The Interview: Peter Sondergaard, global head of research at Gartner (video)

3 Feb 2015

Peter Sondergaard, global head of research at Gartner

One-third of existing knowledge worker jobs will disappear by 2025 as the era of the digital machinist gives rise to the era to the digital humanist, says Gartner’s global head of research Peter Sondergaard.

As research organisations go, Gartner’s viewpoint is the one sought and respected the most in the global technology industry. Everyone from CIOs to IT managers, CEOs and digital strategists base much of their decisions and directions on the signals that come from Gartner’s army of experts.

At the helm of this knowledge network is Sondergaard, a 30-year IT industry veteran who co-ordinates a global organisation of more than 900 experts across IT, supply chain and marketing.

The company’s client base spans 13,300 organisations across more than 80 countries and initiatives driven by Sondergaard have contributed to high levels of revenue for Gartner of more than US$1.3bn in 2013.

Sondergaard was in Dublin this week, where he addressed an Irish Internet Association seminar on future trends, energy-efficient and cost-effective IT.

As Sondergaard explained it, the entire IT industry is in the midst of a transition from connecting businesses and people to connecting things in new and innovative ways. And while Google and Amazon have become household names, the next household names of the coming decade may not have even started up yet.

“This transition essentially makes technology invisible. It is everywhere around us and the systems will have information that will become the oil of the 21st century, making us more knowledgeable, valuable and creates opportunities for new kinds of businesses.”

The IT industry up to now has been led by companies that connected businesses with people. Sondergaard said the next Apple or Google will thrive by connecting businesses, people and things.

IT innovation time cycles are getting shorter

“We are seeing the time cycles shorten in terms of the innovation of technology, so where 20 years ago we were used to five or 10-year shifts, these have now shrunk to be two-year shifts in technology. We can see this with mobile phones, where even a device someone bought six months ago could be out of fashion.

“But the big upheaval will come over the course of the next 10 years because of the smart technologies that are coming in that will allow us to automate decisions that human beings or knowledge workers would make today.

“We believe there is a high likelihood that a third of all knowledge-worker jobs today will in fact disappear by 2025. That creates opportunity for new jobs, but the flip side is it could also create a level of social disruption thanks to technology.”

The safe haven, he reasoned, is in programming skills, because we have moved beyond programming IT systems to now programming cars, dishwashers and all kinds of devices.

Information is the oil of the 21st century

“Information is the oil of the 21st century. It is really what makes the world tick and so this is where analytical, statistical knowledge, the ability to analyse and put together information in a non-linear manner also becomes a really important skill set.

“There is also the whole aspect of design and usability; the kind of capabilities you tend to find in game designers who know how people interact with systems.

“There is a fundamental friction right now that is caused by technology. On the one hand you have the digital machinist, people who can automate everything in sight, but also the digital humanist because we think that systems need to be designed around what people want and need and can accept. Skill sets such as user experience (UX) and design principles will become really valuable.

“We don’t have enough of those, it requires a different adaptive skill set and that kind of skill set we would probably want to see more of from an educational perspective in schools because we will need that to really allow for the appropriate integration of technology and human beings in the future.

“And so the aspect of the digital humanist is in our mind a really important principle to consider alongside the digital machinist which has been prevalent for the last 30 or 40 years.”

Peter Sondergaard interview (part 1)

Peter Sondergaard interview (part 2)

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years