Inside Advanced Scale Challenges|Monday, November 19, 2018
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Does Your Company Have an AI Strategy, Really? 

At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, AI is one of tech’s hottest buzzwords these days. The hype is impossible to escape.

Of course, some trends become the focus of intense attention legitimately, because they really are once-in-a-generation game changers. And AI is one of them. In its B2B applications, AI offers staggering promise of deeper, real-time insights, more efficient processes and lower costs.

Company leaders across industries are increasingly recognizing that failing to implement AI during the coming years means risking becoming irrelevant in their markets.

global survey of more than 3,000 executives by the Boston Consulting Group and MIT’s Sloan Management Review found that 84 percent of respondents believe AI will enable them to obtain or sustain a competitive advantage, 83 percent feel AI is a strategic priority for their businesses today, and 75 percent are counting on AI to open opportunities for new businesses and ventures. Gartner calls it the “democratization of AI,” as the technology gains a prominent role in a broader range of organizations in 2018.

By now, the most rudimentary forms of AI -- mechanisms to collect telemetry, application and performance data in order to increase automation and run sophisticated analytics – should be considered de rigueur for any enterprise. If you don’t have taken care of this, stop right now and do that first.

In the near future, having sophisticated AI algorithms, machine learning systems and automation that is continuously optimized in near real time will be the table stakes. People won’t even declare that they “do AI optimization” just like they don’t mention that they “do internet.”

Behind it all should be a carefully honed strategy and well-defined measures of success (rather than the sort of vague platitudes in this hilarious Onion video that pokes fun at high-tech Kool-Aid).

So now’s the time to ask: Does your company have a genuine AI strategy? Interestingly, the key pillars of a successful AI strategy are strikingly similar to those for any business initiative.

No new technology, even AI, is so powerful and impressive that it obviates the basic blocking and tackling of a sound, high-level strategy that addresses larger business goals. This need may be especially acute for AI: Because AI tends to be defined in different ways, sometimes making it hard to distinguish the hype from the reality, it’s all the more important that companies tie their AI planning and execution to specific business priorities.

Here are five questions organizations should consider when embarking on their AI journeys:

  1. How does AI add value to our business?  Avoid regarding AI as a bright, shiny object; instead, adopt the same results-oriented approach you would of any other technology.

The first criterion of an AI initiative should be: What is the positive impact for our customers? If that isn’t clear, move on to another AI application where it is. In marketing, that could mean more targeted recommendations, segmentation, offers and cross-selling to support larger sales and marketing efforts, such as “land and expand.”

  1. How does the AI initiative make us more competitive? Leveraging the sales, telemetry and other large sets of customer and prospect data that AI-enabled systems collect and analyze for actionable learnings, companies can gain deep insights into how to optimize their existing business, identify potential new markets to enter and gain an understanding when legacy portfolio items need to be retired.
  2. Do we have the right building blocks? AI and machine learning are essentially mechanisms for optimizing the existing processes that are in place. Having a strong automation strategy and policy, followed by a strong policy of data collection and analytics, are prerequisites for being successful with AI. All of these should combine to run your business more efficiently and lower fixed operational costs.
  3. Do we have the right skills? Fifty-four percent of respondents to an O'Reilly surveysaid AI will play a major role in their organization’s future projects, but lack of skilled people was the No. 1 hurdle to success.

It’s crucial for companies recognize this challenge and tap into the growing pool of data science talent when hiring and developing for the next-generation, AI-savvy enterprise.

  1. What does AI mean for our company culture? AI will change your enterprise, both technically and culturally. Organizations need to be thoughtful when introducing AI. It is a mistake to believe that AI is simply a way to reduce headcount. Leaders need to emphasize that AI will allow employees to create larger impacts to the business and to perform better in their jobs.

AI is one of those rare technologies that deserve the overused adjective “revolutionary.” By asking themselves the right questions, companies can make sure they’re benefiting from, rather than simply being disrupted by, the revolution.

Scott Willson is DevOps Evangelist for CA Technologies.

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