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CEO Outlook: Why 2020 Will Be The Launch Of The 'Data Decade'

CRN asked nearly 80 of the industry’s top CEOs five questions regarding their views for how 2020 will shape up for the channel. Here's what they had to say.

Welcome to the “data decade.”

Ringing in a new era, 2020 will be the year that the true power of data is unleashed as the industry’s biggest CEOs plan to invest heavily in next-level machine learning, artificial intelligence, automation and higher hardware horsepower to unlock data’s true potential.

The critical importance of data as the key to channel growth and prosperity in the new year (and beyond) was a common thread woven throughout the responses CRN received from nearly 80 top industry executives in our CEO Outlook 2020 survey.

[RELATED: The CEO Outlook 2020 Database]

“We’re entering the data decade. So I think customers are going to be very surprised at the amount of data that they have,” said Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies, the $91 billion infrastructure giant that is the worldwide leader in storage and servers. “They are going to have to figure out how to use that data, activate the data and have that data help them improve their businesses.”

A large part of Round Rock, Texas-based Dell Technologies’ massive $4.5 billion R&D budget this year is going toward innovation around the key challenges of activating, securing and integrating data to drive business outcomes.

“It’s not uncommon for us to meet with a customer and they’ll say, ‘Hey, the amount of data we have grew 380 percent in the last two years. What the heck is going on?” said Dell. “The amount of data growth is just extraordinary. So how do you actually gain insights and action from that data so you can improve the products and services that you’re delivering and do it in real time?”

The data opportunity in 2020—to provide next-level services and drive stickiness with customers in every vertical—is immense, particularly as businesses are having a difficult time making sense of data complexity, said Robert Keblusek, CTO of solution provider Sentinel Technologies, Downers Grove, Ill.

“Data is being generated from all different types of services, some from devices, some from people—but what do you do with it all?” said Keblusek. Vendor innovation around AI and machine learning is key to safely secure and leverage data to make customers the most efficient they’ve ever been, he said.

“One day soon, our top analyst will probably be a bot,” Keblusek said. “It will probably allow us to not only make better and faster decisions on what we’re seeing in an environment, but also investigate more because, from a security perspective, you’re really looking for a needle in a haystack. Doing that manually, you’re never going to win or get ahead, and you can’t be cost-effective and efficient. So we have to combine machine learning and AI with skills and experience to be a really effective security provider.”

Hewlett Packard Enterprise President and CEO Antonio Neri said the biggest opportunity this year for his nearly $30 billion company is to tackle this data challenge head-on alongside channel partners.

“The key to our customers’ business success is translating vast amounts of data into insight and actions,” said Neri. “This requires an enormous amount of compute power, technology and integration.”

Neri said leveraging the value of data is “critical” to customers’ success in 2020, which is why San Jose, Calif.-based HPE plans to invest heavily in building end-to-end solutions to cut out data complexity issues. “No matter what stage of digital transformation, we are focused on providing our channel and customers the right tools and solutions with a flexible delivery model to help enterprises harness the power of their data across all their clouds and edges,” said Neri.

Making more intelligent software and infrastructure to peel away the complexity of dispersed data is a key goal for vendors this year, which is why Lenovo Chairman and CEO Yang Yuanqing said the Beijing-based company is focusing on its “Smarter Tech For All” initiative in 2020.

“We aspire to be a full-stack provider in the smart infrastructure arena,” Yang said. “We are developing solutions for smart verticals powered by algorithms and big data tools.”

As more devices come online, customers will face the challenge of having to store and manage massive amounts of dispersed data in a way that is both secure yet easy to be retrieved or invoked, Yang said. “In the future, devices can manage devices, synchronize data on all of the users’ devices, store, transfer, and share data across devices and across operating systems, and even retrieve corresponding applications and services,” said Yang.

The biggest opportunity for Intel and its channel partners this year is the ability to extract value from data and the “computing required to make that a reality,” said Bob Swan, CEO of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel.

“We are seeing accelerated growth in the creation of data, and the need to gain insight from it as distributed intelligence—fueled by silicon technology—is unleashing the potential of data,” said Swan. “That same acceleration of data creation means the 5G network becomes a critical component. And of course, it’s the 5G network that will make it possible to scale from the data center to cloud out to the intelligent edge in a way that delivers insight at the point where it’s needed most. How customers move, store and process data is a massive opportunity that we look forward to aggressively pursuing with our partners.”

Higher-performance solutions will need built-in intelligence to manage the waterfall of data streaming into applications, CEOs said.

A dramatic increase in connected devices and the ability to embed AI and machine learning into products is driving “a relentless demand for computing horsepower,” said Lisa Su, president and CEO of Santa Clara-based AMD.

“High-performance computing is needed to analyze and ultimately make decisions on all the data being generated,” said Su. AMD aims to meet this challenge by making significant investments in its Zen-based CPU portfolio, new Radeon DNA graphics architecture and advanced 7nm manufacturing solutions this year.

“2020 will be the year of high-performance computing,” said Su. “AMD’s mission is to provide the solutions to enable all users to leverage high-performance computing to solve some of the world’s most interesting and challenging problems.”

Cisco Systems also plans to make big technology investments with the aim of making its entire portfolio more intelligent.

“In 2020, we will continue to focus on the key outcomes of infrastructure automation as well as bringing more advanced analytics, machine learning and intelligence across our networking, security and collaboration portfolio,” said Chuck Robbins, chairman and CEO of San Jose-based Cisco.

Robbins said 2020 will be the year that customers deploy nextgeneration technologies like Wi-Fi 6 and 5G that will create more data and an expanded threat surface. “Just like all of us, our partners need to adapt to fast-changing markets without losing focus on the ability to generate unique value to their customers across the entire life cycle,” Robbins said.

Industry giants like Dell, HPE, Lenovo, Intel, AMD and Cisco all have the same goal in mind for 2020: help businesses harness the power of their data no matter where it lives.

“There’s a big explosion in the amount of data,” said Dell. For solution providers, that explosion will undoubtedly lead to massive growth opportunities in 2020.

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