“Science fiction is happening now,” said George Westerman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It is happening as we speak.”

Describing how the combination of technologies such as social media, mobile devices, cloud computing and data analytics are driving a breathtaking surge in technological advances, Westerman, principal research scientist for the Initiative on the Digital Economy at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, said the situation is “creating new possibilities that were undreamable even a few years ago.”

Westerman made these remarks while delivering a keynote at CDW’s Optimizing the Next-Generation Data Center summit. He pointed to advances such as driverless vehicles and automated medical diagnoses as signs that “the future is already here.”

These advances in technology are enabling organizations in a variety of industries to achieve striking improvements in performance and efficiency.

The Foundation for Success

This success isn’t by chance. Organizations that use technology effectively have two common elements: solid infrastructure and sound leadership. The breakthroughs Westerman described were made possible by advances in infrastructure technologies, such as storage and processing. For organizations to deploy them successfully, leaders must envision a digital future and drive home that vision with a thoughtful strategy.

Without strong leadership, technology deployments may lack focus. Westerman pointed to a company that piloted three technology-driven marketing projects. Rather than choosing the most successful for widespread adoption, the company maintained all three, resulting in inefficiency. Another company fielded four different collaboration systems, but ran into problems when it realized that the disparate systems couldn’t work well together.

Conversely, some organizations have strong leaders but lag behind in adopting technology. These leaders risk standing still while the rest of the business world races by.

Innovation in the Real World

Westerman cited several fascinating examples of digital transformation that were accomplished in recent years.

In one interesting use case, Caesars Palace deployed mobile technologies and data analytics to greatly improve service for its most valuable customers (often referred to in the gambling world as “whales”). The solution enables Caesars Palace to treat these high-value customers like royalty before they even walk in the door of the casino.

Westerman also discussed how CDM Smith, an engineering and construction company that works on massive structures such as power plants and dams, uses virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to give engineers a 3D look at blueprints of the projects they’re working on. The company also uses VR headsets to set up virtual meetings that take videoconferencing far beyond the capabilities of flat-screen monitors. The technology allows users from around the world to meet as if they’re in the same room.

CDM Smith also turned to the cloud to gain high-performance computing capabilities without having to invest in the massively expensive infrastructure needed for such pursuits. The cloud solution enabled the company’s engineers to complete complex calculations about thermal dynamics and water flow in minutes rather than days.

Achieving such amazing results requires vision and a willingness to take chances, Westerman said. The rewards are worth the risk. “Your vision should be able to transform you from a caterpillar into a butterfly,” he said. “You should get superpowers. You should be able to fly because of digital.”

To learn more why a robust, modern infrastructure is essential for deploying next-generation technologies, read the CDW article “Prepare for Digital Transformation.”

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