Some speakers really know how to win the hearts of their audience. Take Frank Chen, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, who kicked off this week's second annual Forbes CIO Summit at the Ritz Carlton at Half Moon Bay, south of San Francisco.

“You guys have a really hard job,” Chen told about 100 CIOs during opening ceremonies Sunday night.

And while CIOs have a broad range of tools to do their jobs, the rate of change in the industry makes it difficult for anyone to keep up, he added.

No one seemed to disagree — especially at an event Forbes marketed to CIO as a roadmap for transformation, disruption and acceleration. "The CIO’s job is not for the shrinking violet these days," conference organizers noted.

The Ubiquitous Smartphone

The two-day CIO Summit promised to support "ambitious, open-minded, creative and strategic" business and technology leaders with best practices and insights. The key, Forbes stressed, is for CIOs to be nimble enough to address threats and capitalize on opportunities in positions powered by an ever-changing arsenal of technologies and computing devices.

Frank Chen“Your MacBook adapter has about the same computing capacity than the original Macintosh,” Chen said, underscoring how far technology has come in a relatively short time.

At Menlo Park, Calif.-based Andreessen Horowitz, Chen runs the deal and research team, which identifies and evaluates investment opportunities, and builds knowledge about technology, people and trends. Before joining the venture capital firm, he was the vice president of strategy for HP Software, where he helped the company understand and act on changes resulting from the rapid enterprise adoption of virtualization technologies across servers, network and storage.

In a discussion of the future of mobile, Chen described the smartphone as a “product for everybody.”

There were feature phones in the 90s and early smartphones like the Sidekick and Blackberry in the early 2000s, but the smartphone growth phase really started in 2007-08 with the release of the iPhone and then Android, Andreessen Horowitz research concluded.

Smartphone adoption has since grown exponentially and by 2020, 80 percent of the global population will have one, Chen added.

Follow the Apps

That represents massive connectivity on a scale the PC never achieved, he continued.

Right now, the challenge for the industry is staying up to speed with all the applications. As Chen puts it, all the “cool kids” or developers want to develop on iOS and Android.

CIOs are left with going where the apps go.

And going forward, Chen predicts we will see a unifying platform, perhaps similar to WeChat in China, where users can pay taxes, hail a cab and buy movie tickets all in a messaging app.

In a few years, smartphones will have the capability to look at people’s glucose levels and blood count, Chen said. All of these components have become very low-cost to put into a smartphone, and, beyond health care, the trend of building on what providers and consumers can do with their smart devices will only continue.

As the VC firm notes, "there are a variety of new computing platforms currently in the gestation phase that will soon get much better  —  and possibly enter the growth phase  —  as they incorporate recent advances in hardware and software." All of these will expand connectivity and mobility, he noted.

These include Internet of Things devices for energy savings, security, and convenience, such as Nest; drones — "smartphones with propellers" — or devices that couple smartphone components plus mechanical parts; and autonomous and semi-autonomous cars from companies like Google, Apple, Uber, and Tesla that already almost as good as human drivers.

The conference continued yesterday with talks from the likes of Dennis Woodside, chief operating officer at Dropbox, who noted the platform now has 500 million users, up from 400 million last June; and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who noted "everybody wants systems that are smarter, everybody wants systems that are more predictive, everybody wants everything scored, everybody wants to understand what’s the next best offer, next best opportunity, how to make things a little bit more efficient."