AI, machine learning, cognitive computing, natural language understanding, image recognition, pattern matching, autonomous devices -- these are just a few of 2017's loosely defined catchall phrases. But in practice, they each refer to a significant field of study that is guaranteed to have an impact on the way people live and how business is done. So here are five things that you, as the leader of an organization that is singularly focused on creating value (however you define it), need to know:
1. Your Various Units Are Working on Data-Driven Systems in a Vacuum
If you do not have strict, well-enforced data governance policies, your various units are busy making a data mess that you will eventually have to clean up. Each unit has any number of projects in the works. They must! Their competitors are making apps and creating systems designed to reduce friction and reduce costs wherever possible. They are making both b-to-b and b-to-c apps, adding APIs to individual databases, and keeping busy trying to do you proud. That said, there are internal systems collecting data, external systems collecting data, partners and vendors collecting data -- there is data everywhere. Instead of a path to the transformation of data into a core asset, right now you have every unit doing its own thing. Every day that this goes on, the problem gets significantly worse.
2. Your Data Governance Needs to Become a Core Competency, or It Will Become a Significant Liability
3. You Need a Few Blue-Sky Days with Your Senior Leaders to Invent the Future
You know the famous Alan Kay quote, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it yourself." This is easier to do than you may think. Among the professionals at our recent Smarter Home and Connected Devices Summit, we had senior executives from IBM's Watson, Moen (the kitchen and bath hardware manufacturer), and a world-renowned oncologist. I asked a question: "What would happen if, when people used a toilet, it collected samples of the used water and solids, then sent the data to an oncologically trained AI system?" The conversation that ensued was extraordinary. In 15 minutes the group "invented" a dozen new businesses, hypothetically saved millions of lives, and improved wellness outcomes for the next generation of bathroom users. Not bad for a 15-minute thought experiment. You can do this with your team, too.
Some sample questions for your team might be: "What technologies are going to disrupt our supply chain?" "What new consumer behaviors are going to impact our online sales?" "Will 5G fixed-wireless help us or hurt us?" "If mixed reality (MR) becomes a reality, how will people shop for our stuff?" Remember, it's blue-sky, so nothing is off limits. Dream! Then build a roadmap.
4. You Need to Govern for Innovation
It's great to bring in subject matter experts, vendors, and partners who can talk about what's coming next, but you must fiscally govern for innovation. Your people are super busy. They are artificially selected for exceptional productivity. Do you really expect them to give the future 10% of their time when they are only being rewarded for the next quarter's earnings? Unless you make innovation a corporate priority and fiscally govern your teams to care about enterprise value (even after they are no longer employed), your innovation plans will fail.
5. Every Current Competitor Is in the Same Boat – but They Are Not the Problem
The good news is that today, most of your competitors are right about where you are in this journey. The bad news is that your competitors are not the problem. Neither are the ankle biters or piranhas (small companies and start-ups that aspire to compete with you and take tiny bites out of your market share). The real problem is the upcoming exponential changes caused by machine learning systems that interpret the increasing velocity of data and make it actionable in ways you cannot adapt to. This is the enemy that should have your undivided attention. It is growing stronger every day. Are you ready?