Artificial intelligence really is still an emerging technology that isn't yet mainstream in a lot of enterprise organizations. While some surveys show that a majority of organizations have already implemented some form of artificial intelligence, other surveys are much more conservative.
For instance, according to the Gartner 2018 CEO Agenda Survey 4% of CIOs have implemented AI while another 46% say they plan to implement it.
"Despite huge levels of interest in AI technologies, current implementations remain at quite low levels," said Whit Andrews, research vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, in a statement. "However, there is potential for strong growth as CIOs begin piloting AI programs through a combination of buy, build, and outsource efforts."
So which one of those are you going to do, and how will you gain a competitive advantage with your AI apps if you don't build them yourself?
Building means starting from scratch with your own talent -- essentially what Google created with its search engine, or Uber created with its ride sharing application. You definitely gain a competitive edge with this approach, but it requires a full effort and investment.
Outsourcing it is a little easier, and some organizations are doing that by partnering with one of the major cloud providers like Amazon, Google, or Microsoft -- essentially buying AI-as-a-service. There are some prefabricated technologies in these clouds, and some organizations may be experimenting with their first AI projects this way.
But another quick way to get on the artificial intelligence bandwagon is to buy it from your traditional software vendor. Gartner has predicted that AI technologies will be in almost every new software product by 2020.
So if you aren't ready to hire AI, machine learning, natural language processing, or computer vision technology experts; implement a host of new technologies; and build it all from scratch yourself, you may be able to take those first tentative steps with the software vendors you've worked with for years already.
For instance, Oracle and SAP are among the companies that have started offering such technologies to their end customers. Some of this technology may be rolled out into existing products, adding the benefits of AI to the platforms the companies' already offer. Plus there are other offerings that provide enterprise customers with additional artificial intelligence capabilities.
For instance, in October 2017, Oracle introduced Oracle Adaptive Intelligent Apps for finance, HR, supply chain, manufacturing, commerce, customer service, marketing, and sales professionals. Forrester Research's Brandon Purcell, principle analyst for customer insights, told InformationWeek in an interview that these apps are continuously learning and communicating insights to each other.
Oracle was getting ready to add further updates to its customer experience offerings this week in Chicago at its Modern Customer Experience event. Des Cahill, VP and head CX evangelist at the company told InformationWeek in an interview that Oracle's Connected Intelligence strategy is made up of three components right now, Connected IoT, Adaptive Intelligent Apps, and Infinity, which is being announced this week. Infinity is an advanced analytics service that monitors customer activity and infers what actions you should take in a week or a month with that customer.
On the SAP side, SAP Leonardo Accelerators are software offerings that give enterprise customers a packaged AI experience. Mike Flannagan, SVP of SAP Leonardo and SAP Analytics told InformationWeek in an interview that Leonardo Accelerators incorporate the relevant emerging technology -- it could be machine learning, IoT, or whatever else is necessary -- for the specific business problem.
Flannagan describes Leonardo as a framework that relies on three pillars -- methodology, design thinking, and design doing. When I asked him what Leonardo is, he said: "Faster innovation with less risk."
But the part that enterprises can buy is the Accelerators.
"We are not selling you a piece of software," Flannagan said. "We are selling you a solution to a business problem." But it's not a complete solution. Leonardo takes you 80% to the solution, and you add your own secret sauce to the complete solution.
What's Your Competitive Edge if you Buy AI?
That begs another question. If you are buying your AI from SAP or Oracle, and your competitor is buying the same thing from SAP or Oracle, how do you get a competitive edge? Isn't that a pretty level playing field? What's the point?
Your data itself will be the real competitive edge going forward. AI solutions will become commoditized. But your data remains proprietary and valuable.
Flannagan told me that in almost every meeting he has with customers, executives are recognizing that their data has value, either for internal purposes or for selling to a data partner.
That's what the third-party experts are saying, too.
"Enterprises that are leveraging the AI investments built into enterprise platform software need to look beyond algorithms for competitive differentiation," Purcell told me. "At the end of the day, the machine learning algorithms at the brain of AI are commoditized and widely available in open source as well as vendor technologies. Data will be the key source of competitive differentiation in the world of AI -- emerging data sources, innovative data transformations, and business-infused data understanding will lead to better models and ultimately better results from AI."