Cloud and Serverless Computing: Tech’s Unsung Heroes

Artificial intelligence, fifth-generation wireless networks and blockchain were overhyped in 2019, while cloud and serverless computing deserved more attention than they got, some information-technology executives said.

Investments in AI, 5G and blockchain will need to undergo extra levels of scrutiny as a result of the hype, said Manjit Singh, group vice president and chief information officer of

Toyota Motor Corp.’s

North American unit. “These technologies will mature significantly over the next few years, but will have less impact as people tire of unrealistic expectations that have already been set,” he said.

Mr. Singh was one of 30 IT executives who responded via email to CIO Journal’s annual end-of-year questionnaire about their thoughts on emerging technologies and other issues.

Going serverless

One important technology that is adding business value but hasn’t generated much buzz is serverless computing, said

Nigel Faulkner,

head of technology at financial-services company

T. Rowe Price Group Inc.

In this emerging method of software development, physical and virtual servers traditionally used to run certain applications become invisible to the developers building apps because the servers are owned and managed by a cloud provider. This frees developers from having to manage servers and enables them to focus on writing code.

Serverless computing can modernize applications while reducing the costs necessary to run and support them, Mr. Faulkner said.

Dick Daniels,

chief information officer at hospital and health-insurance company Kaiser Permanente, said cloud computing overall deserves more attention. “Cloud will be a key enabler for Kaiser Permanente to provide new capabilities faster, with greater mobility and flexibility and potentially at a lower cost,” he said.

Nothing artificial about AI hype

Contributing to the hype surrounding AI is so-called AI washing, which refers to companies that say they are using AI when they are not.

Technologies including AI should be used only to serve a specific purpose for the business, said

Bob Worrall,

senior vice president and CIO at networking and cybersecurity firm

Juniper Networks Inc.

“Any new technology is just a means to an end, so without first identifying what that end looks like, the rest of the discussion is moot,” he said.

The term “artificial intelligence” will soon become meaningless, in part because it’s already embedded across many areas, said Colleen Berube, CIO of software company

Zendesk Inc.

Welcome back, blockchain

Blockchain was significantly overhyped in 2019—see also 2018, 2017, etc.—many IT leaders said. The technology has the potential to secure transactions, to increase transparency and efficiency of data-sharing and to establish provenance, yet some IT leaders said they are unconvinced.

“While the proposition of an immutable distributed ledger seems obvious, I am not aware of a widely successful production deployment,” said Ashim Gupta, interim chief information officer at automation company UiPath Inc.

Blockchain has failed to have the level of impact in the financial-services industry that many predicted, said Mr. Faulkner of T. Rowe Price.

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Robot takeover

Several executives said robotic process automation, in which software “robots” automate mundane and low-level tasks, got more attention than it deserved this year. “RPA does not solve every problem, yet it’s constantly being posed as the solution,” said Vipul Nagrath, CIO at

Automatic Data Processing Inc.

Software robots are “simply today’s latest version of automation, which has existed for decades,” he said.

Hopes for 5G

Some IT leaders said 5G got too much attention last year and didn’t result in many tangible business benefits, but at least one CIO is bullish on its potential. “I’m personally very excited about the innovation that 5G will bring and believe it will be one of the biggest game-changers we’ve seen in the history of health care,” said Mark Boxer, CIO of health insurer

Cigna Corp.

A quantum of hype

Some executives said quantum computing was overhyped this year, mostly because it will still be several years before the next-generation technology can generate useful business applications.

Early-stage quantum computers are being built and tested by technology giants including

Microsoft Corp.

and Inc.

’s Amazon Web Services.

“I was in fourth grade when I heard about nuclear fusion and that was 10-20 years away. It’s been 35 years and we’re nowhere close—that’s how I see quantum computing,” said

Vijay Sankaran,

CIO at

TD Ameritrade Holding Corp.

TD Ameritrade CIO Vijay Sankaran


TD Ameritrade

Write to Sara Castellanos at

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