AI: Inspire to Transform

Last month was all about inspiration and transformation: about being inspired by how organizations and people can change through the use of technology. We call this Digital Transformation. On behalf of Mediaan, Jan Stegink and myself (Stefan Daelemans) visited the Microsoft Inspire partner event. The previous editions were hosted by Toronto and Orlando, and this year the honor befell Washington D.C., the US capital welcoming over 20,000 visitors, including 600 Dutchmen. All participants ar Microsoft Partners, as is Mediaan.

The announcements and keynotes can be found online and much has been written about them. Today I’d like to talk about an important phrase used by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in his keynote, one that I found particularly inspiring. The phrase I’m talking about focuses on Artificial Intelligence and Microsoft’s ensuing vision: “We are going to democratize AI”. In other words, Microsoft  wants to make AI available to the masses.

Determined by consumer level

Too many conversations we conduct with companies nowadays start with explaining what Artificial Intelligence actually is, and what you can do with it. Well, “too many” is not quite fair, given the rapid succession of technological developments. It’s hard even for tech companies to keep up with all these developments, let alone for non-technology companies engaged in the daily rat race trying to stay ahead of murderous competition.

From the conversations with these companies, I conclude that the level of knowledge on subjects such as Big Data, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, is often determined by consumer level. By this I mean speech assistants like Siri and Cortana, and of course the autonomous (or self-driving) car. Unfortunately, most of these are examples that hardly appeal to the imagination when thinking of business applications. Business applications that enable companies, still busy wringing out the now bone dry cloth of process optimization, to take a next step. A next step in joining new markets, introducing new products and services or even immersing that dry bone in a bowl full of data, and further optimizing (eg) your overall supply chain process.

We have a dream

The mission of ex-Microsoft CEO Bill Gates to put a PC on every desk has been fairly successful. Nowadays, we even go to bed with one. That is why CEO Satya Nadella formulated a new mission a few years ago, which in my view slowly begins to take shape.

Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. – Satya Nadella, CEO Microsoft

Admittedly, most of the AI applications we currently use within organizations have not yet reached the autonomous level of, say, a self-driving car from Tesla. Even the software from a ‘normal’ modern car from 2017 (so not a fully autonomous car) consists of almost twice as much code as Facebook and ten times as much as a Boeing 787. And even many complex business applications remain far below the amount of code required for Facebook and an airplane.

Nevertheless, it’s a thrill to see that the Microsoft Azure platform has helped the African USAID organization implement a data driven AI application against the spreading of HIV, which will save about 500,000 lives in Africa by the end of 2017. A ‘goosebump moment’ in the ice cold Verizon Center in an otherwise muggy Washington D.C.

The next step

My expectation is that with all ongoing investments in making AI available, we will see a formidable increase in new applications and ready-to-use solutions, which, through the cloud, will also come within reach of small and medium-sized enterprises. The same trend that we witnessed with cloud computing services will also occur with AI-driven solutions, such as chat bots that can take over 50% of customer service tasks, object and situation recognition of photos and videos, and real-time conversion and translation of voice to text. No doubt these will be subject to all kinds of analyses that make your services even more personal.

Our conviction is that regardless of the business or industry you are in, there is always a process or new business opportunity that will benefit from using Data & AI. The speed at which these developments will be deployed in companies will depend on the potential for AI to integrate well with present processes and people within organizations, as well as the ability of AI implementation partners such as Mediaan to implement these solutions within existing systems and apps. The latter in particular is a point that is often underestimated, and one the Microsoft platform is suitably anticipating. Integrations with, for example, Dynamics 365, which is currently a CRM, ERP and Finance platform, were discussed extensively and uncover innovations to existing organizations. AI doesn’t end with Excel, and needs to be properly implemented in order to work efficiently.

Mediaan & AI

Would you like to know more about how AI can transform your organization or processes, or how to make clever use of the existing data in your systems? This is your lucky day! We recently added the 20th member to the Data & Intelligence team, so we’re ready for any AI challenge. We are currently conducting major international projects in the area of chat bots within a service center and are deploying AI to optimize logistics processes. Feel free to contact me via email (stefan.daelemans@mediaan.com) or LinkedIn. In exchange for a cup of coffee, I am more than happy to take a look at your specific situation!

Are you interested in the possibilities of being part of our Data & Intelligence team? We are always looking for good people, so be sure to check out our vacancy page.