COGNITIVE COMPUTING and your business

Early adopters show that cognitive systems are being deployed now. Chandan Ohri says you should expect to see a profound impact not only on your own organisation but on your value chain and wider industry.

Artificial intelligence (AI), long just a promise, is finally here. In the last few years AI and the cognitive systems that bring it to life have emerged as practical and powerful business platforms, able to understand the context of an interaction and reason for itself the best outcome. We now experience AI in many aspects of our daily lives, from relatively simple smartphone assistants to more complex services in healthcare.
That AI is on the executive agenda was evident when Conferenz hosted Auckland’s first Cognitive Computing for Business Forum in April, to explore how cognitive systems are rapidly entering the mainstream.
The benefits of applying cognitive technology to optimise business processes and surface new data insights is obvious, and leaders are now more likely to ask how to create a true ‘cognitive business’, one that has systems designed to enhance digital intelligence exponentially to understand, reason, learn and interact.

Right here, right now

So why is this blossoming of cognitive computing happening now?
Today, data is the most valuable resource of any business, enabling the actions and insights that empower business disruption.
But it can only do so if it’s fully liberated to work for you. The sheer amount and different types of data being created has proliferated and is driving organisations to seek better ways to manage and access this data quickly.
Combining these trends with the capability of cognitive computing to deal with both structured data (for example, databases) and unstructured data, such as text and video, opens the door to a new era of machines and humans working together to come to a common outcome.

Human beings don’t create or consume structured data, we use our own cognitive frameworks to build machines, devices and systems to generate, collect and implement appropriate models to understand, reason, learn and interact with data.
 So cognitive technology can “take the robot out of the human”, allowing humans to do what they are best at – making judgments, seeing patterns, building relationships, innovating and creating.
The experience shared by speakers at the recent forum is that early wins with cognitive technologies are coming from projects that support tasks.

This was illustrated by Auckland subscription management software company Transaction Services Group where the analytics team has created 10,000 hours of time within its direct debit billing business by automating the mundane, repetitive business tasks, freeing people to do more innovative work.
Another learning shared at the forum, by Westpac’s efficiency value stream lead Simon Page, is that successful cognitive projects are not technology projects – they must be owned by the business and supported by technology.

Toward transformation

Already there are indications of the kinds of business transformations cognitive computing will foster in the industrial sector.
Thomas Willig, head of security at Fletcher Building, said they have begun investing in fully robotic manufacturing equipment that monitors its own usage and schedules its own maintenance. Businesses operating these ‘cyber-physical’ production systems are transforming their corporate security functions as phishing attacks and other advanced persistent threats are becoming increasingly difficult to detect.

Cognitive computing is being used to sift through enormous amounts of data so companies can differentiate legitimate communications from fraudulent ones.

The alternative manual process requires people to physically look at log files for false positives generated by security systems such as intrusion detection technology and firewalls. To combat fraud and mitigate risk it’s essential that any security breaches can be identified fast.

In customer service, we are seeing the evolution of chatbots and virtual assistants changing and improving the experience being delivering by brands and government agencies.

IBM’s own cognitive computing platform, Watson, helps people access information and also helps machines understand humans. One of my favourite examples of this in action is New Zealand founded company Soul Machines whose emotionally intelligent avatars react in human-like ways to the people they see through a camera.

Another example from Australia’s UBank is the recently unveiled ‘RoboChat’ chatbot, also built on IBM Watson.
RoboChat will be available on the bank’s website to guide potential home buyers and refinancers through the home loan application form, providing real-time natural language input on consumers’ questions.   

Forum participants were clear about their aspirations to use AI to become more agile, ensure compliance and consistency, improve service and, vitally, increase customer satisfaction.

We are in the early days of a promising new technology and, as with every prior world-changing technology, this one carries major implications. Many of the questions it raises will require time, research and open discussion to answer.
IBM’s own principles for guiding the responsible deployment of AI state that the purpose of these systems is to augment human expertise, embedded in systems controlled by humans.

Similarly, being transparent about the accuracy and ownership of data used is essential to ensure widespread support for adoption of AI.

Another principle recognises that implementation of cognitive systems will change over time, as will the skills needed to take advantage of them. Our company has committed to work with industry to develop new learning models to create skills for the new kinds of work and jobs that will emerge in a cognitive economy.
In New Zealand for example we support Tech Futures Lab, a new organisation providing education and training for executives to develop skills to work with AI.

Early adopters, both Kiwi and international, show that cognitive systems are being deployed now. In some cases these are embedded into the existing processes of traditional organisations, and in others, cognitive is enabling entirely new business models.

Expect to see a profound impact not only on your own organisation but on your value chain and wider industry. If you are ready, hold up your organisation’s business strategy and challenge your team to meet it using AI.

Chandan Ohri is the head of artificial intelligence at IBM New Zealand.

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