Journalists Reflect On What They Learned At The 2019 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium

Written by
Kevin Perez

Each spring, we’re fortunate we get to join more than 900 CIOs from the world’s leading global organizations who gather on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus for the annual MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. This group represents a diverse set of industries and organizational types spanning multiple geographies, but they all share the responsibility of leading digital transformation within their organizations. Each is a teacher, inventor, investor, explorer and change agent.

As they direct change, CIOs manage the challenges of educating and inspiring employees, senior executives and board members toward a new future. Success on this long and complex journey requires CIOs to focus on creating a culture of change throughout their organizations as they evaluate and deploy the technologies that will transform their organizations.

The MIT Symposium gives CIOs the opportunity to meet with academics and industry experts to learn best practices for deploying artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotic process automation (RPA) and other cutting edge technologies. This year’s Symposium theme was Leading the Smarter Enterprise. And as you would expect from MIT, the panel discussions consisted of some brilliant people talking about heady topics and big ideas.

In addition, the MIT CIO Symposium attracts more than 30 top journalists who cover technology and the business of IT. Between sessions, at lunch breaks and over coffee we asked them about their big takeaways from the conference. Here’s a summary of what we heard:

While the Symposium is about using technology to drive digital transformation, change requires people to engage and drive that transformation. Clint Boulton from summed it up when he said, “I heard a lot less about tech and a lot more about driving business strategy, using new operating models and emerging tech to create value.”

Veteran IT reporter Barb Darrow and InformationWeek contributor added, “Techies need to develop their ‘soft’ or ‘people skills’ while non-techies need to know more about tech and data.”

Esther Shein from CIO, SC Magazine and TechTarget’s SearchITChannel echoed this sentiment, “My biggest takeaway was the changing workplace and the blurring of the lines between IT and the business.”

TechTarget’s Brian Holak said, “I focus a lot on data and analytics in my reporting, so hearing how companies approach data strategies – and the internal culture shift that goes with it — was interesting to me.”

Finally, Gordon Haff from The Enterprisers Project said, “The changing digital workforce: it’s complicated (and) few boards have become digitally savvy. Goodbye alignment, hello co-evolution?”

While how to manage change was a huge topic, and people figure into that process heavily, there are still endless technological challenges that must be overcome–from integrating the new with the old; analyzing the ever-increasing volumes of data; dealing with governance and control of data; and not getting caught up in the hype of the latest buzzword.

Carla Rudder at The Enterprisers Project cautioned against confusing specific technologies with strategy, “Collecting digital products does not equal digital transformation. Data strategy overwhelms many, and ROI remains elusive.”

From the healthcare perspective, Fred Donovan at Xtelligent Healthcare Media’s HITInfrastructure said, “the industry is still mired in legacy technology, which is delaying use of the advanced technologies discussed at the symposium.”

Alison DeNisco Rayome, TechRepublic added, “While organizations are in the midst of digital transformation projects, there is still a very long way to go, but many resources available to them as they think through challenges.”

Gartner’s Matt Rosenbaum said, “My top takeaways were around the importance of adjusting HR/workforce processes to enable agile at scale—the level of experimentation and adjustment at some leading companies, such as DBS, was extremely helpful.”

Finally, TechTarget’s Jack Vaughn appreciated the conference’s “don’t believe the hype” approach. “There is plenty of room to streamline processes, and this may be the most effective case for AI.  But achieving change should be organized in increments. Congratulations to the Sloan CIO Symposium for taking a measured view – and ensuring the AI hype was muted.”

In addition to understanding how organizations are deploying new technologies, the journalists we spoke to appreciate the human factor of meeting top IT executives face to face. “I found the event very useful for expanding my own network of CIOs, researchers and other IT insiders,” said Wall Street Journal reporter Angus Lotus. “I fully expect to tap these sources for any range of IT stories in the year ahead.”

The Symposium brings together more than 900 academic thought leaders and technology executives from around the world for a full day of interactive learning and thought-provoking discourse on the future of technology and business. Warner secures media attendance from leading business and technology press to cover the Symposium, including The Wall Street Journal,, and TechTarget, among numerous others; 2019 saw 38 media attendees with pre-event, day of, and post-event national and global media coverage, building on the Symposium’s brand and keeping it front and center as the premier annual CIO event.

This year’s sessions and panels drove compelling conversations and thought-provoking insights on data, machine learning, AI, and other insightful technologies to create organizations that are deeply engaged with customers and other stakeholders. Take a peek at the full agenda here.

This year was all about “Leading a Smarter Enterprise,” helping attendees understand the profound potential of insightful technologies and how to scale them, and act as cultural change agents, guiding their executive business peers in transforming their organizations for competitive advantage. The Symposium had an impressive lineup of speakers from Google, JetBlue, Adobe, Trace3, Mercer, Schneider Electric, and many more. You can read about some of the key takeaways from the conference here:

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