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IT Strategy in the Age of AI
Kapil Mahajan, CIO, Safexpress Private Limited
Before we delve deeper into the topic let’s put things into perspective with a focus around logistics and supply chain. The year was 1955 and was incredibly difficult to move cargo around the world, every port was different, every container had different dimensions, every truck was different; it was very costly to move goods, and it used to take a lot of time. In 1956, Malcolm Mclean invented the first intermodal shipping container and suddenly it became incredibly easy. The cost of moving goods plummeted by 90percent. Coincidentally at the same time in history, John McCarthy coined the term AI (Artificial Intelligence).
Fast forward to present times and here we are in the age of AI, took us a little over 60 years to evolve it at a level where it’s at a cusp of creating an industrial revolution of sorts and putting a question mark on the way our businesses processes and strategies are structured and whether they can sustain the tumultuous journey ahead.
I believe, today is the age of man and machines, and it is imperative to rethink your business strategy so that every business process undergoes transformation and gets assisted by a virtual work horse, using AI and machine learning as a technology propeller. As a CIO or technology leader, a lot of us face the daunting task of laying a technology roadmap that needs to align with the company’s strategic goals and visions. The paradox is that in today’s world the business goals and strategies keep evolving at a much faster pace driven by market conditions. Competition not only from within but outside your own industry or vertical, government policies and changing consumer consumption and engagement models and more so the technology itself is being reinvented with shorter gestations periods. This constant state of flux requires a very careful and well thought strategy with respect to choosing the right tech stack, products and partners to propel your overall technology roadmap and effectively fuel your business growth.
Data' is the new oil and ‘AI’ is the new electricity
A very important part of one’s IT strategy should be centered around extensive technology research, innovation, emerging products and fostering deep strategic ties with partners that are leading the new age tech. Although every business area whether its HR, Operations, Sales or Marketing can be digitized, it is imperative to note that one needs a Digital ecosystem in place. Needless to say, that true digitization does not happen by moving applications, software or processes to a digital media like a handheld or a mobile device but instead mandates putting together a well-rounded strategy focused around “Interoperability”. This in turn requires your core to communicate with other central and peripheral applications without losing focus around security.
After years of working and mentoring start-ups, we have realized that the best approach is to go for enterprise products for the core applications, and have it complement with some of the offerings or custom products from start-ups which act as an accelerator. Also, while choosing an enterprise product, it really pays off to understand the product future release roadmap, especially if you are looking to invest in SaaS platforms. Additionally, one should ensure that the product provides ways to ingest and expose data using API or some other mechanism, which will allow accelerator products to interoperate with the core.
For example, we leverage Oracle APM (application performance monitoring) tool that uses ML and AI to interpret database logs, which helps us to act proactively on potential application problem areas before they could turn into issues and cause possible outages. Again, there were a myriad of products in the market, but our decision was centered around choosing a product that does a lot of predictive data analytics for our support and application teams and provides actionable data points for them to deliberate on.
Another example to enforce some of the points covered above, centre around our decision to take a cloud ERP for finance (we shortlisted Oracle fusion finance to migrate from current Oracle In house EBS instance); the objective was to take a product that would have a ML and AI engine in its core architecture and allow businesses to gather actionable insight from data. Also, it was very critical for us to ensure that our finance data privacy and access are very secure even in a mobility-based environment. Another important area was to integrate the core finance cloud ERP to our operations ERP, IoT platform, BI platform, contact centre and CRM, so we had to make sure that the Oracle fusion finance exposes its interfaces via API’s to enable this.
We wanted our sales team to work on single CRM app but still get access to real time collection data for their enterprise customers from Finance ERP, and also wanted the contact centre to orchestrate all this data across different systems and show the customer service representative a 360 degree view of the customer in one system without them juggling through multiple applications or systems.
Currently, only 20 percent of the world’s enterprise data is searchable and 80 percent data is dark and cannot be analyzed by traditional computing. So, as a technology leader your platform selection strategy, if done right, can prove to be a key competitive advantage for your organization. I’ll summarize by stating another historical milestone that happened about 100 years ago, which was the invention of electricity and it transformation of every major industry known to man. Today ‘Data’ is the new oil and ‘AI’ is the new electricity, which are poised to transform every walk of our existence whether its businesses or our personal lives.
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