” Kumbhat said, “It’s coming fast and furious.”