Artificial intelligence - a transformational journey
By Gail Evans, Global CIO, Mercer
The rapidly accelerating computing power combined with artificial intelligence technology has finally opened that valuable vein. Businesses can now extract, decipher, and use those precious nuggets of data to identify new and exciting ways to drive revenue and lower costs.
AI can reshape data to be used for robotic process information, deep learning or a personal assistant, like Alexa. Mercer utilizes AI to address customer problems and pain points, by exploring new value propositions, optimizing revenue streams, and spotting technology trends that speak to our customers’ unmet needs.
But before we could do those things for our clients, we first had to investigate and understand AI’s potential. We started by defining AI as a technology that performs, analyzes, discovers, and provides reasoning to a situation, what some people call cognitive computing. Robots or a virtual agent would be examples of technologies enabled by AI.
AI is based on good data and a common ontology that can also be applied to unstructured data. So, we created a big data platform – called Knowledge Fabric - to help us reach a clearer understanding of our common ontology and, more importantly, how we describe our business to ourselves and how we service our customers across several verticals.
Connecting internal data with ingested external data has resulted in revelations about ourselves and our customers that heretofore we never considered. We distilled our approach towards AI into four words, what I call A Squared/D Squared.
The A stands for action and access, while D represents decision and disruption. Stirred together, the words constitute Mercer’s formula on how to innovate and service customers, disrupt the market and, drive more insight and intelligence into products and services.
AI helps energize people because it is a great way for them to reinvest and grow their career
But making those quick, informal decisions across an enterprise requires a level of trust and commitment. It requires collaboration. The executive leadership team on down needed to be as fired-up about AI as I was.
I love technology and have done so for as long as I can remember. For me, a relaxing Saturday morning is sitting at my computer, sipping a cup of coffee and reading the latest news coming out of news, blogs, and other social media about how AI is being applied to solve problems. Hey, if I wasn’t doing that, I wouldn’t call myself a technologist.
Clearly, I’m passionate about technology and my job. I enjoy leading teams through AI-type transformations where technology is causing disruptions. But I don’t want people to simply acknowledge my fervor. I want them share my vision, to understand what we are doing and why we are doing it. And then, I want them to eagerly hop onboard.
That level of buy-in is the only way a company can keep pace in a world where today’s cutting edge technology is tomorrow’s mainstream application. Everyone has to be pulling the oar in the same direction. One of my responsibilities as a technologist is energizing those people to grab the oar and pull with both hands. I have to inspire them to get involved and up the level of their skills so they can find ways to apply technology solutions to old, new, and yet to be discovered problems.
AI helps energize people because it is a great way for them to reinvest and grow their career. The technology encourages thinking differently about data and spending more time mulling the weightier questions and issues. Just imagine how powerful it would be if everyone at Mercer was watching market trends to spot characteristics that would allow us to disrupt with AI.
As people hone their skills, they become what the Gartner Group and McKinsey & Company call “trend spotters.” Trend spotters are so knowledgeable about new digital technologies that they can spot and evaluate the potential of a new technology.
A trend spotter can quickly, yet deliberately, decide if the trend is important or can be ignored; where it is in Gartner’s hype cycle; and whether or not it solves a customer’s need, removes a pain point, can change behavior in a beneficial way, or eliminate friction.
But for trend spotting - AI and technology in general - to payoff, you must know the customer’s pressure points. Applying the right technology means understanding the unmet needs in the customer’s current portfolio.
Conversely, businesses must first understand what their problems are and how technology, especially AI, can help resolve it. Robotics may help a company free up money by cutting costs. Or a call center could leverage an AI-powered conversational system to offload repetitive, high-volume queries to a self-service channel.
As technologists, its our job is to find and apply the right technology to solve problems presented by our clients. Experiment, learn and while you’re at it, have some fun.