Artificial Intelligence may be a top future priority of CIOs, but cleaning up the data that fuels it and other big data and analytics projects is among the most important tasks for enterprises in the year ahead.
That's one of the takeaways from the Accenture Technology Vision 2018 report, an annual survey that predicts key technology trends likely to disrupt business over the next three years. This year's report is titled Intelligent Enterprise Unleashed: Redefine Your Company Based on the Company You Keep.
The Accenture report identifies data veracity as one of the five key trends for 2018, saying "by transforming themselves to run on data, businesses now face a new kind of vulnerability: inaccurate, manipulated, and biased data that leads to corrupted business insights and skewed decisions."
Other trends this year are Citizen AI, Extended Reality, Frictionless Business, and Internet of Thinking.
In truth, data veracity has always been an issue for enterprise organizations. But the stakes are higher than ever before, according to Michael Biltz, Managing Director of Accenture Technology Vision at Accenture Labs, who spoke to InformationWeek in an interview about the report and trends.
Organizations are investing more money in their analytics programs. These programs do more now than recommending a new blouse or what to watch next on Netflix. If you are SpaceX and your data is incorrect, it could result in the loss of a multi-million-dollar rocket, Biltz said. That's a big deal.
The Accenture report, culled from survey responses of more than 6,300 business and IT executives worldwide, found that 82% of those executives are using data to drive critical and automated decisions. What's more, 97% of business decisions are made using data that managers consider to be of unacceptable quality, Accenture notes, citing a study published in HBR.
"Now it becomes vitally important that the data you have is as true, as correct, as you can make it," Biltz said. Right now, organizations don't have the systems in place to do that."
Plus, there's just more data now, coming from a variety of different sources, than there ever has been in the past. Biltz said that over the last 10 years, organizations have been automating their supply chains. They've been adding new data streams. They've been sharing more data with partners. They may have customer records that are completely out of date. People may have shared incorrect addresses or phone numbers.
How much work do CIOs and chief data officers have ahead?
"We have an enormous amount of work," Biltz said. It's not just old addresses and telephone numbers. Organizations will spend a lot of time trying to "true up what is the latest version of the truth. When you start to look a little deeper, you find there are fundamental flaws in how the data has been gathered."
This trend is about building your organizations infrastructure so you are able to partner at scale. According to the report, "Businesses depend on technology-based partnerships for growth, but their own legacy systems aren't designed to support partnerships at scale. To fully power the Intelligent Enterprise, companies first must re-design themselves."
That redesign effort may come in the form of platforms or APIs, Biltz told me. But it is essential today, because companies are now competing based on how they partner with other companies.
For example, Biltz said, consider a shoemaker who sets up an Instagram account to showcase its shoes. When customers click on the shoes, they are taken to an Amazon page to buy those shoes. They are partnering with the social media platform and with Amazon. But their competitor, maybe Adidas, is working with a manufacturing company that allows customers to customize the shoes they buy. Still another company is working with IBM's Watson organization to incorporate pedometers and sensors into its shoes. All three of these shoemakers are competing on their partnerships.
Biltz noted that Walmart is relatively advanced and has been pushing towards APIs and microservices for years.
"We are really at this point where we are starting to tie ourselves together much more closely with everybody," Biltz said.
The Accenture report's other three trends included the following:
Citizen AI: Raising AI to Benefit Business and Society. Accenture said that "as artificial intelligence (AI) grows in its capabilities, so does its impact on people’s lives. Businesses looking to capitalize on AI’s potential must acknowledge this impact, 'raising' AI to act as responsible representatives of their business."
Extended Reality: The End of Distance. According to Accenture, "virtual and augmented reality technologies are transforming the ways people live and work by removing the distance to people, information, and experiences."
Internet of Thinking: Creating Intelligent Distributed Systems. Accenture said that "businesses are making big bets on intelligent environments via robotics, AI, and immersive experiences, but bringing these intelligent environments to life will require not only adding key skills and workforce capabilities, but also modernizing current enterprise technology infrastructures."
Many organizations have a big job ahead as they look to work with these trends. But the coming change is inevitable.
"Just as cities developed around ports and then railroads, or people rebuilt their lives around electricity, the world today is reimaging itself around digital innovation -- and my extension, the companies that provide those services," said Paul Daugherty, Accenture's chief technology and innovation officer, in a prepared statement. "This requires a new type of relationship, built on trust and the sharing of large amounts of personal information."