Building a cognitive business

Building a cognitive business
By: Kenny Hay, Director of Cloud, IBM ASEAN

We are living in a time where there are too many tasks, too many requests, too much data.

Did you know an average employee gets interrupted at work 11 times a day, and it takes an average of 25 minutes to refocus after a distraction? We get alerts when we don’t need them and we don’t get alerts when we do need them.

From a business standpoint, there is also so much data that exists in the world that it is almost impossible to ingest all its value. An estimated 80 percent of a data scientist’s time is spent scrubbing data instead of analyzing and understanding what it means. But what’s the point of collecting the data if you can’t draw insights from it?

So the question is – will data ever stop growing? Probably not. But cognitive computing in the cloud that brings together Data and AI may just be the answer.  

Think of cognitive computing as augmented intelligence (AI). Rather than being explicitly programmed, cognitive computing has the capability to learn at scale, reason with purpose and interact with humans naturally.

It is not just a feature. It is about man and machine (embodied in Watson) coming together to help businesses better understand customers, effectively integrate old and new systems, optimize business operations, save costs and discover new revenue possibilities.

So what does that really mean? Take an example close to our hearts – taxes. In the United States, Watson is helping leading tax preparer, H&R Block whose mission is to help taxpayers get maximum refund. After ingesting about 600 million data points and 75,000 pages of the U.S. Tax Code, Watson is now helping families save between US$2,000 to US$3,000 annually. In essence, H&R Block now has an experienced employee of over 30 years of tax filing experience who is able to digest all the tax information and historical precedents to help families save money.

By 2019, the cognitive market is expected to grow to more than $31 billion, and according to a recent IBM study “The Cognitive Advantage,” early adopters are already gaining significant advantage from pursuing cognitive initiatives.

So if you’re considering adding AI to your organization, here are a few tips before you get started:

1.     Drive it from the top
Infusing cognition into your business isn’t a feature you can “turn on and off” or buy “off the shelf”. To be sustainable, it must be part of your company’s culture and ethos. It should not be something “given” to the CIO office to implement. The lines of business owners must own the vision and work in concert with the CIO to define a roadmap. Successful experiences I have seen usually start with assembling a small core team of senior executives as the “innovation team” to spearhead the vision and strategy working closely with lines of business to scope out use cases to start with and scale from there.
2.     Be deliberate where you start your cognitive journey
As the adage goes, walk before you run. Start with a pilot program. It is an excellent opportunity to learn about how a cognitive solution will impact and benefit your organization, and lay the foundation for successful adoption more broadly. For companies which need help on where to start, I have found design thinking workshops, which can be as short as one day, to be extremely effective to pinpoint where to start, if done well.

3.     Adopt early, fail fast, learn fast
There will never be a perfect time to start the cognitive journey. Developing a strategy is important but execution speed is equally so. The current digital revolution is accelerating the pace of change and every day of waiting is time given to your competitor to catch up or further their lead over you. The earlier you infuse AI into your business, the greater your competitive advantage. This cognitive support to human knowledge, understanding and facility can enable your teams to approach problem-solving more efficiently, identify trends and potential opportunities more quickly, and discover solutions to reach consumers more effectively.

Cognitive solutions also become smarter and smarter over time. However, don’t be discouraged if your initial attempt falls short. The important thing to remember is to try fast and learn fast, and you can be sure you’ll be working with a more intuitive platform than the day before.

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