Source | LinkedIn : By Tom Davenport
I’m teaching a new course this semester on cognitive technologies (AKA artificial intelligence) to Babson MBAs. Many of them are new to this set of technologies, and seeing the topic through my students’ eyes has made me realize how overwhelming it can be. There are so many different types of AI, each requiring some technical knowledge to fully grasp, that newcomers to the field often have difficulty figuring out how to jump in.
In the simplest case, cognitive technologies can be just more autonomous extensions of traditional analytics — automatically running every possible combination of predictive variables in a regression analysis, for example. More complex types of cognitive technology — neural or deep learning networks, natural language processing, and algorithms — can seem like black boxes even to the data scientists who create them.
Though these technologies can seem daunting, the good news is that getting started with cognitive technologies is getting easier all the time. Many vendors have jumped into the field, and their offerings provide options for any company wanting to make their processes or products smarter. I can think of at least seven ways to begin using cognitive tools, although some are clearly easier (and cheaper) than others. Because implementing these technologies is a key factor in deciding how to move forward, I’ve combined the cognitive entry points into three categories: “Mostly Buy,” “Some Buy, Some Build,” and “Mostly Build.”
- Use an existing vendor’s software with cognitive capabilities. For example, Salesforce.com and Oracle recently announced that they are adding cognitive capabilities to their products. Salesforce is adding Einstein features to its customer-facing software clouds, including the ability to automatically score sales leads, read emails from customers, and classify images used in social media. If you’re already using Salesforce CRM offerings and want to ease into smarter processes for sales, marketing, and service, this seems like one of the easiest ways to do it. Some other CRM companies like Customer Matrix were founded with the idea of combining cognitive tools with customer transactional capabilities. Microsoft has also recently announced that it will add cognitive capabilities to many of its existing software products. If you’re using any of these vendors’ offerings, before long it will probably be harder to avoid cognitive features than to use them.
- Pick a small project and a “low hanging fruit” vendor. Rather than going all in, some companies begin by picking a small project that could benefit from cognitive technology, and use a smaller, less transformative toolset to attack it. For example, Cognitive Scale — several of whose leaders were IBM Watson executives — tries to pick the low-hanging cognitive fruit. It has a “10-10-10” development approach, in which the goal is to build a rough cognitive application in 10 hours, customize it in 10 days, and go live within 10 weeks. Some of Cognitive Scale’s customers, like M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (which is also pursuing an ambitious Watson project for cancer treatment), have many different projects underway with the company’s software. These projects don’t attempt to cure cancer, but rather address narrower objectives like providing patient families with lodging and dining recommendations, or determining which patient bills are most in need of extra collections efforts.Some of the “robotic process automation” offerings from companies like Blue Prism and Automation Anywhere also qualify as low-hanging fruit, although as of yet their software doesn’t learn. Some call center automation offerings like Ipsoft’s Amelia also fall into this category. While these projects will require some consulting to train or configure the software, there are usually services available from the software companies or their consulting partners to perform such work.