Jack Berkowitz, Oracle vice president of products and data science for the Adaptive Intelligence Program
“The first step in making rabbit stew is catching the rabbit – so said Isaac Asimov, the founding father of literature on artificial intelligence and robotics, and given my field of work leading Oracle’s Adaptive Intelligence program, one of my favourite authors.
What’s that got to do with business?
Well many organisations could do well to bear that thought in mind as they tackle head on the digital transformation they will undoubtedly need to undergo as they seek to better serve their tech-savvy customers. No rabbit, and all you are left with is the gravy. Similarly, all the shiny new technologies in the world won’t magically transform your company into a digital innovator. Meantime, competitors will leave you in their dust.
One shiny technology area that’s getting increasing attention (and piles of investor cash) is artificial intelligence.
Cue ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ Theme Song
No longer restricted to the realms of fiction, AI is already all around us, underpinning personal digital assistants such as Siri and Alexa, helping marketers target their ads, informing medical diagnoses, driving high-frequency trading, helping HR specialists sift through resumes, and improving a wide variety of other processes.
Indeed AI tops the list of Gartner’s top 10 tech trends for 2017, and Forrester predicts a more than 300% increase in investment in artificial intelligence across all businesses in 2017 compared with 2016, when almost $1.5 billion was invested in just the first half of the year.
With all this emphasis on AI, it’s easy for companies to get caught up in the hype and focus on cool applications instead of business results. When that happens, new technologies tend to be used in operational ways that are not strategic, according to a report by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte University Press.
As my good friend, Des Cahill, Oracle CX evangelist pointed out to me recently, “We’re in this era where businesses are digitally transforming themselves to provide better customer experiences to a set of customers that have completely different buying habits than they did five years or 10 years ago. Businesses need to understand that this digital transformation is happening, and AI will be a critical part of the digital capabilities they need.”
And because AI is evolving rapidly, there are real challenges companies are facing: Making sure that their business strategies can incorporate AI capabilities as they become available, and ensuring that they’re building the right technical foundation for an AI future.
So how can your company move forward with AI without sinking lots of time and money into the wrong projects?
The first step before you dive in to build your own AI capabilities, is to look for pre-built AI apps, as they will accelerate your time to value and get you closer, faster to focusing more resources toward building your business. Even if you have an area of your business that is unique, you can find a provider with the tools to help there too.
Regardless of the path you take:
· Start with the outcomes you want to achieve. For example, if your goal is improved customer experience or better employee and partner engagement, work your way back, looking for places where AI can help. Too often, the focus is on launching an AI initiative. Instead, focus on the capabilities you need to get the outcomes you desire.
· Modernize your IT environment. Cloud-based applications ensure that a company has the latest capabilities and patching, without a painfully long integration project.
· Unlock data silos. AI technology requires a ton of data, from internal and external sources. If the flow of data in your organization is blocked by functional silos or disconnected technologies, clear away those obstacles. As we talk about digital transformation, it all starts from a data perspective. You have to get your data straight.
· Communicate what’s coming. Change management is 90% of the battle in implementing any digital strategy. With AI, which can automate tasks now done by employees, it will be particularly important to communicate the end goal (for instance, improve customer service) as well as how employees’ jobs will change.
· Be prepared to train employees for new roles. For example, a customer service rep armed with insights about a customer via an AI application could have broader leeway to personalize her approach with customers to solve problems. For the employee, that means a very different workflow, new tools, and a new set of expectations.
· Keep up with the latest AI developments. You should be constantly evaluating new technologies and considering the impact they can have on your industry’s customer experience delivery. AI is a major new area for customer experience in 2017 and if you don’t start dipping your toes in and experimenting, you’re going to be behind the curve relative to your competition.