Kalyan Kumar is Executive Vice President and CTO for ITO and Digital at HCL Technologies. HCL Technologies are a thriving multinational IT services company, with offices in 32 countries and operations across a wide range of industries.
Digital technologies are fuelling a seismic shift in the modern business landscape, driven by changing customer expectations and mounting competition from new and nimble ‘born digital’ companies. This has given rise to a new breed of organisations; the 21st Century Enterprise, which are being forced to rethink traditional market approaches and become more service-centric in order to remain relevant. To make this transition successfully, businesses must have the ability to not only respond, but also pre-empt the needs of customers, partners and employees. That’s a pretty big ask given that most of us lack any psychic abilities, but the growing maturity of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is starting to make this goal much more achievable.
A new age of intelligent services
Machine learning and cognitive computing are paving the way for automation capabilities that are hugely impacting business technology and ushering in a new generation of intelligent, outcome-based services, which lie at the heart of the 21st Century Enterprise. As the hype around these technologies continues to intensify and organisations start to experiment and explore the potential of AI even further, we’re likely to see widespread disruption across businesses and industries. The applications of AI are moving beyond predictive analytics and machine learning, as more innovative use-cases for anticipating the needs of customers, employees and partners emerge. Analyst firm IDC predicts that the market for AI technologies will more than double from its value in 2014, to reach $9.2 billion by 2019 – providing a pretty clear indication of the expected scale of this revolution.
This growth is being accelerated by billion dollar investments that technology companies are making in order to commercialise applications of AI. Many firms are now working to develop off-the-shelf solutions to address specific use-cases for AI, making them easier to buy and deploy. For example, in the consumer space, we’ve seen the likes of the Nest intelligent thermostat and the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner emerge as simple ways of improving basic household objects by reducing the need for human interaction. Advanced natural language processing capabilities have also given rise to a new generation of virtual assistants designed to help with personal organisation, not entirely dissimilar to Iron Man’s Jarvis. We are at an inflection point, where AI is poised to change the future of the IT Industry, and the combined R&D efforts of the early pioneers will only accelerate the adoption of these technologies.
The business of real intelligence
As we’ve seen from other recent trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and digital, the real innovation will happen at a business technology level. Apart from the objective of lowering costs through the increased use of automated technologies, there are several other key advantages that will drive businesses to explore AI’s potential to boost their competitive edge in the coming years, like:
- Better business outcomes: Big data technologies along with AI/cognitive capabilities help to analyse and understand immense data sets, images and other source inputs at a far greater scale than ever before, in order to achieve better results via predictive modelling. This will be indispensable in areas such as medical diagnosis, oilfield exploration, and supply and demand forecasting.
- Faster decisions: Businesses will be able to make much faster decisions and take more decisive action through the use of AI. For example, automated fraud detection systems will help insurance brokers to drive down the cost of fraudulent claims; a crime which the Association of British Insurers says costs £3.6 million every day.
- Efficiency gains: Equipping high-skilled workers or embedding cutting-edge technology with artificial intelligence can significantly boost their efficiency by automating basic processes and further enhancing their existing capabilities.
Of course, as with any new and emerging technology, there are hurdles that must be overcome before businesses can reap these rewards. First of all, the firms that are exploring highly customised applications of AI, need to invest considerably in R&D. This can mean that projects are more closely aligned to research than systems integration, which can lead to unpredictable costs and timelines. This makes it very difficult for the IT department to secure approval and budgetary commitment from the board. Secondly, since it is still an evolving area, there is a shortage of the skills required to design, build and integrate systems with AI capabilities.
Once AI projects are off the ground, organisations may need to up-skill or cross-skill their workforce to take up additional responsibilities as more routine work becomes automated. These changes can naturally create uncertainty amongst the workforce, so AI technology implementations require far greater organisational change management than traditional IT projects.
Outthinking the challenges
For defined outcomes, businesses must first ensure that they have a suitable automation and orchestration framework in place, so AI is integrated seamlessly with existing processes rather than just being tacked on for its own sake. They will also need to recruit people with the skills needed to drive AI projects to fruition; whether that be in-house or by enlisting the help of a trusted technology partner. It can also be worth looking at some packaged applications of AI for functions such as sales forecasting, customer service or forms processing, to build support for these technologies within the business. These initial projects serve as a great pilot to demonstrate the value of AI technology, whilst shielding organisations from much of the complexity.
Whichever route they choose to go down, the journey towards a 21st Century Enterprise powered by Artificial Intelligence will be long, with many challenges along with way. However, as we’ve seen in the past, those that get ahead of the curve and anticipate the way the rest of the industry is turning will create a lasting competitive advantage. The rise of AI will certainly be no different.